Men Don’t Read Books By Women, But They’ve Learned To Pretend That They Do

The Observer reports on a study on sex differences in reading habits, which found that, “while women read the works of both sexes, men stick to books written by men.” The article says:

The research was carried out by academics Lisa Jardine and Annie Watkins of Queen Mary College, London, to mark the 10th year of the Orange Prize for Fiction, a literary honour whose women-only rule provoked righteous indignation when the competition was founded. They asked 100 academics, critics and writers and found virtually all now supported the prize.

But a gender gap remains in what people choose to read, at least among the cultural elite. Four out of five men said the last novel they read was by a man, whereas women were almost as likely to have read a book by a male author as a female. When asked what novel by a woman they had read most recently, a majority of men found it hard to recall or could not answer. Women, however, often gave several titles. The report said: ‘Men who read fiction tend to read fiction by men, while women read fiction by both women and men.

I think that in a male-controlled world, women have long learned to place themselves in the minds of the dominating gender, and to view the world through its eyes. Men have no incentive to see the world through female eyes, unfortunately. At least some men recognize they have a problem.

The article goes on, perhaps more worryingly:

‘Consequently, fiction by women remains “special interest”, while fiction by men still sets the standard for quality, narrative and style.’

Basically male authors have the advantage of having both male and female readers, which helps them get a greater hold on the literary conversation, and define what constitutes literature. The study concludes:

Jardine said: ‘When pressed, men are likely to say things like: “I believe Monica Ali’s Brick Lane is a really important book – I’m afraid I haven’t read it.” I find it most endearing that in 10 years what male readers of fiction have done is learn to pretend that they’ve read women’s books.’