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The next in the debates series of posts on issues that seem to raise blood pressure to unhealthy levels within the literary community is on women’s fiction (read the first one, on literary vs commercial fiction here).

The Baileys prize for women shortlist is out today. This doesn’t concentrate on women’s fiction (the genre) per se, but rather on fiction written by women. But it’s part of the overall idea that women need more of a platform than men because their work is undervalued. The thinking is that while most readers, editors etc. are women, it is mostly men that write reviews in the main traditional outlets and they are mainly of books written by men. This seems to come hand-in-hand with the snobbery (sorry, a little bit lacking in objectivity here) surrounding women’s fiction.

So what is women’s fiction? For the uninitiated, women’s fiction is a genre that covers, as far as I can work out, ‘books marketed to female readers’. They generally sport pastel or pink covers (because, of course, all women loooooove pink) and can range from light romance to hard-hitting fiction. In fact, they can be pretty much anything related to life, as long as the publisher decides they want to market it to women.

‘So what is the problem with that?’ I hear you ask. Why is there even a ‘debate’? Well, probably because there’s no ‘men’s fiction’ (that’s what the world generally calls ‘fiction’). Why are books targeted at women pigeonholed, and not those targeted at men? This is especially confusing given that the majority of fiction readers are women. So, in essence, women’s fiction is targeting the majority of readers.

Back to the pigeonholing. More recently, there has been an influx of lad lit, which generally covers single shenanigans and/or romance from a man’s point of view. And when it’s romance, what makes it different from normal romance, where a good proportion of romantic fiction novels are written from both points of view? Less makeup, more sport? Keeping up stereotypes? Or simply telling a story aimed for readers that have a different take on things?

I think the big issue here is not so much the substance or even the classification, but the (usually completely undeserved) distaste associated with literature (yes, it is all literature) aimed at readers in what in other industries/ areas of society would be classed as a discriminatory manner.

Which brings us back to the beginning – is women’s fiction a necessary genre? And should prizes celebrating fiction by women really exist? What do you think?

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