Guest post by Rob Kennedy
Marisa Wikramanayake and I have started a blog, Guys Read Gals – or GRG, for short – with the aim of finding out if men are reading women’s fiction, and getting men to talk about what they are reading. It’s a social experiment which began after I wrote an article for my blog, Arts – Writing – Life, titled, Real men read books? It had a reasonable response, and Marisa found it. From that article and Marisa’s passion, GRG sprouted.
Such a blog is timely, judging by the lack of reviews of books by women in literary pages which the VIDA count has identified over the years. If the Bookseller & Publisher’s assessment published in March last year is any guide, the situation in Australia doesn’t appear much better.
Australian author Michelle de Kretser might give a clue as to why don’t men read more books by women. In her novel, The Lost Dog, she writes, “When the Australian desire to provide assistance meshed with the Australian dread of appearing unmanly, it produced the bluff that was Mick Corrigan’s default setting.” The Australian dread of appearing unmanly. Is it unmanly to read women’s writing? Is that belief a default setting for most men?
If it is unmanly for men to read women’s writing, it also appears unmanly to talk about what you read. Out of interest I went to Goodreads to see how many people had reviewed The Lost Dog. There were a lot, 563. So I spent some time going through that list and found that 49 men had either reviewed, rated or marked it to read. That’s less than 10%. I’ve done this before for other books written by women, and the figures are similar. As a reader of current fiction by Australian women, I’m definitely in the minority.
Over the past year I’ve read, Five Bells by Gail Jones, The Secret River by Kate Grenville, All That I Am by Anna Funder, The Bone Thrower by Aishah Macgill, Defiant Daughter by Linda Martin, Mr Right and other Mongrels by Monique McDonnell and Pride by Nicole Suzanne Brown. Now that the Stella Prize longlist is out, my book club has plenty of other great books to choose from by Australian women. But, as most book clubs are dominated by women, it’s a challenge to get men to join.
That’s where our new blog might help. Our aim is to find the 10% of men who are willing to read books by women, to get them involved and build on that base. We’ve started with just the one category, Australian women’s fiction, so we can maintain a focus. If we get requests for other forms of writing, we will expand it. For now, these are the criteria to join. You need to be:
- An avid reader
- Willing to contribute regularly and
- Willing to read Australian female fiction authors.
- Any gender
- Any location and
- Have something intellectual/interesting/riveting to say on either/both men
reading/Australian female fiction writers.
So if you’re a guy who reads, or you’re interested in Australian women’s writing, sign up to GRG. Let’s make this International Women’s Day count.
Rob Kennedy is a writer, poet and composer. Rob founded and manages the fabulous poetry group DiVerse. A cluster of artist who draw their inspiration for poetry through the visual. (Ekphrasis)
Rob has articles published in the Sydney Morning Herald, Cordite, State of the Arts magazine, Newswrite, Five Bells and the UK based Culture Wars, on the arts and social commentary. He is also the author of eight books.
Hmm, interesting point. I just counted number of male vs female reviews for my epic fantasy on Goodreads and it’s 6 men vs 19 women. A bit higher than your statistics suggest, but extremely unbalanced nevertheless. Makes me want to use a male pseudonym when I write. It’s sad to see things haven’t changed much in the last hundred years, although, I wonder if less women would have read and reviewed my book if I were a male author…
Yes. I think you’re right Dionne. “Miles” was onto something when she penned her name. And you’re right, sad little has changed. Cheer Rob
Great post! You should be a writer! I didn’t realise that alot of men shyed away from reading women’s books, thinking other men would brand them a kind of ‘sissy’? Am I right in assuming this? So, that means if a woman is a best-seller, it’s mostly due to other women buying the book?
Thanks Aishah, I’m trying to be a writer! I don’t know about men branding other men as sissies, but I do know most men do not read women’s fiction. Have a look on Goodread at any top selling female writer and look at who has reviewed it. My research says that about 90% of the respondents are women.
Why limit it to fiction? Men are more likely to read non-fiction. Furthermore my ‘Writing Non-Fiction’ lecturer, Peter Ellings, has set a reading list that includes women authors. He even harangued us in lecture a couple of weeks ago for the few people who said they’d finished reading ‘The Tall Man’ by Chloe Hooper. Another must-read on his list is ‘Joe Cinque’s Consolation’ by Helen Garner; both books are by Australian women.
Hi DMZ, We started with fiction to keep a focus, if we get requests from participants we will take it further. After doing a quick survey on Goodread of a popular non-fiction book by a female writer I found the figures the same. 90% women 10% Men. But that was only on one book. Strategies That Work: Teaching Comprehension for Understanding and Engagement
by Stephanie Harvey, Anne Goudvis
Maybe men are simply not reading as much as women.
Glad you are doing this. I think part of the problem is that too many men just aren’t interested in women generally. They aren’t curious about what women say and do when men aren’t around. They don’t see women and their lives as significant. And they assume that women writers will only write about “woman stuff.” It’s related to men matter more than women.
If men do read women’s books, they would get a better understanding of women, and perhaps we could have a more equitable world.
Hi MD Brady, I certainly agree with your comment about men assuming women only write about about “woman stuff”. As a man I would say that this is a large part of the problem. Getting men involved across an array of issues is the only way we will ever reach a gender parity.
Get em while they’re young. Teach equality in schools. Grassroots stuff. We need people to push these types of things forward.
Thank God for people like you! Could we clone you? I’ve been lucky that I had a few men (probably the 10% you mention) that did come up to me and say they enjoyed Tomaree (one of the points of view is male) but they only read it because their wives told them they would enjoy it. It was lovely that they several of them did come and tell me but they were definitely in the minority. Keep up the good work!
Thanks Debbie. I’m thinking of going around to all the bookshops and putting women’s books in the men’s section. Maybe that’s a way to get men reading gals books.
Rob, the online magazine I write a column for is doing a special on fathers. I’m writing an article on young boys and reading. I’d love to have a quick chat. If you’re interested please contact me at Hayley@hmcwriter.com