Women’s Fiction: Does It Deserve To Be an Individual Genre? – A Discussion Post

I’ve recently read a couple of books labelled as ‘women’s fiction’ and it got me thinking.

What makes a book one in the women’s fiction category? Why does this genre exist? Does it have a right to? And if yes, why isn’t there a genre for ‘men’s fiction’?

Because…it would be logical, wouldn’t it?

To be fair, this might be just me. I don’t know. I don’t remember ever seeing it being thoroughly discussed… But I’ve never in my life got what this category might mean. Ever since I was a tween starting to get interested in adult literature, I can’t fathom why women’s fiction is a thing.

I already wrote a couple of my thoughts about it in my review about ‘More Than Bones’, and I don’t want to compose the exact same thing another way again, so I decided to plagiarize myself a bit here. (Well, the source is clearly marked, so it’s more like a quote from myself…) Here it is:

I don’t completely understand or agree with the concept of the genre ‘women’s fiction’. I get it, they’re books for women… but… are these books only women like? They’re certainly not. Do women not like other books…? That’s not true, either. Okay, there are genres that mostly women read (mostly, but I let it slide now), like romance… but those have a genre already! Then what is the reason this category has to exist? It doesn’t make any sense…”

And there are other thoughts as well: what makes a book so “girly” that puts it in this genre? Many times it’s simply the fact that the protagonist is a woman. Or that it’s about things that mostly concern women. Is that really a reason to put a label on something, so people would think it should be read only by women?

These are things I can’t accept.

These books mostly have another genre, as well, making this “women’s fiction” label all the more pointless (in my opinion, at least).

I didn’t want to judge quickly, though, especially after I decided to write this post, so I went on good ol’ Wikipedia. This is what I found:

“Women’s fiction is an umbrella term for women centered books that focus on women’s life experience that are marketed to female readers, and includes many mainstream novels or woman’s rights Books. “

Okay, so according to this, women’s fiction is by definition the thing I thought it was. A book about a woman, or women, or the situation of women that’s somehow decided to be published with the pure intention to preferably aim at women. Why, I ask? Why should a book about women only keep the attention of women? Why couldn’t it be a hit with men, too, especially if it’s quality work? Well, it won’t ever be, if it’s marketed as a book specially for women. I think many books lose a serious number of potential readers because of this.

Let’s go on…

<<The Romance Writers of America organization defines women’s fiction as, “a commercial novel about a woman on the brink of life change and personal growth. Her journey details emotional reflection and action that transforms her and her relationships with others, and includes a hopeful/upbeat ending with regard to her romantic relationship.”>>

Okay, so am I the only one who thinks a woman’s personal growth and development could be interesting to anyone, regardless of their gender? I think if a book like this is well-written, anybody can enjoy and learn from it. And if it’s not a good work, then that is the reason some people doesn’t like it, and not that it’s about the opposite gender.

And I haven’t even mentioned anything non-binary. But let’s not go there, that would be worth a whole other discussion topic…

(Also, I don’t think that all books labelled ‘women’s fiction’ have an upbeat ending…but that’s another thing, too.)

“At the Women’s Fiction Writers Association women’s fiction is described as a story where the plot is driven by the main character’s emotional journey. Women’s Fiction includes layered stories about one or several characters, often multi-generational that tackles an adult character’s struggle with world issues resulting in emotional growth. It may include elements of mystery, fantasy, romance or other subgenres, but is not driven by these elements. The writing is high quality and accessible. Upmarket fiction often falls in this category, and is appropriate for book clubs.”

This is the end of the Wikipedia article (it’s painfully short by the way). I think this is the best definition of the three, and it makes me question the existence of women’s fiction even more.

I just…don’t get it.

Reading about it made me want to discuss this issue with you even more. I’m keen to learn what you think!

Have you ever thought about how the genre women’s fiction might be problematic? Do you think it has a right to exist, or do you think these books should have a genre, a label that reflects more of what happens in the book?

I’m very interested to see both sides of this, so please, leave a comment if you have any thoughts about this! No matter if you agree with me or not.

Let’s discuss! 😉

Hugs 🙂

 

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43 thoughts on “Women’s Fiction: Does It Deserve To Be an Individual Genre? – A Discussion Post

  1. I wish you could see me doing handstands over your post!! I’ve hated this term since introduction and I refuse to use it. I find it insulting that publishers created this as a “genre” when no such animal would ever be created for men. Any book they put in this category I classify as contemporary fiction.

    I am clueless as to why it doesn’t bother other women. The notion that there are books solely for a female audience is insulting. I’ve written posts about this in groups solely occupied by women and gotten very little response. I wish, just wish, we as a gender would stand up to a male dominated publishing industry and voice opposition to this as any kind of label. Internal marketing towards a demographic based on gender is common; to create an entire reading genre based on gender is absurd. And, I say this as a former marketing manager.

