The Female of the Species...

Today, if anyone has missed it, is International Women's Day.

If you're a woman have a great day. If not, still enjoy your day. We are a broad and catholic church here at SW.

A mate of mine says she doesn't much like these days of celebration and thinks we should avoid being sexist year round. I know what she means. All those couples who bicker day in day out, then shower one another with cards and novelty items on Valentine's Day seem idiotic to me.

But I suppose the reality is people are sexist and women around the world are getting a raw deal, so if an International Day of Womanly Stuff makes everyone think, if it focusses the mind, then can only be a good thing can't it?

So I've been thinking. And given what I do for a living, my thoughts have inevitably turned to books. And given how self absorbed I am, my thoughts have inevitably turned to my books.

Why, I've been wondering, do folk read 'em? And more interestingly for today's purposes, why is it that the majority of those folk are women?

I'm often asked why I write crime fiction, and if women crime writers do it differently to men. I'm sure most of you remember the hoo-ha between Ian Rankin and Val McDermid about just this issue. But more interesting, to me at least, is why women read crime fiction. It's violent, ugly and gritty. Often the violence, ugliness and grit is directed towards women. Isn't this everything we're supposed as a gender to loath?

I'm sure someone somewhere has written a long and important thesis about this very topic, but I haven't. So the conclusions I've drawn are not worth the paper they're written on. Feel free to log off now, by all means.

I think women read crime fiction because they offer a clear sense of order. Crime fiction provides this in spades. Yes, there is murder and chaos, characters behave in inhuman ways, but ultimately the story is about the resolution of that chaos. The story may leave the ground littered with the dead and damaged but order of some description will have been restored.

Wanting a sense of order and structure is more often seen as a male trait, but if you think about it, women still, even now in 2012, fifty years after the introduction of the pill, take on far more responsibility within the home and family than men. Before any of you guys out there get all affronted, every survey says the same thing. We tend to do more than our fair share of the housework and child rearing. You may think your weekly run round the lawn with the hover mower is an equal contribution, but it aint.

Women therefore are often in charge of domestic order and structure. That they should seek this familiar sensation in their fiction makes perfect sense.

Women, also, in my humble opinion, are analysers. We pick problems apart. If I meet up with the sisterhood, we tend to open several bottles of wine and turn over our lives in the tiniest of details. Men, my other half reliably informs me, tend to discuss the footie. Not a great shock then, that the gender taken with analysis choose the genre where each and every page requires concentrated dissection skills.

Look, I'm not claiming an expertise in the field, I'm just an author chewing the cud. By all means tell me if you think I'm talking utter balls.


Sandra Davies said...

I only started to read crime fiction seriously, in quantity last year, love Rankin only read one McDermid (and whatever hoo-ha there was completely passed me by)and discussing the genre with my youngest son he likes the science and logical-solution while I like the building, interaction of character and relatonship. I presume a good crime novelist incorporates both male and female appeal ...

Susie Nott-Bower said...

What a brilliant theory, Helen - about women's need for order and resolution. Fascinating.
I'm just off to my first ever Women's Day Do - business women networking at a local venue - I'm s**t scared 'cos I've never networked in my life, but hey, I'll watch and learn...

Old Kitty said...

Happy International Women's Day!

I'll be celebrating female pioneers of science and medicine where I work - so lots of female order, resolution, research and logic involved! Hoorah!

Take care

Rin said...

Absolutely with you on the resolution and restoration of order theory. Plus I think that as women we are interested in the 'why' of things, so for me it's not just about whodunit but whydunit too. What drives people to murder or steal or commit fraud? Plus I like the human drama element, such as seeing everyone's reactions during climactic moments. And finally, perhaps there's the element of curiosity. When presented with a good puzzle, I can't rest until I know the solution!

Roderic Vincent said...

Happy Women's Day.

Oh, and having just spent three hours discussing personal relationships with another man I read your post.

Caroline Green said...

Really interesting stuff, Helen. I think there might be something in your theory. Listened to a debate on this on, I think Open Book, a while back and one theory was similar. Someone said it is because the violence is containable and women can walk all around it and take a look without being in any danger. Fascinating stuff, I think.