Monday, June 16, 2014

Why “Women’s” Fiction?

By Jennie Shortridge

The novels I write are categorized as women’s fiction, even though my latest, Love Water Memory, has both a male protagonist and a female protagonist, and is the story of a harrowing brain disorder and its aftermath. You could imagine John Irving or Nick Hornby or Garth Stein writing about such a thing (in fact they’ve written about very similar things, and fall into the category of “mainstream” fiction).

And yet, I’ve decided to come down on this issue exactly where novelist Elizabeth Berg does. When asked if she minded her work being categorized as women’s fiction, she said something like, “I love women! I love writing for women. Why would I mind?” (Why indeed, when women buy the vast majority of books?)

When women write fiction, we tend to share ideas, experiences, and revelations about solving problems, about surviving and thriving through difficulties, about love and the power of compassion and understanding.  Women are biologically hardwired for empathy, and the only way to write fiction that feels true is with great empathy for your characters.

And yet, women often get subtle (or not so subtle) messages that empathy and compassion are not as important as power and might, in both the literary and the real world. Don’t believe it. If more leaders were women, integrating compassion into decision and policymaking, our people and our planet would be far better off.

And if more readers understood what makes women’s fiction matter, we could change the world, one reader—female or male—at a time.
Jennie Shortridge is the author of Love Water Memory and four other acclaimed novels, as well as a writing teacher and avid volunteer. She is co-founder of Seattle7Writers, a nonprofit collective of over sixty published authors in the Northwest who work to give back to their community. Find her on FacebookTwitter, her blog JennieSez, and