women's fiction

I opened the NY Times book review this past weekend and lo and behold there was an essay by the divine Meg Wolitzer called The Second Shelf about how books written by men and women are treated differently.

It was a brilliant piece and I commend the Times for running it especially since we know the numbers of women working and being covered across all areas of that section are unacceptably lower than their male peers.  I loved her anecdote when speaking with a man at a party where when she told him she was a writer:

Would I have heard of you?” I dutifully told him my name — no recognition, fine, I’m not that famous — and then, at his request, I described my novels. “You know, contemporary, I guess,” I said. “Sometimes they’re about marriage. Families. Sex. Desire. Parents and children.” After a few uncomfortable moments he called his wife over, announcing that she, who “reads that kind of book,” was the one I ought to talk to.

She hits the problem on the head and the problem transcends literature, it pervades our culture.  The problem is the fact that issues related to marriage, families, sex, desire, parents, children, relationships and oh so many others ...are seen soft or womanly i.e. not important to the culture, especially when a woman writes about it.

Wolitzer smartly talks about the reception of the writing of Jeffrey Eugenides whose Middlesex is one of my favorite books ever.  He also writes about marriage, families, sex, desire...and yet his books are literature and Meg Wolitzer's books are, well, not seen in the same way.