Although I discussed this topic a few months ago, it recently came up again, over on Sarah Weinman’s wonderful blogsite, “Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind.” (http://www.sarahweinman.com/) She cites a review in the Washington Post of Sue Grafton’s mystery series. The reviewer, Patrick Anderson (yes, the same infamous reviewer I’ve talked about before) wrote:
“If Grafton’s talents have not been fully appreciated, it may be because male reviewers can have problems with the Millhone books. The first thing that struck me about them was — dare I say it? — how girly they can be. Kinsey agonizes a lot over whether her love of junk food is expanding her posterior. She often tells me more than I want to know about hairstyles, cosmetics, clothing and kitchens. And she is surely the only private eye ever to declare that, after a hard day’s crime-fighting, the best way to relax is not by lifting a bottle of rotgut but by folding the laundry and scrubbing the toilet.
To appreciate Grafton, we must accept that her series is written not only by a woman and about a woman but also for women. We guys can tune in if we choose, but we’re not Grafton’s core constituency.”
My first reaction was, quite frankly, amazement. And irritation. Because what he’s saying is that the concerns of women don’t amount to a hill of beans to male readers. Okay, so sleuth Kinsey Milhone thinks about clothing and kitchens and maintaining her girlish figure. The very things, quite frankly, that most women — half the human race, mind you — think about. According to Anderson, that makes these books uninteresting to men. And, in particular, to male reviewers.
Now then. How many of us women readers are willing to read countless mysteries starring male detectives who drink to excess, watch TV sports, describe their cars in loving detail, and do “guy” things? How often does a reviewer write, “his books are too man-ish to interest women?” Women readers, it’s automatically assumed, are willing to cross gender boundaries and read about Dirk Pitt and Jack Ryan and Jack Reacher. And we do, with gusto.
But if a woman sleuth dares to act like a woman, then they’re radioactive to Patrick Anderson. Who said, in his review of VANISH, that only women would care about the struggles of a “lactating detective.” Because men sure don’t give a damn.
Think about the fictional male sleuths that have appeared in books through the years: Quadriplegic. Obsessive-compulsive. Jazz-obsessed. Alcoholic. Drug-addicted. Cat burglar. Jewel thief. “Righteous” serial killer. There’s even a sleuth who’s secretly … a dinosaur.
But a female sleuth who’s a new mom trying to figure out the deal about breast-feeding, is just too, well, WEIRD.
Half the human race. And some male reviewers couldn’t care less about us.