Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Girls Are Made Of Sugar And Spice...

I read this post today and it got me thinking about gender divisions among writers. The gist, I guess, is that it seems like a lot of the online writing communities (whether forums or blogs, etc.) are dominated by women. Now, that's solely a subjective analysis without hard fact, but it does seem to be repeated over and over as far as I can see.

This got me wondering about what the overall divisions are among writers. How would writers break down by gender? How would published writers break down by gender? And how might this be changing? If far more women are becoming involved in such communities... is it an advantage? Will more women be published on account of this?

And yet, at the same time, I think back to my experience in University. I have two degrees in creative writing, and that means I attended a lot of creative writing workshops. And these were always heavily skewed towards the male. The female writers were always a minority.

So perhaps it's less about the quantity of interaction, but more about the type of interaction. Are women drawn more to communal groups? And men more to result-oriented approaches, such as the acquisition of a degree?

Obviously these are generalizations. There will always be exceptions. But it does make me wonder. Are there differences in the typical writer's journey based on gender? Do men, perhaps, start early and pursue degrees, etc., and either make it or fall away? Do women more often start late, after pursuing work and family first? I'm not really sure, but in the absence of any objective data I thought I'd turn it back on all of you. What's your experience of the writer's journey? When you think of all the writers you know, are there differences in how the men and women have pursued the craft?

Reminder: We're open for flash fiction submissions! Check the sidebar under The World in Miniature for details.


Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I think there are many women who choose non-traditional pathways for a variety of reasons, but mainly to accomodate the twin needs of family and career, and the desire for flexibility to accomodate those both. Men tend to persue more traditional, linear pathways to career success, defining that, as you say, by achievements like obtaining a degree.

These are gross generalizations, of course - I have a ridiculous number of degrees, and yet have followed a non-traditional path in many ways, especially with regards to writing (coming to it later in life).

I also think women are more comfortable participating in forum environments like blogs - because it is essentially social in nature.

Have women always been writers? Certainly. Are there more women writers today? Probably. Are there more successful women writers today? Perhaps. It does strike me that a large, large, large number of the "workers" in the writing industry (unpublished writers, midlist authors, agents and editors toiling away in the industry) are women, whereas many of the "accomplished" or "superstar" writers are men. Notable exceptions are JK Rowling and S Meyer, but (and this is important) they wrote for children. I'm not sure exactly what this means for the industry, or whether it's something we should spend a lot of time navel gazing about.

I always believe that pursuing your dream requires a lot of hard work and perseverence. Rather than worry about whether your gender helps or hurts you, I would worry about whether your craft/competence/experience helps or hurts you.

I've working in many male-dominated fields, and that's really the only way to survive and succeed.

Ben Carroll said...

this is a really interesting topic, that i don't have enough experience in writing circles to contribute to.
amongst my age group--early 20s--the majority of people i know who actually write are girls.

i see two different types of writing amongst my peers (though in reality, everything is a bit of both): it's either about the writer, or about the story.
it would be an unforgivable generalisation to pin that distinction on to different genders... but of the few writers i know, it pans out. the guys i know like to write because it can show off how clever they are. the girls i know like to write as the best way to get the exact type of story they want to read, but can't find in watrstones.

Bryan Russell said...


Great comment. I tend to feel the same way, and have a similar guess about the breakdown of published writers. Though I think the star writer division might be changing, though it's an interesting point about the target audience for the bestselling women. If you add in a lot of the other female bestsellers... I bet we'd see a few chick lit authors (female audience mostly), a ton of romance authors (female audience mostly), and quite a few children's authors. Even some of the more lit and mainstream writers (I'm thinking Jodi Picoult and Maeve Bincy and the like) have mostly a female target audience.

The exception might be mystery authors, where there's a number of very successful writers with cross-gender appeal (building on the success of writers like Christie and Sayers?). But it makes me wonder if men are very hesitant to read female authors? Or if that is, at least, the publishing and marketing perception? Maybe there's the sense that it's safe for female writers to write for women and children, but not for men...

