Sunday, 10 May 2015

Where my ladies at?

I am currently reading Beneath The Bonfire by Nickolas Butler, a collection of ten short stories, for work's book club this month.  I don't normally talk about book club reads before I have sent in the review, but there was something about this one where I just had to get my thoughts out of my head.

I've read five of the stories so far, and I can't help but notice the negative light in which the female characters are portrayed: the interchangeable girlfriends who will sleep with anyone; the absentee mother; and then the nagging wife.  The only female character who has been portrayed in a positive light so far is a recently deceased mother -who would fed and nurture her son with copious amounts of indulgent food - because that's not a stereotype at all...

Don't get me wrong; I actually like Butler's writing style.  His prose is highly evocative and is extremely effective in this short form  Plus his male characters aren't really portrayed in a positive light either.  However, this doesn't take away my unease over the use of obvious female character tropes.

I'm really hoping that at least one of the last five stories surprises me... but while musing on the lack of interesting females in Beneath the Bonfire so far, it has got me thinking about my reading habits this year.

I had become aware in March that the majority of the books I had read so far this year had been written by women.  I honestly hadn't done this intentionally.  Although I completely agree with the diverse reads movement, I am normally driven to pick up a book by a combination of story and how I am feeling at that point in time (and yes, because I'm shallow, a pretty cover always helps).

Here are my stats for this year so far:

27 out of the 32 fiction books/non-fiction books/graphic novels I've read this year have been written by women.

Out of the 24 fiction books I've read this year:

15 had a female protagonist written by a female writer
1 had a female protagonist written by a male writer
3 had a shared male/female protagonist written by a female writer
1 had a male protagonist written by a male writer.

So this got me thinking - if I hadn't of had such a female-centric reading year so far, would I have noticed the portrayal of women in the first five stories of  Beneath the Bonfire?  Or am I just hyper aware because I've noticed my stats and am now jumping on this because the author happens to be male?  Would I have said the same if the stories had been written by a female?  This I'm not so sure about.  I've read plenty of books this year written by women with problematic female characters, and I've been okay with it because I've rationalized it as light and fluffy - so am I being a hypocrite?  Most probably yes - but if I'm aware, then shouldn't I be able to change this behavior for the better?  Or will these types of book be my junk food with the justification that because they've been written by a woman that it's okay?

All very interesting...I'm going to read some more of Beneath the Bonfire (and grab a sandwich too) and see how the next five stories unfold.

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