    You didn’t talk about this but I also find the term “chick-lit” equally insulting. I would never refer to myself as a “chick” and then tack on “literature” as if it was beneath the general literary category. We just shouldn’t allow this in this day and age. Would men find it acceptable to be slotted into something called “stud-lit?” It would never see the light of day.

    Thank you for letting me rant. I’ve been stewed about this for years now. I really appreciate you raising the issue.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m actually quite happy about your rant! 😁 It’s good to see it’s not just me. Actually one of the main facts why I wanted to write this post is that I haven’t really seen women raising their voice about this, and it seems so unbelievable in these times and age… I also think a genre should be a literary category, and not a marketing one. Aim the marketing at whoever you think you need to to be successful, but don’t pretend your marketing is actually not that but an academic definition! That’s just not right.

      I think the expression ‘chick lit’ is used as the ‘not-a-quality-story’ or ‘not-serious-literature’ version of women’s fiction – which is even a higher level on the scale of insulting. This term should never have been invented…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Unfortunately, I don’t think I have much to add because my thoughts align with yours exactly. I think it’s problematic and shuts some readers out (both men and non-binary and even women who don’t like particularly girly things). I, for one, am usually turned off by it because I assume it’s going to be something too romance-y or too flowery. I think they should be placed in their appropriate genre (fantasy, romance, contemporary fiction, up-lit, etc.) based on content, not gender.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree. I’m pretty sure I’ve turned away from some very good books I would’ve probably like, simply because it was labeled as women’s fiction. I tend to think I wouldn’t like them much, because I’m not a very girly girl in taste. And it’s so wrong! I try not to judge a book by this, because I’ve read some amazing “women’s fiction” books in my life, so I know there’s a lot of potential there… And I don’t want to miss out on something. I try to see the other genres/subgenres, and to figure out if I’d like the book according to them.

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  3. I completely agree with this post! Every time I see this genre mentioned, I just feel angry. It’s the same thing as suggesting a publisher has a year of only publishing “women’s fiction”, or as creating a book award just for women. It singles out a group of people based on their gender, and, even if it is attempting to encourage more people to read women’s writing, the result is that it compliments to the sexism that it sought to eradicate in the first place.

    On a side note, I’m actually really unlikely to read something labelled “women’s fiction” just because the singling out of women like that suggests it’s all about women… Like there are no male characters at all, which just sounds slightly odd.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, thank you, thank you! I’ve not heard voices like yours since this awful thing was introduced.

      Unfortunately, many authors I was already reading were suddenly thrown into this category. I know their work, love the products, so I cannot ignore the category. I make my singular statement on Goodreads by shelving the books as contemporary fiction.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Agreed. If the intention was to enhance equality, then it’s completely failed. For that purpose, more books about women should be published, that could be a good thing, but they shouldn’t be aimed specifically at women. This way the actual point is what’s lost!

      I’m usually very suspicious about these books, too, even though I know very well that I’ve already read a lot that I loved. This label makes these books sound a lot different than they actually are.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Surprisingly I hadn’t really thought about this much before. Maybe when I was much younger, but since I’ve heard it classified it so much I’ve grown accustomed to it. I will admit as a subgenre of contemporary literature, I know more about what I’m getting into, with a book, if it’s classified as women’s fiction.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, contemporary fiction is a very wide range of literature, I guess it really does help if something other is thrown beside that category. Sometimes it’s so hard to figure out what contemporary books are about and would I like them or not!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I like women’s fiction as for me, it meant it is a book of strong women and their saga, so some days, I want to read just that. If everything is slotted to contemporary, then I don’t get these kind of books but romance on amazon…
    With women’s fiction, I know I am getting a strong book with mature writing with women as main characters whom I can admire
    Chick lit demotes a slightly lighter read…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love books in this category, too! That’s exactly what my problem is with the name of this genre. I think it holds back a lot of people from reading these books, and that’s such a shame! I think they should be aimed at all people, as general fiction. I know that doesn’t say much about the content, but that’s what blurbs/descriptions are for. I get what you’re saying, though, these wonderfully written books about strong female characters are amazing! I love them, too.

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      1. Dora, if it comes in general fiction, I think amazon clubs it in contemporary.. I don’t know how to search for these books unless I Google women’s fiction.
        I can’t keep reading 100 blurbs to get to that 1 women’s fiction book. So I need this category as an option to write on the search option of google

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      2. I understand that. It can help distinguish between books, and as far as it’s only used for signing that the book is primarily about women, I’m okay with it, too. My problem is that it suggest what the readers gender should be, as well. That way it’s simply a marketing tool, and shouldn’t be used as a literary genre. I didn’t mean we shouldn’t be able to search for these books specifically, I only meant that the way they came up with for it is a bit problematic. 🙂

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    1. I like these books, too. 😊 I understand that we need to separate different, but in many ways similar categories, and I admit that ‘women’s fiction’ can help with that in some cases. I think, though, that there’s something generally wrong with the idea that romance is primarily for women, too. (that’s another topic to discuss, though) We’re all different people, with different tastes… We shouldn’t judge or categorize anything this much based on gender.