Bryan Russell said...


That's interesting. I like the extrapolation to the underlying psychological motivations. It would be great if someone had statistics for this sort of stuff.

Mira said...

Well, you're going to love this one, Ink, but I AM in a Social Work grad program, and an extremely militant one at that.

I suspect that the unequal distribution of men in grad school has to do with admission policies, and a gender bias.

Certain fields traditionally favor men to the nth degree, and there is no question that the literary field has been one of them. It was almost impossible for a woman writer to be published as short a time as 100 years ago. Heck, women in the U.S. haven't even had the vote for 100 years.

I suspect that many graduate schools in creative writing still cater to that bias.

However, I think there are other reasons as well. Men, in our culture, are pressured to show accomplishment, and gaining a creative writing degree meets that need more than sitting at home and writing. In addition, it can be more difficult for men to ask for guidance, because of our culture, but gaining a degree allows them to be taught without stigma.

As for women on the web, the idea that women are more verbal has recently been challenged in some research, but whether it's true or not, women have been socialized to be more verbal and the web is a natural outlet for that.

Also, there may be some female populations - housewives, older women, etc. that want companionship and the web is an ideal place for them to seek it for various reasons.

Finally, women sometimes are in the role of the listener, and the web gives women a place to talk. That makes it very appealing.

Um, did I even answer your question?

Well, I'm sure I answered some question. Somewhere.

Interesting discussion. ;)

JE said...

Men are loners...LOL. I think maybe the difference is men set out to write and it just sort of "happens" to women. Don't get me wrong, I think there are women out there who set out to write, but I have a feeling there are far more women who just happen to find writing something they love to do and then they just go with it.

Nora Roberts is the perfect example. She was a mom, stuck at home in a blizzard with her children, and to pass the days of craziness away, she wrote a story – and then another, and then another. She was unstoppable after that. It chose her.

That’s what happened to me. I didn’t ever think I would write a novel – let alone more than one. But once I started that first, it just came. I don’t have a creative writing degree and I didn’t set out to be writer. It just happened. I think that happens to a lot of people (men and women alike), but I think it happens more often to women because (and no offense to the men here), we absorb more of what we see around us. We develop deep relationship with more people. We SEE things differently than men. I mean, I can see a mom have a two line conversation with her son and have an entire plot in my head in less than 30 minutes. Now, I’m not saying men can’t do the same thing. Quite the opposite. I’m saying that maybe women are more prone to have more interactions that garner these types of creative spurts. We’re chatty with strangers. We carpool. We host clubs for our children. We do a lot that offers a lot of inspiration.

And men, are they are more driven to be writers from an early age? Maybe it was the comics. ;-) But, maybe they are more goal oriented early on and say “Hey, I want to get a degree in creative writing.” So they do. That’s why maybe there are more men than women at the actual classes? They plan for the future. They strive for it. Of course, there are women like that too.

I don’t know, I could just be totally rambling. I LOVE this topic. It shows all the vast corners of the writing realm. I would love to see a study done on some of the questions Ink brought up. People could talk and throw things around for hours about this. One blog post almost isn’t enough. One blog for each question, maybe. ;-)


Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Ink - Interestingly, I think the field for children & YA is changing. As more $$ are in that field, and more authors are attracted to it because it is considered "hot" (read: acceptable to ambitious folk), there are more men entering the field. Notable new entries with LOTS of success (i.e. sales): Westerfeld (former SF adult writer), Riordan (former Mystery adult writer).

I think you are right that men and women (warning: another gross generalization) write differently - with women being much more comfortable with things like romance and men being much more comfortable with hard SF. Once upon a time, female SF writers had to use initials to hide their gender because someone (publishers? writers?) thought male readers wouldn't read them if they knew the author was a woman. Happily, Ursula K. LeGuin busted that stereotype wide open, and that is no longer the mantra.

Things change. It takes time, but it does happen. Things that were true even when I was in college (which wasn't really in the Jurassic period) are no longer true today.

Also: these discussions always remind me of Rorschach tests. The answers say as much about the person (and their experiences in life) as they do about the question.

