Initially I thought I was choosing my books wrongly (and maybe that’s indeed the case). I tried different authors, settings and storylines, but kept hitting upon the same themes and characterisations as if there was some code of conduct on what stories to tell. Have you noticed these things too?
Here are the things I noticed:
1. All men are assholes (apart from the ones in the end of the story)
While female characters can be multilayered, male characters are there with one trait only, they are mean. They often don’t have any grounds for that apart from being men.
Those cardboard wrong-doers are already enough to ruin a story but what really infuriates me is that in the end of the story the same asshole or some newcomer becomes a knight in shining armour and rescues the woman to her happily-ever-after. Seriously?! You just created a whole story where a woman suffered because of a man but the final message of the book is find yourself a better man?!
It seems that just like “Chekhov’s gun” is supposed to shoot in a good story, a woman is supposed to produce a baby. It either happens during the story or before its onset, but regardless of its relevance to the plot the physiological details will be provided to you with the accuracy of an anatomy textbook.
I’m still not sure if this obsession is coming from the excitement of being able to describe something that male authors have no first-hand experience of, or it’s an attempt to speak about things that people around could not listen to.
3. Society vs women
Struggling stay-at-home moms, women facing harassment at work, women treated like cattle, these all are acute issues, but as it usually happens, once a message gets overstated it stops being noticed. And that’s exactly what I’ve been witnessing in modern books. Although, maybe conveying a message is not their main aim? Maybe it’s simply done to sell the books to certain audiences?
Obviously, I’m talking about my personal observations. I’ve read some books that do not orbit around those mentioned topics but include some other themes too. If you also know such books, please, let me know 🙂
15 thoughts on “Am I imagining things or these patterns do happen in modern female-authored literature?”
Lol… I do recognise the tropes you are describing:)). However, I tend to see it in another light – disempowered women often are badly treated by the men in their lives. I suspect it’s not simply a gender issue, but that is often the dynamic we see in society because women are less finanancially independent and once in a long-term relationship, end up being the caregivers, cooks and cleaners – all low-status jobs. Once women become more conscious of their own status and lack of agency, they kick against the one person who is all over their case – their partner, who once was a lot more respectful and mindful of them and their needs. Which is why this is a repeating theme…
Thank you for your beautiful comment, Sarah! You described it really well. I do agree with you. I mean, I was also wondering if that’s happening because women are taking a stand against everything that’s been happening to them historically. For a long time I tried to see it in this light and to be kinder about it. But then I just couldn’t anymore. Even if this is the case I’d love to see the themes incorporated into the story more skilfully. For example, I’ve noticed these topics even in Perry’s novels but they are so full of other details, description, art (!) that everything looks natural, realistic, life-like. In the books I’m ranting about the stories become a caricature. That’s why I started to suspect they are just following a trend, trying to fit a niche, rather than speaking out or carrying deep messages.
Ah… and now I take your point. And in that context, I do see your concern – and you’re right to be worried, because if it’s being shoehorned into books clumsily because the author feels it’s a ‘live issue’ that readers care about, rather than because it’s intrinsic to the characters witin the story – then it also becomes devalued. And I absolutely agree with your frustration…
I have noticed there have been a lot of books I’ve read with purely awful men who are two dimensional. Ex-husband? Automatic asshole. At least, this is a lot of romance books.
I thought it would be more interesting to read at least if those men were more complicated than that. It would make them more believable. I haven’t read any romance books written by women btw. My examples are from historical novels, thrillers, fantasy (well, and obviously from chic lit but it would be unfair to blame the genre for what it’s originally supposed to be like 🙂 )
I’ve not read many modern books written by women but this sounds like they’ve taken into using clichés or tropes to maybe try and make the story more real.
Not sure. You might be onto something.
Thanks Simon! I’ve read quite a few of them and tried to choose those that would be different. They were of different genres and dealt with different stories originally but sooner or later those themes got into picture.
Interesting… what do others think?
Really interesting… I’m trying not to have these in the book I’m writing.
I’ve noticed that books aimed at women often don’t have any decent male characters in. You can have strong female characters but not at the expense of males.
I’ve just released a novel that commits all three of the aforementioned offenses, but I didn’t have that formula in mind when I wrote it. My goal was to write a novel based on the true stories of what happened when a few hundred people lost their homes to Shenandoah National Park during the Depression. In the 1930s, many women (especially lower income women) didn’t have the luxury of the choices we have today. Many of them had to contend with worthless men, unwanted pregnancies and societal prejudices.
Whatever era you’re writing/reading about, these are all issues that are central to women’s lives. Of course, one-dimensional men are not worth reading about and motherhood is no longer the single greatest accomplishment women can look forward to in life. But there is a reason these subjects recur in work by women authors: many of their readers recognize their own struggles in those of the female protagonists.
Haha yep! I recognize these tropes for sure, haha. Good to know I’m not the only woman seeing these in books. It would be nice to have a little more complexity and variety? And yet I also do think you’re right in that these might be coming up because of a mirror to these issues in society. Huh.
Hi there! I’m sorry I’m replying so late. It’s been a while but I still keep noticing this trend. There is one book though from those I recently read that’s different in this regard, it’s called Olive Kitteridge. I can’t say I’m a total fan of it (I’ll review it later, I guess), but both men and women are satisfyingly (! 🙂 ) and equally not perfect there. I haven’t noticed any “gender-blaming” there (shall I make it a term? 🙂 )
Very interesting perspective! I’m an author who has both a personal memoir of surviving abuse and two fictional stories of women surviving toxic relationships. I would like to believe that I created sympathy and depth for my ex in Dark Confessions of an Extraordinary, Ordinary Woman. I tried to show him as a three-dimensional human being rather than an asshole. I’m very curious if you’d agree with my assessment. In Her Own Hero, the woman saves herself, however the leading men are assholes (same with Her Beauty Burns). As far as pregnancies go, I definitely broke from the trend you described. My fifth book is called No Kids Required and delves into the lives of 20 child-free women. I would love to mail you a copy of Dark Confessions of an Extraordinary, Ordinary Woman and any one other book that you choose. If you prefer ebooks, I’ll purchase them for you in exchange for an honest review. You’ve peaked my interest.
This is the link for Amazon if I’ve peaked your curiousity.
Jenn you’ve peaked my interest for sure 🙂 I feel honoured but also scared. What if I don’t like the stories? You see how I get if I don’t like books. It’s not because I’m trying to be mean on purpose. It comes naturally to me …
I’m not overall against these topics in literature. I am against them being there “artificially”, stuck there to attract attention or to follow a trend.
In fact, these topics appear in many great books, like The Forsyte Saga, or Tolstoy’s books, or in The Essex Serpent (if we look at something modern) and I loved those books! So it’s not the topics themselves it’s probably just the writing when I can notice the seams of putting it there for some purpose.
I’ve just finished another fiction book that disappointed me in this regard (and I wasn’t ready, people loved the book!) so I need some time out so that my current emotions don’t colour the next book I read.
I’m speaking only about fiction now. I don’t think that memoirs can be assessed in the same way.
Anyway, thanks a lot for your comment! I’ll think about your offer. My best wishes to you!
I love your reply because it’s honest. If you read my book and don’t like it, then that’s your honest opinion. I’ve received bad reviews in the past and they don’t rattle me. Every story won’t connect with every reader. It’s okay. Please send me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org, if you want me to send you a book or two. Thanks for all you do. Sincerely, Jenn
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