September 5, 2007

"We see it every time in our store. Women head straight for the fiction section and men head for nonfiction."

Pesonally, I prefer nonfiction, but here's an article about how it's women who read fiction, men who read nonfiction. Take a wild guess whether the article -- from NPR -- makes women sound superior. There's an absurd assumption that what women do is best, which creates the bogus problem of how to get men to do what women do. Why don't we worry that women aren't informing themselves about history, politics, and science? Supposedly women naturally get absorbed in empathizing with fictional characters. Something about our "mirror neurons" being more "sensitive." Sounds sketchy, but anyway, what's the problem? Male or female, if fiction turns you on, read fiction, if not, don't. We've stopped trying to cure people of their sexual orientation. Why should we look for cures for intellectual orientation?

IN THE COMMENTS: XWL writes:
For me, it boils down to, women read their porn, while men watch theirs.

If men got their 'jollies' (I mean erotic escapist fantasies) from books the way some women do, I'd bet those fiction/non-fiction gender differences numbers would level out.

According to this 2004 AP story, 40% of fiction book sales in the USA are romance novels.

Same article claims a remarkable leap of male readership from 7% in 2002 to 22% in 2004, citing Navy Seals as being big fans of a particular series of romance novels featuring Seals as one example of the changing type of romance fiction and the audiences they are attracting.

That jump in sales to men happens to correspond to a lot of young men being deployed overseas to places where the military prohibits possession of pornography (and alcohol, too, our troops are ordered to behave like better muslims than the people in the countries they're rebuilding). Real porn is prohibited and punishment meted out if found on base in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait (though keeping young men from their porn seems ill advised and impossible in the internet and digital media age), those troops are forced to get their porn (at least their non-illicit porn) the way many women do, through novels.

34 comments:

Bob said...

It depends on the fiction. If the girls are going for paperbacks with covers of orange and purple, featuring heaving bosoms and sculpted abs, the meme doesn't play out, does it?

ron st.amant said...

I'm not certain I read a gender bias in this piece as much as I read a fiction bias. Fiction=empathy=superior.

It would be just as easy to equate fiction=escapism=inferior.

I tend to agree with the statistics however just from personal experience. One look at the bookshelves in our house would serve as evidence.

The Emperor said...

Furthermore, not all fiction is the same. I suspect that most of the fiction being read is of the romance novel type, rather than Hemingway. If that is in fact the case, I'm not sure that reading fiction is always a positive thing.

Ann Althouse said...

"It would be just as easy to equate fiction=escapism=inferior."

Which is what they'd say if they found men read more fiction than women.

SteveR said...

Men mostly want to avoid the Oprah Book Club selections.

Revenant said...

The gender split on reading mirrors my personal experience as well.

Ann, in all fairness I think researchers deliberately spin whatever female trait they discover as "superior" simply because it is the only way to avoid being crucified. If you suggest that women are *inferior* to men in any regard you're in for a world of pain, and implying that they are different in a way which is neither worse nor better sounds too weaselly. Implying that women are better is politically safe, and lets work on gender differences actually get done within the dogmatic academic world.

Moira Breen said...

Hmmm. "Women read more than men in all categories except for history and biography." I gotta wonder about their categories. Women read more science? Women read more philosophy? Implausible.

One could also hypothesize that women reading relatively more fiction is the result of their relative lack of interest in non-fiction topics, not any greater ability to empathize. I haven't noticed that men lack the knack for getting sucked into interesting narratives. I don't read much current fiction, either, and the fiction display tables in most big chain stores seem to be weighed down with what appears (if the covers are any indication) to be chick-lit. It's off-putting to me (and I am a chick), and never succeeds in tempting me into browsing. Wonder who reads more "classic" fiction.

(It's also a bad sign when they have to trot out ol' Louann Brizendine to explain things; I see she's still flogging some version of her debunked "women use more words" get-me-on-Oprah bait.)

Dave said...

Let's see. Science Fiction is, by definition, fiction. I wonder how much SF (not fantasy, which is different) is read by females as opposed to males?

