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Sunday, September 11, 2005

Speaking of gender bias...

J. K. Rowlings may have been on to something when she chose a male protagonist for her wizard series. That's because studies show that gender bias figures into how much of a book market an author will reach. According to one study conducted by the State Library of North Carolina on the reading habits of North Carolina's children, girls are open to read a story whether the protagonist is male or female; boys, however, tend to read only about males or avoided fiction altogether as a "female" genre. (Note: the study received 2,000 responses from children ranging in age from 2 to 18, with a distribution of genders numbering 53% female and 47% male). Although the North Carolina study was regional and surveyed children, the pattern probably is country wide.

Another more controversial study was done earlier this year by Lisa Jardine and Annie Watkins, two academics at Queen Mary College, London. Reported by The Observer and followed up with an article at entitled Why Can't Johnny Read Books by Jane, the findings were basically the same as the North Carolina survey; women read fiction by both sexes while men tended to gravitate to fiction written by men. The survey was sent to 50 British "opinion formers" and asked questions "What was the last novel you read?"; "Was it by a man or a woman?"; "Was gender of any relevance to you?" Eighty percent of the men could not name the most important book written by a woman when asked; most of them couldn't even come up with a title. When asked what novel by any woman they had read recently, they again couldn't answer. However, four out of five indicated that the last book they read was by a male author. Women respondents were split 50/50 with over half stating they had finished a work by a female, while the remainder indicated their last read was authored by a man.

The report stated: "Pressed for a preference, many men also found it much more difficult to 'like' or 'admire' a novel authored by a woman - for them 'great' writing was male writing (oh - apart from Jane Austen, of course)."

Jardine, a non-fiction author, says: "Women take it for granted that 'reading novels' means reading novels by everybody...Men appear to believe that 'reading novels' means reading novels by men.” To them (men), "fiction by women remains 'special interest', while fiction by men still sets the standard for quality, narrative and style."

Although these two studies are by no means conclusive, they do seem to confirm market findings that point to women being mainly purchasers of books written by women.

Side note: Jardine received quite a number of emails from irate male readers who wanted to know "why anyone would care about “the private parts of an author." Good question. Maybe some male readers would care to answer.

Sharon Cullars Coffee Talk at 9/11/2005 04:49:00 PM Permanent Link     | | Home


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