In addition to her work in the field of education, Michelle ministers through writing and public speaking. Her other works include Boaz Brown, Divas of Damascus Road (National Bestseller), Breaking Bondage to Biscuits, the upcoming young adult release, Trouble In My Way, and several short stories. Michelle serves in the Creative Tyme Ministry at her home church, Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship. She lives near Dallas with her husband and their two teenage children. Visit Michelle online at www.michellestimpson.com.
By Mike Duran
Last I checked, God made them “male and female” (Gen. 1:27). Sadly, half of that demographic is barely represented in Christian Fiction.
Don’t believe me? Just scan the recent ACFW Genesis and Book of the Year winners. Out of the 72 winners (1st – 3rd place), a whopping 3 men received awards. That’s right — 3 out of 72! Perhaps it’s not unusual when you consider that the ACFW has only one man on its 14 member Board of Directors. The 2008 Christy Awards were a little better: Of their nine winners, 3 were men. A brief foray into the world of Christian writing blogs reveals a similar lopsidedness. Novel Journey is a good example. Of its ten contributors, I’m the only guy (but after this post, I might be its last). Other group writing websites share a similar preponderance of females. The Master’s Artist is comprised of 8 women and 3 men, the 11 member team of Focus on Fiction contains only 3 men, and of Charis Connection‘s 21 contributors, only 7 are men. For every one male Christian Fiction writer, there’s a gaggle of chicks.
It’s one of the more uncomfortable realities of the religious publishing world — when it comes to fiction, women rule the roost.
To be fair, this inequity is not limited to Christian circles. Statistics repeatedly show that men don’t read fiction. In the August 2006 issue of Writer’s Digest, in an article entitled Do Men Read? Maria Schneider put it bluntly:
Conventional publishing industry wisdom has it that guys just don’t buy fiction. Men account for only 20 percent of novel sales…
And then, quoting Karen Holt, deputy editor of Publishers Weekly:
“The gap starts early, as girls in elementary and middle school read a lot more than boys, picking up a lifelong habit that most men never develop. Whether by cause or effect, most novels are published with women in mind.”
Proposed answers to this enigma range from biological, to sociological, to emotive. Some offer that women tend to be shoppers, making even the casual female reader susceptible to a well-marketed book. In the aforementioned article, one author suggests that men do not read fiction because they don’t want to deal with “complicated, painful internal conflict”. In fact, it’s been suggested that men choose novels of alienation, while women go for passion. Hmm. Is that what’s driving women to Christian Fiction — romantic passion?
Perhaps it’s also what’s driving men away.
An NPR article entitled Why Women Read More than Men also hints that content may partly be the culprit to men’s disinterest in fiction:
There are exceptions to the fiction gap. More boys than girls have read The Harry Potter series, according to its U.S. publisher, Scholastic. What’s more, Harry Potter made more of an impact on boys’ reading habits. Sixty-one percent agreed with the statement “I didn’t read books for fun before reading Harry Potter,” compared with 41 percent of girls.
For publishers and booksellers, that offers a ray of hope…
So maybe the problem isn’t fiction per se, but the type of fiction being aimed at the male reader.
Okay, so I’m thinking out loud. Still, I can’t help but wonder if this is something to be corrected or just conceded. I mean, why should the Christy and Genesis Awards consider more men if it’s primarily women buying their stuff? However, couldn’t it be that the absence of Christian Fiction for men has completely driven men from the fold? Why should a guy bother browsing the religious fiction aisle if all they see is pastels and lipstick and harlequin heroes and lacy curtains? Might as well cruise Nordstrom’s lingerie section.
I know, I know. Supply and demand. The Christian Fiction industry is just reflecting the demands of its readers. But doesn’t this create an echo chamber? Or as the author of What Chicks Don’t Like About Science Fiction suggests, “a self-confirming prophesy”:
If there’s something keeping women away from enjoying science fiction, it’s not spaceships. It’s not “aliens on some far-off planet.” It’s the fact that people on our very own planet keep telling us that women aren’t supposed to like science fiction. It’s a self-confirming prophesy, because the more that scifi creators are told this, the more they imagine that their audience is all boys. (emphasis mine)
The author conjectures that it is the perpetuation of a myth — that sci-fi is mainly for males — which keeps the industry from expanding its base. In a similar fashion, because the braintrust tells us that men don’t read Christian Fiction, it becomes “a self-confirming prophesy.”
Which brings me back to my question: Is gender inequality among fiction readers something to be corrected or just conceded? And if it is to be corrected, shouldn’t Christians be in the lead? Or has Christian Fiction become so “feminized” that it’s beyond reclamation? Hey, I’m just asking…
Anyway, as long as the Dekkers, Perettis, Cramers, Dicksons and Wilsons of the world are writing, I’ll hold out hope. Still, whenever I think of Christian Fiction, this reader can’t help but feel in the minority.
I was on my way across the country to participate in the School of Writing at Canadian Mennonite University. I was nervous about going, even though my work had been accepted and I’d been granted entrance to the advanced fiction class with Canadian literary icon, Rudy Wiebe. To gain that entrance I had submitted three short stories that I’d worked on long and hard, but I had chosen to workshop another ten pages – part of the sequel to my novel, One Smooth Stone. Would they like it? Would the writing be good enough?
And then I remember who made me this way, who controls what happens to the words I type on this computer, and who will some day say, “well done,” if I work in obedience to Him.