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It's restrictive, it's outdated, and it's functionally useless.
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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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Sansa Stark Doesn't Deserve The Hate She Gets

I can understand why she may have rubbed you the wrong way, she annoyed me too.

Alyson
Alyson
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(Warning, there's gonna be spoilers for the first seven seasons) "Game of Thrones" is a show that has many, many characters. So many that it can be hard for the average viewer to keep track of them all. Some we can't even remember their names, they just get referred to as "that guy who..." I'm pretty sure the only reason I can keep track of all the characters is that I watch Youtube channels that are dedicated to the show, do episode recaps and tell me who all the characters are.

Since there are so many characters "Game of Thrones" has someone that each one of us loves, hates, or feels indifferent about. Some characters are universally loved like Arya and Tyrion. Others I don't think anyone liked. Admit it, we were all cheering when Joffery and Ramsay were finally killed off.

Then there are characters that are either loved or hated by fans. Sansa Stark is such a character, and I want to take the time to show that she doesn't deserve the hate she gets from some fans.

Now if we're just going off season one Sansa, I can understand why she may have rubbed you the wrong way, she annoyed me too. But I think it's important to remember that she was 13. Most 13-year-old girls are shallow and annoying. I think most of us hated our 13-year-old selves. Sansa was also brought up to be a lady. She lived in a world where a woman's value was marrying into a respected family, and marrying into royalty was the highest you could marry in the social structure. So, of course, she's infatuated with Prince Joffery when she meets him.

After her father is executed, Sansa is held hostage in King's Landing and has to play the part of a good little lady that's loyal to Joffrey, otherwise, she'll be killed. Throughout season two she's physically and mentally abused primarily by Joffrey. Then in season three, she's forced to marry Tyrion, a member of the family that murdered hers (still the best husband she could get given the circumstances). Eventually, she does escape King's Landing, only to be forced to marry Ramsay Bolten, a complete evil psychopath, who abused and sexually assaulted her in her own home.

I think after all that Sansa deserves at least some of our sympathy.

Then came season six, where Sansa cemented herself as one of my all-time favorite characters. In season six Sansa reunited with her (supposed) brother Jon and they take back their home Winterfell from Ramsay, and she gets to deliver the killing blow to the guy that raped and tortured her.

In season seven she becomes the Lady of Winterfell and takes care of the North while Jon is (cough) busy with Daenerys trying to form an alliance. Sansa earns the respect of the northern lords so much that a few even question why they named Jon King in the North.

Throughout the season Littlefinger, the most selfish, creepy, manipulative bastard on the show, tried to drive a wedge between Sansa and her sister Arya so much that we were scared Sansa was going to execute Arya. But no, Sansa outsmarted Littlefinger and had him executed instead.

The reason more people should appreciate Sansa is that she's had one of the most fascinating arcs on the show. She went from spoiled brat, to victim, to survivor, to manipulator, to strong advisor, to savvy politician, to the Lady of Winterfell who ran the whole North and is one of the most valuable players in the game. We can learn from Sansa that anyone has the potential to change and grow for the better and that it's possible to overcome any trauma.

Keep in mind that a lot of characters who underestimated Sansa are now dead (I hope Cersei is next). That's something to keep in mind as the series comes to a close. I really hope she makes it. If I had to choose one character to save, it'd be her.

Alyson
Alyson

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