So were am I going with this?
If you didn't come across it on Twitter, there was news about contemporary writer Nicholas Sparks. Here's the full post, but for lazy reasons, I'll go straight to the meaty part:
I stood at the mic and asked Nicholas Sparks, who writes about relationships, the following: “I noticed that when female writers write about relationships or an emotional journey, no matter how deep and well-written it is, it’s usually described as chick lit. Have your books ever been described as chick lit? And how do you think the response to your books or your career would have been different if your name had been Nicole Sparks instead of Nicholas Sparks?”To which the authors replied,
“No. My books have never been described as chick lit.”
Now, for an author to make such a statement, to alienate himself from the rest of an already overflowing genre, he needs to have originality.
I can wholeheartedly say that Nicholas Sparks lacks exactly that. I won't deny, his books were the reason I started reading. I devoured them one after the other, until the day I looked at my shelf and realized I couldn't tell them apart. His female characters are all a carbon copy of one another, and none of them had the least bit of characterization, to the point where it almost gets offensive to the gender.
But let's take a more general look at his words. Mr. Sparks says that "for some reason" women haven't been able to successfully break into the market, which brings me back to my original question:
Does gender matter?
Imagine Nicholas Sparks saying, "for some reason, blue eyed writers aren't able to break into the market". Sounds trivial, doesn't it? Then why isn't gender just as trivial? Why did the generalization of Spark's comment have to go down that route?
Even though he did it in the worst, most offensive way possible, he pointed out something I've been meaning to address for a while now. Authors' gender matters because publishing companies think so. The way I see it, publishing companies have these "packages" that they hand out with each book according to the gender of the writer.
John Green wrote a cancer book? File it under Contemporary Drama, give it a somewhat gender neutral cover.
But wait.. Jenny Downham also wrote a cancer book? Naah, file it under Chick Lit. It's obviously written by a woman for women.
It's things like these that convince writers like Sparks that his books are "love tragedies" (wtf is love tragedy anyway?!), while the rest are just normal contemporaries. You might have come across this post about Maureen Johnson and how different book covers would have been if the author's gender was flipped.
But you know what? It's almost impossible to discuss flipped covers and chick-lit without it sounding like reverse-sexism. For what it's worth, let me clear it up: having a book labeled under "chick-lit" is not an insult. Imagining an alternate, more boyish (or gender neutral) cover for a book doesn't mean the original, "girly", one is bad. What is an insult is that such things exist.
I hate the term chick lit (or women's fiction) with a passion because it creates an exclusive club for what is considered women's interests: romance novels, and "love tragedies". I hate it because some big shot publishers decided that this is our thing, and the opposite gender would probably have no interest in it. I hate it as much as I hate the notion that all men should love sports, and all women should love shopping and make up.
I hate it as much as those "what women want?" articles. Oh, it's a hard question you say? Your brain can't figure out what it is women want? Well, maybe if you start treating them as separate individuals, each with a functioning brain and insanely diverse interests, instead of a herd of sheep... maybe then you'll figure out what that one woman wants.
And for everything's sake, just try to imagine that gender isn't all that defines us.