It's Time To Kill The Label Of 'Women's Fiction'

It's Time To Kill The Label Of 'Women's Fiction'

It's restrictive, it's outdated, and it's functionally useless.

Today on "things an undergraduate English scholar thinks are wrong with the literary world," we’re going to talk about "women’s fiction." You’ve all heard the term. It’s what you call the books your grandma, aunt, mom, or yourself reads if you’re female and not particularly inclined towards Robert Ludlum and John Grisham. It doesn’t refer to any particular genre. Books as varied as “Fifty Shades of Grey,” “The Help,” and “My Sister’s Keeper” have been referred to as women’s fiction. As far as I can tell, the only qualifiers for labeling a book as women’s fiction are (pick one, or both): a woman wrote it, or women read it.

My question is, why?

We don’t call the books men read and write "men’s fiction." When men write about spies, war, and history in a fictional context, their stories are filed under the appropriate genre, not sorted by gender. When men decide to write about the hot-button topic of the moment, it’s literary fiction. When men spend an entire book writing about the woman who done me wrong, it’s a classic — see “The Great Gatsby” and “Lolita” for examples. When women do any of the above, it’s women’s fiction, a label that seems to imply trivialness and frivolity.

In order for women’s writing to shed the label of women’s fiction, female writers can’t write simply for themselves, write only to tell the stories they want to tell. They have to write with an eye toward what male readers want.

Take “Gone Girl” as an example. Blood, sex, murder, infidelity — all things that fill the pages of action, spy, and thriller genres — and the majority of the book is written from a distinctly male perspective. The book is a hit and critically acclaimed, precisely because the writer doesn’t care all that much about the female experience. Amy is a cipher, an empty space for every male reader to fill in the woman who done me wrong or for female readers to fill in the woman who done took my man. Amy is there for the reader to hate, which is why “Gone Girl” succeeds where other female-written novels fail.

There’s no room in acclaimed literature for the real female experience, the one that isn’t eroticized, mythologized, or built up simply for male and female readers alike to hate. That’s why the label of women’s fiction exists – to take all those books about the real, messy, uncomfortable female experience and shove them off to the side. Because let’s be honest, as much as we love John Grisham and Robert Ludlum, they aren’t what we’d call character writers, and their plots are often formulaic.

On the other hand, character writers like Jodi Picoult who consistently take on hot-button issues and spend a lot of time exploring the various sides are shunted into women’s fiction simply because of their gender. Forcing female writers into the women’s fiction category limits sales, limits readership, limits the awards and accolades that many of these writers deserve to be able to compete for. It’s a racket, and it needs to stop.

I’m not asking everybody who reads this article to call their local bookstore or library and demand that they sort the offerings of female writers by the appropriate genre, not by gender (although hey, if you feel like it, go for it). I’m just asking that the next time you pick up a book that’s labeled as women’s fiction, ask yourself why it’s labeled that way. Ask yourself what that label does to your perception of the story, of the author. And then take a gander at the latest John Grisham bestseller and wonder why there’s no label for men’s fiction.

Cover Image Credit: christina_diaz04 / Instagram

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To the guy that shot my brother...


To the guy that shot my brother,

On January 9, 2019 my families entire life changed with one phone call. The phone call that my little brother had been shot in the face, no other details. We didn't need any other details. The woman on the phone who called us in full panic told us where he was so we went, as soon as possible. I don't think it helped that not even 10 min prior I talked to Zach on the phone.. kind of irritated with him, and the ONE TIME I didn't say 'I love you' as we hung up. Could've been the last time we ever spoke.. I remember pulling up to the hospital thinking 'this can't be real' 'it's not our Zach' 'this is just a dream Sarah, WAKE UP' I'd close my eyes really tight just to open them, I was still in the hospital emergency parking lot. I could still hear the ambulance sirens coming. It was all real.

The day our life's changed was definitely a test of faith. A test of how strong we were, as a family. I sat in that waiting room ready to see the damage that has been done to my sweet baby brother. Because at that point we had no idea how lucky he got. That glimpse of seeing Zach will haunt me forever. How helpless I felt in that exact moment frequently wakes me up from these horrific dreams I've been having ever since that day. That is a moment burned into my me and families brain forever.

You always hear about these things in the movies or on the news, a house being shot up, someone shooting another innocent person, not to care if they died on your watch. But we found ourselves on the news.. We have been confined to the hospital since that day. Running on barely any sleep, taking shifts of sleep so we don't make ourselves sick taking care of Zach. Watching him suffer. Undergoing surgeries, to repair the damage you did.

Before I proceed let me tell you a little something about the man you shot.

Zachary Keith Wright. A blonde hair blue eyed boy. Who could potentially be the most annoying human on the planet (possibly coming from his sister). A man who loves his God first, loves his family second. Perfect by no means, but almost perfect to me. A 19 year old who was to graduate high school this month. After graduation he was prepping to leave for Marine boot camp in the summer.. being in the military has been Zach's dream since he could talk. Literally. Running around, playing war with underwear on our heads, and finger guns. Some would say we looked like natural born assassins.. growing up he has been a country boy. Let me tell ya country to the core. He loves this country like he loves his family. He believes in helping people, taking charge in what's right, and never leaving a brother behind. He's lived by that his whole life. Until now....

The day you shot him. The day not only did you change my brothers life, you changed his families life too. The day you almost ripped my brother out of this world... for what? A misunderstanding? Because you've let something take ahold of your life that you can't let go you're willing to kill someone innocent over? Luckily for him, his guardian angels were protecting him in your time of cowardice. There were 3 times that day he should've died, the time you shot him, the time you tried to shoot him again as he stared you directly in the face, (even tho he couldn't talk I know you could read his eyes, and he still intimidated you. That's why you tried to pull the trigger again) and the time he was running out of the house. But he lived. A man who was shot in the face, didn't lay there helpless, didn't scream in agony. That MAN walked to the neighbors to get help. Why? Because he's a MAN, and because he's on this earth for a reason.

It's gonna sound a little strange not only to you, but the audience who is reading this. I must say thank you. Even in this situation, this was the best outcome we could get. He gets to live. He will make a full recovery. He will graduate. And he will go off into the Marines. You united my family together. Closer than ever. Thank you. You tested our faith and brought us closer to our God. Thank you. Because of your moment of weakness, you showed us what prayer could do. Heal anything. Thank you. This was a bump in the road, and a helluva way to kick off our year of 2019. But here we are.. all laying in the hospital. I'm looking around as mom is sleeping in her recliner chair exhasted but still here, Zach his awake playing his xbox all hooked up to machines, fighting to heal and get better. And of course I'm writing this letter to you.

See you in trial,

From the girl whose brother you shot.

'Fight the good fight' - 1 Tim 6:12 🤟🏼💙

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