Men Literature Everywhere

On one of the last warm summer nights of this year, the conversation turned to Harry Potter and the four houses of Hogwarts. Quickly I was assigned Ravenclaw. I, who had read all the books in this series as a teenager, but had also suppressed everything again, later googled what that now says about me. Probably as much as my zodiac sign.

The seven-book series can be seen as a pop cultural phenomenon: whether it’s the Gryffindor scarf worn by adults, the house in the “Instagram bio,” or Harry Potter tattoos as motifs of eternity. Fantasy fandom presents an enigma to me, far from the author’s recent statements.1 Despite this, the books are still read, regardless of nationality, age or gender. And so J.K. Rowling’s masterpieces are to be considered an exception: they are consumed equally by women and men in particular. An actual self-evident fact that does not exist.

The reading of others

This is illustrated by MA Sieghart’s research: she writes in her article “Why do so few men read books by women?” that the most famous male authors in England, for example Dickens, Tolkien or Kind are read by 55% of men and by 45% of women.2 At first glance, the difference is relatively small. The situation is different for the ten most successful female authors: Austen, Atwood or Moyes, for example. These are consumed by 81 % of the female population, but only by 19 % of British men. This difference, on the other hand, is not marginal, it is significant. To put it briefly: women read works regardless of gender, while the gentlemen of creation are very likely to read only their own kind.

Far from statistical surveys, this trend can be found not only in the consumption of fiction, but also in the literary class. The renowned and already deceased German literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki once said about the German writer Karin Struck: “Who cares what the woman thinks, what she feels while she is menstruating? That is not literature – that is a crime.”3 Very polemical and no less contemptuous of women, Reich-Ranicki sums up what may not be thought directly by the male readership, but at least reflects male reading behavior. But why are books by female authors read less frequently?


Women writing, women reading

First, a brief historical digression. In German literature, the term women’s literature is common, although a precise definition of the term is lacking. Women’s literature is associated primarily with trivial writings; is beautiful intellectual fiction for the masses and serves moral entertainment. This type of writing is a label that includes light novels aimed at women or books about love stories. The only criterion for women’s literature is that a person of the female gender writes for or about a gender counterpart.4 Although classics written by authors are also devoted to love, the equivalent “men’s literature” does not exist. This is because when writers write novels, it is for the entire population and conforms to the norm.

However, this was not always the case. The origin of women’s literature lies in the 18th century and is not limited to certain genres or eras.5 Yet, the genre is closely linked to the novel, since in this period women authors wrote explicitly for their peers. Due to poor educational opportunities and diminished chance to write, the novel provided easier access.

The attribution of attributes such as trivial and inconsequential to women’s literature is also grounded in this period. This basic assumption was based on the cognitive prevailing understanding of the female population.6 Meyer’s Großes Konversationslexikon, published in 1904, still stated under the heading “sex peculiarities”: “[…] in the female, feeling and mind assert the upper hand, in the male, intelligence and thought; the imagination of the female is more vivid than that of the male, but seldom reaches the height and boldness as in the latter.” The format of the novel became more popular and entailed gender differentiation: the women’s novel was born. This differentiation, as well as the associated biologistic prejudices against women, continue to this day. This is also evident when it comes to who reads whose works.

The supposed claim to quality

One argument for this reading is that it is only about the quality of the writing. Gender, it is argued, is secondary, and literature is evaluated according to neutral criteria. This implies that women write of lesser importance. The American author Catherine Nichols subjected this assumption to a test. She sent part of her manuscript to literary agents, 50x under her own name, 50x under a male pseudonym.7 In the process, the fictitious author was asked for the full manuscript 17x, the author only 2x. The work of the male author was described as well constructed and clever. In the case of the author, on the other hand, the text did not meet the requirements, but was basically well written. The assessment of quality is thus characterized by the prejudice that men basically write better. This trend continues in reading behavior and in canonization. Authors’ books are ascribed increased relevance for posterity.

The New York Times Sunday Book Review also dealt with gender-specific evaluation in its study: in an analysis of 10,000 reviews, it examined the attributes with which male and female authors are associated.8 For female authors, the attributes are “emotional,” “love of writing,” or their “motherhood.” In the case of authors, interest in science and politics dominates. In the 21st century, women literati are still attributed to the family and the domestic, and men literati to the public sphere. This reduces cis women to the dominant construct of femininity and to their role as caregivers.

There is no demonstrable difference in quality between the sexes based on these experiments. The works of women are devalued because they are by women. The fact that the female sex has to assert itself more strongly, far from literature, runs through all spheres of life. Men are also accused of having a more neutral and rational view of the world. However, the assessment is subject to a gender bias: female authors are ascribed the view that their works are less worth reading because of the social construct of gender. Women’s literature is when women write. At the same time, men’s works are not considered men’s literature; this is only “literature” and therefore for the general public.

A resume

Now, one might object that the consumption of literature based on gender is narrow-minded. But if primarily the writings of authors are read, the male view of the world is reproduced again and again. And thus a one-sided perspective. To perceive only this perspective also means to pay no attention to other realities of life, those of non-binary people and women. Light fare and trashy literature is produced far from gender, only it sticks to women because of the social construct. Not to pay attention to the works of female authors means not to perceive their points of view, not to want to listen to them, to erase their stories. Besides J.K. Rowling, there are a great number of gifted female writers. It is time to discover them.


  1. Rowling, J.K. [jk.rowling]. (2020, 7. Juni). If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased … [Tweet]. Twitter.
  2. Sieghart, M. A., (2021): Why do so few men read books by women?. The Guardian,, (access date: 29.09.2022).
  3. SZ, (2010). Ihr könnt mein Hirn haben. Süddeutsche Zeitung,, (access date: 29.09.2022).
  4. Seifert, N., (2021). Abgewertet, vergessen, wiederentdeckt. Frauenliteratur. Köln: KiWi Verlag.
  5. Folie, S., (2016): Frauenliteratur. Gender Glossar,, (access date: 29.09.2022).
  6. Hausen, K., (1976): Die Polarisierung der »Geschlechtscharaktere« – Eine Spiegelung der Dissoziation von Erwerbs- und Familienleben; in Conze, W. (Hrsg.): Sozialgeschichte der Familie in der Neuzeit Europas: Neue Forschungen. Stuttgart: Klett. 363–393
  7. Melien, M. (2015): George sei Dank,, (access date: 29.09.2022).
  8. Seifert, N. (2021). Abgewertet, vergessen, wiederentdeckt. Frauenliteratur. Köln: KiWi Verlag.
Leonie Schauer

Leonie Schauer

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