Female Writers/Male Writers – Who Do You Read?

My mom’s favorite books were mysteries.  From Rita Mae Brown to Iain Pears to Alexander McCall Smith.  She loved them all.

From VIDA's The Count http://www.vidaweb.org/the-count-2012

From VIDA’s The Count http://www.vidaweb.org/the-count-2012

My dad loves westerns – Zane Gray, Louis L’Amour, Ivan Doig.  He’s a man who appreciates a good gunfight and a happy ending.

But this is not ALL my parents read.  Mom also read Anne Lamott and books about how the Irish saved civilization. She read Stephen Jay Gould’s books on science and evolution, and every once in a while, she slipped in a literary novel by Oscar Hijuelos.

Dad recently finished Hot Flat and Crowded by Thomas Friedman, and he loves the work of Luis Urrea.  He’s not narrow in his reading choices.

But one thing I do know about my parents’ reading habits – my mother chose books by both men and women.  My father read – almost exclusively – books by men.

I know this is not a conscious choice on my dad’s part.  He doesn’t despise women or women’s writings.  But he has been socialized to think that books by women are FOR women.  Many men have.

Quietly, our culture has taught men that women don’t have much of worth to say to them, even when they write about topics that are universal and not just the stereotypical “women’s topics” like romance (as if men are never part of that experience) or parenting (again, sometimes guys have a role to play there, too.)  It seems we have decided as a culture that men can speak with authority to all people, but women can only speak to women.

This breaks my heart.  As a woman. As a writer. But more as a person. I’m sad to be a part of a culture that says women’s voices are not as valuable.  And whether we like it or not, this is what our culture says.

(For the record, our culture also says this about people of color, people with disabilities, and older people, too.)


VIDA, an organization that supports women in the literary arts, does an annual count of the number of women who are published in major magazines around the United States.  Overwhelmingly, the number of men who are published outpaces women.  For example, in 2012 The Nation gave bylines to 393 men and only 192 women, and The New Yorker was even more inequitable with 445 bylines going to men and just 160 going to women.

Every time I look at this count, I am left dumb-founded.  How is it that in the 21st century we still have these vast disparities between the voices we give public access and those we don’t?  It seems impossible, but I know it’s the truth.  I’ve lived it. I live it now.


I don’t know what the answer is to this problem. I know I intentionally read broadly – men and women writers; white, black, asian, native american, hispanic writers; contemporary writers and traditional writers – but I know I could do better. I read a disproportionate number of women writers, without a doubt.

Maybe the key is simply to be aware, to make a conscious choice to see our own reading behaviors and try to make them more diverse and equitable.  Maybe the key is to just see.

So who do you read?  More men? More women? Why do you choose those writers over others? 

Lisa Colon Delay and Jennifer Luitweiler are addressing this idea of “Who Do You Read?” over on their blogs in the coming days, and I think I’ll be writing about this gender gap in writing for a few more days here. I hope you’ll check out their work and join in this conversation – it’s an important one. 


  • http://lisadelay.com/blog Lisa Colon DeLay

    wow. you’re good. Loved this!

    Thanks for helping and encouraging me to ask the question we forget to ask.

    We must always reengage afresh and find blind spots, and dare to grow without growing bitter!


    great stuff!

  • http://unchainedfaith.com Amy

    I’ve written about this topic some as well. I think a good part of it is what is taught in school. The vast majority of my school-assigned literature over the years was written almost exclusively by white, able-bodied men. I can think of only a handful of women whose books were assigned. Not only that, there was a bit of tokenism–we read Diary of Anne Frank, which covered both “woman” and “Jewish”; we read “A Raisin in the Sun,” which covered both “woman” and “black.” Outside of that, in only one of my classes did we read multiple works by women (it was about a 50/50 split men/women in my 10th grad lit class). In college, I took a required lit class. I’m glad I discovered Joyce and Hemingway, but I’m disappointed that we read exactly one thing written by a woman–a short story by Joyce Carol Oates. Women tend to discover other women on our own, I think, out of necessity–we just don’t see enough of “our kind” represented. Men, on the other hand, see no need. I think the solution is to make it a priority to feature women in out literature classes.

  • http://www.eileenknowles.com Eileen

    Interesting topic, Andi, I find myself gravitating slightly more toward men writers. I tend to have a mix of men and women read and comment on my blog. One time I had a woman reader leave a comment…apparently all the comments before hers that day were men. She was amazed and said, “I have never seen so many men comment on a blog before.” It struck me as odd that she would say that. I guess the difference might be in the subject matter that the 2 different sexes will sometimes talk about. I often find myself writing about topics that might be considered appealing to a man or woman. I don’t know. Still trying to figure it out…

  • http://8thdayfiction.wordpress.com/ Brian

    Just thinking about what I’ve read recently, almost all of them were men. This isn’t by choice; it just happened to work out that way. Two of my favorite authors happen to be women (Lorrie Moore and Sarah Vowell), but I don’t consciously seek out women authors. I normally just read stuff that either looks interesting to me or stuff by authors whom I’ve read before and like. It probably couldn’t hurt to actively seek out more diverse work.

    I appreciate you writing about something I haven’t thought about before, but probably should.

    So I guess I’ll add “Modelland” to my reading list.

    Just kidding.

  • http://penpaperpad.com Tamara Woods

    Great topic Andi. I may actually lean more toward female writers in fiction, blogging,etc, but now I’ll be paying more attention to the news outlets.