I recently read The Man Who Was Thursday. That book touched me very deeply, and I can’t stop thinking about it and the crazy, weird imagery that seems to make so much sense to me. But the content of the book is not actually what this post is about. Really what I want to talk about is the male to female ratio of the book.
It’s a very skewed ratio, since there is only one female in the entire work. Not that there’s only one main female character—there is literally only one female mentioned throughout the entire book. Except for the sister who brackets the book by a few pages at the beginning and a sentence at the end, every character—supporting or main—is male. There’s not even a waitress or a flower-seller. It’s a little weird, actually.
But I’m not writing this to complain about the lack of femininity in GK Chesterton’s book. What I really find interesting is the fact that I read this book over three days and until the afternoon after I finished it, I didn’t even notice that there were no women in the book. I, a woman, read an entire book, and loved it, and got a lot out of it, without even realizing that none of the characters shared this fundamental aspect of my identity.
This does not seem to be a huge deal. There are plenty of books I love in which all the main characters are men. But what I think really interesting is this: if this had been the opposite situation, and a man was reading a book comprised of a completely female universe, I doubt he would have had the same kind of experience I did.
I know there are lots of guys who like books about women. There are classic women writers like George Eliot and Emily Bronte who wrote about women, and men definitely read those books. There are even books like Sula by Toni Morrison that tell tales with lots of female characters, and men read and enjoy those. But honestly, how many books are out there that don’t have any main male characters? And of those books, how many men exist who would be chomping at the bit to read them?
I’m not really saying that this is a good or a bad thing. It’s just interesting to note, and I’m wondering why this is. Is it because for centuries men have been the dominant writers, and women are just used to reading men’s books? Because it’s generally thought that men are more universally relatable than women? Is it some weird impact of feminism—because women tend to be more open to the idea that men and women are equal and on the same playing field, they accept the experiences of men as relatable ones?
I have no idea why any of this is, and I’m really interested. I’d love to hear from some guys, in case I’ve totally misrepresented them and they would actually love to go read a book with all female characters. And I’d love to hear thoughts on this subject—if indeed I’m right. Why are women so much more ready to read man books?
~ Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl, ND Wilson
~ He Held Radical Light, Christian Wiman
~ An American Childhood, Annie Dillard
~ On the Incarnation, Athanasius of Alexandria