Last fall, over dinner at a writing retreat, one of the instructors commented that she would like to see people start referring to the works of male novelists as “men’s fiction.” She went onto say that a man had recently commented “xxx, you’re a very talented writer, but all you write about is family stuff. Why don’t you write about something important, like the software industry?”
I work in the software industry and I found this especially funny. Why do people think of technology as an Important Topic, but consign domesticity to the Fluff bin?
Oh, but wait. It turns out that it’s not that cut and dried. It’s not that the domestic sphere isn’t an Important Topic. It’s just not important when it’s expressed by women. Behold the work of photographer Isaac Layman, who recently showed at the Frye Museum in Seattle. I like some of his work (Cabinet and Otter Pops mostly) but that’s not my point. My point is that Layman, in his own words, focuses on the mundane because, “What staying in the house initially did for me was that it didn’t give me an easy out. I couldn’t wait around and say: ‘I’m going to go take pictures when I go travel.’ I couldn’t say: ‘I’m going to wait to go to an important place to take a picture.’ Or ‘I’m going to wait to go to a difficult place to take a difficult photograph.’ I’m just always here. And always here should be good enough.”
So … I agree, but “(fluffy) women’s fiction” is often set in the home because until recently, that’s where most women spent most of their time. They knew the domestic sphere intimately so that’s what they wrote about. I can’t help but be a little annoyed that when a women writes about home life she’s told that she’s not serious enough, but when a man photographs his home life (sometimes disgustingly, as in the case of his used Kleenex photo) it can be elevated to Important Art.
This isn’t a comment on Layman’s talent or the validity of his art, or on the talent of any “serious” male authors, but rather a comment on how we as a culture decide what is art and what is fluff.
Readers, I would love to hear your thoughts. Are there female novelists whose work you think of as serious? Fluffy? What about men’s work? Do you pay attention to the genders of the authors you read, or do you read for the story and the quality of the writing?