Janet Walkow Christine Jacobs

Feeling like ‘Other’

One of my favorite passages in Jane Austen’s, Persuasion, comes late in the book as Anne Elliot is debating the strength of men’s and women’s feeling with Captain Harville.  He states: “I do not think I ever opened a book in my life which had not something to say upon woman’s inconstancy.  Songs and proverb all talk of women’s fickleness.  But perhaps you will say, these were all written by men.”

Stranger Than Fiction

This passage was brought to mind when I read The New York Times book review section recently.  In an essay entitled The Second Shelf, (http://nyti.ms/HpE0ab) author Meg Wolitzer discusses the concept of “Women’s Fiction”.  By this term she referred not to Harlequin novels and basic light romance novels but, rather, simply fiction written by women.  It turns out that women read the works of both men and women, but men read largely books written by men.  They see fiction by women to be “one soft, undifferentiated mass that has little to do with them” according to Wolitzer.

Whose Point of View?

My mind went a thousand directions when I read this essay.  First, how can one understand all of humanity by reading only the works of one gender?  Even early 19th century Captain Harville, understood that this could be an issue.  He realized that if all of the books were written by men, perhaps he only understood one point of view.

The essay quotes novelist Lorrie Miller as saying, “A female scholar once said to me: ‘I already know what women think, pretty much. I’m more interested in reading books by men’.” The problem with this statement becomes clear if you flip it. Were a man to say, “I already know what men think; I’m more interested in reading books by women,” he would be greeted with incomprehension.

Fictional Gender

What is more, we accept that men can write books from a woman’s point of view such as Jeffery Eugenides recent best seller, The Marriage Plot, but the reverse is rarely true.  Is this why the work of most women authors can be found in Amazon’s Women’s Fiction section? Is there real fiction and then women’s fiction? This seems to be a carry-over from the days of Lawyers and women lawyers or doctors and women doctors.

How can we move to gender equity without understanding and learning from both genders about both points of view?

Do you have a favorite book that was written from the point of view of a character with the opposite gender as the author?  Do you read novels by authors of both genders?  Does it matter?

Christine Jacobs is an experienced corporate executive and a co-founder of Leading Women. Read her full bio.

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