Publishing has changed in almost every way over the last twenty years. When ebooks came around, critics feared it meant the end of libraries and bookstores. Now print books are once again outselling ebooks. Once upon a time, you had to have an agent to publish a book. Now you can do it yourself, from story to cover.
Even genres have shifted. Where once readers choices were books for children, teen or adult, now there are MG (middle grade), YA (young adult) and NA (new adult), targeting specific age groups in those formative years between 10 and 25. And in adult books, I personally think categorizing books helps readers navigate to the stories they want to read, and helps publishers and booksellers direct buyers to what they’re seeking. Beach read? Historical fiction? Thriller? Suspense? Fantasy? I’d be lost without the compass of genres, so to me, sub-categorizing is a welcome aid, despite the ongoing discussion about whether or not a book is considered Women’s Fiction.
WF is generally accepted as an umbrella term to encompass stories about women’s issues that are aimed at female readers. Characters are most often striving to overcome personal and external challenges, and the stories tend to be layered as such, including professional issues, relationship struggles (both romantic and familial) and social obstacles.
Some have argued that Women’s Fiction isn’t even a genre. After all, men don’t have their own genre; why should women? Why does WF need to be a subcategory of fiction at all? Does it mean women are not taken seriously in the literary world?
To me, WF as a genre is more of a badge than a crucible. Without the privilege of the Y chromosome, women are challenged, harassed and judged for things men are not. Our experiences in the world are vastly different from men’s. Why shouldn’t our fiction show that?
Women are also more empathetic than men. Perhaps this is why women read more fiction, a genre that, by design, requires that readers empathize with the characters. When women read fiction, they feel engaged. And this may be a biological difference. According to The Literacy Company, a recent international study shows that boys are not as engaged as girls are when reading. “Statistically, 56 percent of boys read only to get information, compared with 33 percent of girls.” Maybe this is why men are more likely to read nonfiction books than fiction, and that the opposite is true for women.
Libraries have used the Dewey Decimal System to help them sort books for over 100 years. With such differences in life experiences, motives and material preferences in reading, I say the more categorizing we can do, the better. And if those categories happen to include gender differences, that’s fine too. I’m a consumer, and knowledge is power. When it comes to spending money on books, I expect publishers and booksellers to make it as easy as possible for me to find what I want, critics be damned.