You don't suspect the *type* of fiction makes a difference, do you? In fact, it seems that even mystery fiction is read more by females than males. Why? Try reading some. Since both my wife and I read a fair amount of mystery fiction I'd say we cover the ground there. (She's re-reading all the Mickey Spillane, for instance.) We find that about 20% of it is plot driven, about 40% is psychological driven, and the remaining 40% is mostly driven by series character/interpersonal relationships. Guess which kind(s) more women read.

Personally, after some 40+ years of reading Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine every month I'm just about to give it up if they print just one more pointless, murky psychological something-or-other piece by Joyce Carol Oates.

My point is, over the past twenty years or so it seems to me that much of the fiction I used to read has become much more oriented on plotless, no-beginning no-end examinations of a set of interpersonal relationships -- read female-oriented.

Just my two cents.

XWL said...

So when it comes to the bible, women read it as fiction, and men read it as non-fiction?

For me, it boils down to, women read their porn, while men watch theirs.

If men got their 'jollies' (I mean erotic escapist fantasies) from books the way some women do, I'd bet those fiction/non-fiction gender differences numbers would level out.

According to this 2004 AP story, 40% of fiction book sales in the USA are romance novels.

Same article claims a remarkable leap of male readership from 7% in 2002 to 22% in 2004, citing Navy Seals as being big fans of a particular series of romance novels featuring Seals as one example of the changing type of romance fiction and the audiences they are attracting.

That jump in sales to men happens to correspond to a lot of young men being deployed overseas to places where the military prohibits possession of pornography (and alcohol, too, our troops are ordered to behave like better muslims than the people in the countries they're rebuilding). Real porn is prohibited and punishment meted out if found on base in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait (though keeping young men from their porn seems ill advised and impossible in the internet and digital media age), those troops are forced to get their porn (at least their non-illicit porn) the way many women do, through novels.

Ann Althouse said...

Moira: Here's a recent post of mine that is probably based on the same study in the NPR report. I raise the same point you do about philosophy and science. Apparently, it doesn't count as a "category" because the study didn't regard it as a "major category."

Revenant: Of course, you are right that it's defensive. No one wants to get what Larry Summers got.

XWL: Great point about porn.

Moira Breen said...

Ann - I guess the major categories are something like

1) Non-fiction: Self-help books
2) Fiction: Romance novels
3) Dieting (fiction or non-fiction)
4) Miscellaneous

Philosophy and science are in category 4.

XWL - I suspected as much about the 40% romance novels. I love the image of the Navy Seals reading them, though. So it's OK to have chick porn but not guy porn in those places? And they say that women are second class citizens over there!

jjones said...

Since most of the popular fiction is pablum, avoiding it is admirable. It has gotten to the point where I almost refuse to read a book written by a woman, and published within the last three years. And I'm a woman. It's embarrassing. Thanks, Oprah.

AllenS said...

Women like to read about fiction, just like they love to hear about fiction. If they didn't, you'd never be able to pull their pants down.

Jeff said...

You'd think that porn was the equivalent of the age-old tradition of camp followers ministering to soldiers needs both before and after battle. The feminising victorian culture lives on!

Original Mike said...

I read science. I'm suppose to give it up and read pulp fiction, instead, in order to better myself? Right, NPR. I'll get right on that.

Synova said...

XWL has a good point. I *am* surprised to hear that SEALS are reading a certain series...

I think I know what that series is and if I'm right I own every... no, I think I might still be missing one of the earlier ones.

If it *is* Suzanne Brockmann's novels they are romances but also very much military adventure and she did a thing through several of them where she included an historic romance interspersed with the present day that was pure military history.

Christy said...

XWL is exactly right. Then throw in the way romance novels are marketed, and they overwhelm the market. Subscribe to a romance series and get a box of 5 books delivered to your door every month.

George said...

Here's one of the best novels ever written. And it's for men only.

Word for word, he's miles beyond Hemingway, Faulkner. He's up there with Melville and Twain.

Gahrie said...

here
is an example of guy porn, and I'm sure a fair number of SEALs have read it considering the main protagonist is a SEAL.

Bruce Hayden said...

I guess I fail the stereotype, since I am male, and read fiction about 3/1, invariably sci-fi and fantasy. Most everyone else in the family reads mysteries, but I never see the point. The only thing worse are TV mysteries. The only thing I watch even close is CSI, and that is because of the technology and that the original CSI doesn't tend to leave clues around, so you rarely know who the perp is until the very end, regardless.