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  6. The best-known example (as for me) in modern literature is “Eat, Pray, Love”, which was discussed many times and shown in a movie like a joke, when a teacher (it was him) read it.
    As for me, that was not a book from “women’s fiction”, it’s just about traveling, memoirs would be the best word to describe.
    There, I have a strong position that “women’s fiction” couldn’t exist as a genre. If somebody wants, he\she can read women’s magazines instead 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree! Most of the books in the “genre” are like this I think: they should be categorized as something completely different from gender.
      The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that this is something like a “pseudo-genre” – it’s a device for marketing, and all these books could be classified as a member of another existing genre.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Completely right! It looks like a parody on some TV shows, “special for women”. Calling a book like “story for women” is just a way to attract target audience. But it has nothing personal to gender.
        Anyway, sometimes it seems to work and most people believe in that “pseudo-genre”, that’s a real problem.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. What I understand from the situation is that many people feel like they need a specific genre to be able to find these great books about women. And I think that’s why this genre is more accepted than it should be. The problem is that the label “women’s fiction” these days is not only interpreted as books ABOUT women (which would be totally fine, cool even, we need a category for these books, I agree with that!), but also as books FOR women. And THAT’s the problem. The content of a book can determine its genre, but the genre shouldn’t determine the reader. The problem with the term “women’s fiction” is that it blurs the border between genre and marketing.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Unfortunately, we have what we have. But if we ever define genre labeling it with “ABOUT”, it could create many hilarious genres. For example, it might be “children fiction” just because it’s about children (and it might be serious book, not the set of pictures or comics). And so on. Calling a book “women’s fiction” just only because it describes women is not completely right way.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. It’s all about marketting and making money I guess. The ‘women’s fiction’ is usually romantic and the covers are very pink or pastel, they often look the same. I was actually talking to a complete stranger about this recently. (wouldnt authors like their books to stand out!) Then there are the dramas. The main character is usually a woman and the story might be very emotional. I work in a discount book shop and we call the fiction, ‘mens’ and ‘womens’ I do it too even though I read books that maybe be considered men’s and don’t like the titles men and women’s either! Men’s is the dark covers with the snappy titles and women’s the pink/pastel colours with titles like ‘summer at the cosy cafe’ I blame the marketing of the books, the way they all look the same (even the thrillers all look the same) they could just have a normal cover but they need to make they look appealing to readers of that market. I too am curious how many men read so-called ‘women’s’ books I read various books and in the past have been put off by romantic women’s books but I have read and loved some (jenny Colgan!). this is a very interesting post 🙂

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    1. Yes, I think this is all about marketing. Probably that’s what bothers me so much: it’s used as a marketing tool, and I think a “genre” is a literary category, that should be chosen based on only academic definitions and content, not on who the publishers think would buy it the most.
      I think many places (if not the most) use these categories ‘for men’ and ‘for women’ as a marketing tool, and though I don’t like this, I can accept it as that: clear, obvious marketing. What I don’t like is pretending that it’s an actual literary genre.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Great points and I feel like I agree. Books are books, and I think any book that outlines a woman’s struggle, celebrates women and uplifts you as you read (what comes to mind when I hear Women’s Fiction) should be marketed for all readers. I think it’s a marketing tool where booksellers and publishers think they will sell more if they market to a specific group.

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  9. I can see why you might have a problem with the name but beyond that I think that the books that are categorised under this genre are the ones that appeal to women more than men and therefore it started out as short-hand for women to find the books that would appeal to them and aren’t romance which many women don’t like. Having said that women read way more fiction than men on the whole so if I’m putting it in a genre on my blog I always use contemporary fiction.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I get that. I accept it to be a category that makes it easier to find these books, I just don’t think it should be a literary genre. The fact that something is marketed for women is completely different from an academic concept. I totally get what your saying, though.

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      1. If we call it a genre, than I think it’s that. Or at least it implies it’s that. But if we don’t, and only use it as a marketing tool, I see why people feel like they need it. I still think that then there should be a category primarily aimed at men, too. If we use stereotypes, we should use them equally, too 😅

        Liked by 1 person

  10. I’m so happy that I’m not the only one that thinks this way! I’ve always found the term “Women’s Fiction” demeaning and unnecessary. Of course others will disagree with me but there is so much more grit and emotion in what is supposed to be “Women’s Fiction” that I actually find it contradictory and ironic at times. Lately it’s been used more and more as a technique by Publishers to draw attention from a certain age group which I think is sad but unfortunately explains pretty well how the industry works. This was a really insightful and original post, Dora!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I fairly agree. There are certain film industries where the term women-centric is applied to certain films which actresses themselves have stated they do not like as it pertains to only women. I think if a work is a feminist piece of work, it should be classified as that. Moving the tag from women’s fiction to feministic fiction would be the way to go.

    Liked by 1 person

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