Christi Goddard said...

I might get hated on a bit for this, but it seems to me that the agent's sex leans more towards female, and therefore works being chosen to publish are predominantly geared towards female interests. You don't hear 'Dude Lit' after all. You can't call sci-fi or fantasy dude lit since many women read that, too (and I guess men read romance, but usually not chick lit).

In fact, many publishers and agents say 'looking for strong female MC character and voice' which rules out my MS of a young man, plus it's not romance or YA, which is what they're eating up right now.

Again, these are generalizations, but something I've noticed as I hop around researching.

dolorah said...

Interesting concepts here, and at Justine Dell's. I have thought about this subject myself, but couldn't find appropriate data. It's great that Matt did so well with it.

I've heard for many years that women comprise the largest reader group, yet I've noticed the majority of authors in anything not romance related are male.

My own biased opinion is that women do start out later on the writer's path. Unless they have loads of free time and don't have to worry about earning the second income as well as keeping the household running smoothly. Women wait until the kids are somewhat self sufficient for a couple hours at a stretch and the income into the home is stable.

When men need uninterepted space to keep their sanity, they are granted it. Women have to find a way of making the quiet time they need for things like writing, art, school.

Blogging is just one way that allows busy women a creative outlet they can fit into their day. Men are more used to going out and being interactive with people.

Maybe it's my day job that has biased me. I like to think the world is changing; family roles are becoming less rigid.


Unknown said...

The number of men and women in the workshops I've been to are more or less equal but I have noticed that the women are usually older. I think this has a lot to do with the expectancy of life phases for men and women. Men are expected pursue a career and then a family whereas women are still expected to pursue marriage and a family before a career.

Drea said...

This is a very interesting topic...I'm in my later twenties (so responding to Ben and Mira) I think that culturally, for our generation, creativity has been most acceptable for girls. Even for children today, the creative toys in the toy store are advertised to girls, and the active/mathematical-scientific toys are advertised to boys (some being more unisex than others). I noticed this when in my fieldwork class for cultural Anthropology the semester before graduating, when we were assigned the task of canvassing and developing a map of our local Toys R Us. Students went to different Toys R Us, and as some students had children, there was an open discussion of toy-buying and where to shop and why. But the impact of this makes me wonder--not whether women are more "creative" than men, but do we have a culture wherein men can discuss creativity for the sake of being creative, comfortably? I think Mira has a good point on the emphasis of achievement for men, and so perhaps focusing on attaining goals and operating in communities where that is the established norm provides these guys with a place to speak about creativity in a culturally acceptable manner?

So with the bias of my degree in Anthropology informing my perspective...I think enculturation and social expectation go along way to determining the path writers' take.

In my community, there are lots of women, and a few guys. But some of the guys "fell into writing," as much as any of the girls. I also think that networking/community/etc is integral to the experience of the late teens to early thirties age group--gender aside. Internet socializing and real life socializing are two ends of the same behavior, and becoming natural to the whole society.

My critique group is mostly male, but the writing group as a whole is mostly female. "The Guys" read blogs, but only one participates. I don't know if it's gender related, or ratio-related. I mean, the ratio of woman who blog to women who participate in our group is the same as men who blog versus participate in the group (roughly). Not that we're an ideal (or even good) sample size or anything...

D.M. Bonanno said...

I have a degree, but it's in the wrong field. I should have moved into English and gone into some sort of editing job, but by the time I realized that my life had moved toward the marriage and mommyhood direction. Learning on my own is the only means to obtain the skills I need and the best place to do that are these forums.

Althogh I have to say my crit group is divided fairly evenly between male and female. Some of the boards seem to be heavily female dominated, but the most active people are usually home based. That's not to say all they do is write all day, but they have more flexibility. And that includes men and women.

Oh and at the risk of sounding sexist (this IS an observation from people in my life): maybe it has something akin to why women ask for directions and most men are reluctant to do so. ;)

Bryan Russell said...

Great comments here. Glad I asked the question!