I like sci-fi and fantasy because they can allow authors to say and investigate things that they otherwise couldn't. I am currently reading "The Speed of Dark" by Elizabeth Moon. It is a very interesting look at the autistic mind and whether autistics would/should be willing to give up their unique thought processes if they could become "normal".

Bruce Hayden said...

Interesting male pornography dressed up as military fantasy are the Ghost/Kildar series of books by John Ringo. The protagonist is a former Seal and ultimately has a harem. That in itself wouldn't turn it into porn, but the recounting of his sexual exploits surely does.

Jennifer said...

An interesting point, XWL, except that I can assure you the guys have plenty of guy porn over there. Still, they do seem to read a LOT more than at home. But I think that's more of a no-cable-tv thing than a no-porn thing.

Gahrie said...

Bruce:

My link in my post above yours was to Ghost on Amazon.

And we can't forget John Norman's classic Gor series while we are on this topic.....

Christy said...

Bruce, Elizabeth Moon was a naval officer IIRC. Her female protagonists are my idea of what feminists should be, but typically are not.

Pogo said...

Neil Postman long ago wrote that nonfiction is merely another form of narrative, a manner of storytelling with its own traditional format. "Just So" stories, but true.

It's more obvious when one considers political tracts, which often resemble old morality tales, complete with high dudgeon and, very often, heaving bosoms. Or tapping shoes.

It's just hardcovered People magazine.

rcocean said...

I just want to say that I read fiction. But its MANLY fiction. Fiction that real MEN read. Like:

-Hemingway
-Tolstoy
-Dostavesky (sic)
-E. Waugh
-Thackeray
-Dickens
-Twain
-Joyce
-London
-Melville
-Cervantes
-Hugo
-Spillane
-Chandler
-Fitzgerald
-Patrick O'Brien

Maxine Weiss said...

Fiction is art. A woman who doesn't read fiction, obviously doesn't like art.

Synova said...

What do you do when you run out?

See, I run out of books when I find an author I like. If I'm really lucky the author has a big in-print back list but eventually I run out and have to wait while he or she writes the next one.

And no one writes fast enough.

But these dead guys. When you're done with them you're *done*.

(I don't recommend Ghost for anyone who has trouble with BDSM or rape in books. Just saying. It's one of those I'm glad I got in e-book form so I don't have to worry about the kids finding it.)

Mortimer Brezny said...

All I read is this blog. It satisfies all my pornographic and philosophical needs.

Sgt. Mom said...

Oh, dear, I fail the stereotypes all the way around... as far as my own reading habits go, I avoid bodice-rippers, chick-lit and the Oprah Books as if they were radioactive. And lately I've been piling on the non-fiction; history, memoirs and biography mostly.
Of course, most of that is in the service of the trilogy I am writing about the German settlements in 19th century Texas; lots of good manly stuff there, with war, cattle ranches, Indian raids and Rangers. Curiously my own books are about half and half when it comes to male and female protagonists, and the current book "To Truckee's Trail" has a male protagonist. (link here - http://www.booklocker.com/books/3004.html )
And if I broke down my readers and mad fans by gender, it works out to about three-quarters male.
Synova, it's not the writing that is slow, its getting the book published and marketed!

Fen said...

Whatever. I'm back to reading Frank Herbet's 7 Dune books all over again.

A study by NPR? *snicker*

lurker2209 said...

I love Dune!

I'm female and about 70-80% of what I read is science fiction. I suspect that's a pretty male-oriented segment of fiction, especially the graphic novels. The other 20-30% is a mix of some chick-lit, some classics, some nonfiction science and the occasional Grisham novel when I'm on vacation and brought nothing else to read.

And I read a lot more nonfiction science for work, but that's mostly journal articles, not books like I read for pleasure.

Bill said...

"Elizabeth Moon was a naval officer IIRC."

Close: 1stLt, USMC.

Jonathan said...

When considering Ghost et al. it helps to read John Ringo's own commentary on the subject (available on his website - exercise left for the student).

I'll admit to finding them technically fascinating, from a writing POV; though the change from what is essentially a compilation of short stories to full novels was ... different.