The way people think about books and make purchasing decisions is based on ‘subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) value judgments on what kind of narratives matter’ (Johnson 2013). Just as our society values men over women, we tend to value male interests over topics considered to be of interest to female readers, such as relationships. This may explain why ‘some people, especially some men, see most fiction by women as one soft, undifferentiated mass that has little to do with them’ (Wolitzer 2012).
And yet the interests and experiences of men and women are not based as clearly on gendered line as this. As Palmer (2013) points out, romance is a universal human experience, so why shouldn’t men read about it? Why wouldn’t they want to? Gendered-based marketing is therefore not only a sexist practice based on ‘a deeply outdated and stereotypical view of what women find interesting’ (Meadows 2013), it is also exclusionary of men’s interests and experiences.
While the intention of gender-based marketing is to appeal to a targeted audience assumed to be the biggest consumers, it can also serve to alienate readers who would have otherwise picked up the book based on its content.
As Russell Williams (2010) says,
Boys will never pick up a book that bellows its girly credentials outright, even if they secretly harbour some curiosity about what it is girls read, want and incessantly giggle about. Surely it’s daft and wrong-headed to ensure that half of your potential audience will never pick up the product?
Meanwhile, while the clear gender-based marketing of chick lit attracts many female readers, it pushes away still more. As Palmer (2013) says, many female readers avoid books that are obviously directly marketed at women because they are ashamed of being seen reading such a book in public due to the negative connotations associated with the genre.
As successful female author, Jennifer Weiner, says, ‘I just wish books can be books because when you start labeling things, you start excluding people’ (in Gabillet 2012).
To learn more about this topic, discover how to identify gender-based marketing and why I think the publishing industry needs to move away from this strategy.
Gabillet, A 2012, ‘Jennifer Weiner on chick lit and The next best thing’, 28 June, Popsugar, viewed 19 April 2014, <http://www.tressugar.com/Jennifer-Weiner-New-Book-Next-Best-Thing-23749386>.
Johnson, M 2013, ‘The gender coverup’, 5 July, The Huffington Post, viewed 19 April 2014, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/maureen-johnson/gender-coverup_b_3231484.html>.
Meadows, F 2013, ‘Jarring Belles’, 2 February, The Huffington Post, viewed 18 April 2014, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/foz-meadows/jarring-belles_b_2605420.html>.
Palmer, R 2013, ‘Coverflip: some meandering thoughts about gender and marketing’, May 10, We got so far to go: social justice rants and raves, viewed 19 April 2014, <http://taikonenfea.wordpress.com/2013/05/10/coverflip-some-meandering-thoughts-about-gender-and-marketing/>.
Russell Williams, I 2010, ‘Pink book covers make me see red: why can’t publishers serve fiction for girls without a simpering array of pearly grins and pony-tails? Enough candy-coating’, 28 July, The guardian, viewed 20 April 2014, <http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2010/jul/28/queen-of-teen-award-pink-book-covers>.
Wolitzer, M 2012, ‘The second shelf: on the rules of literary fiction for men and women’, 30 March, Sunday book review, The New York Times, viewed 19 April 2014, <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/01/books/review/on-the-rules-of-literary-fiction-for-men-and-women.html>.