Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

Does the gender of the author alter the perception of a text?

Jodi Picoult’s Small Great Things is a novel which tackles racism in America. Through the frame of a legal trial, the novel exposes the dark truth of how racism is ingrained in American culture. From discussing white supremacism to the bias of the justice system, the author isn’t afraid to expose difficult and incredibly contemporary issues.

In fact, prior to its publication, the novel was sent out to an array of ‘highbrow’ critics, but excluded the authors name, the title and any marketing material. On the text alone, many critics deemed the text an “important work of literature”.

The novel was awarded ‘Best Romance Novel’ in Poland, despite not having any romantic storyline

However, once Picoult’s name was attached to the novel, perception changed. The novel was awarded ‘Best Romance Novel’ in Poland, despite not having any romantic storyline. According to Picoult herself, the story “does not even have a kiss in it.”

While this is not entirely true, the novel is not influenced by any romantic decisions. The protagonist’s husband is deceased and any ‘romances’ are only used to develop secondary characters.

This leads to the question: is the perception of a piece of literature swayed by the gender of the author? According to Picoult, female authors are not taken as seriously as male authors. She claimed that: “When women write about family and the connections between people, it is condemned as ‘chick lit’ or ‘women’s fiction’. When a man writes about that, it is hailed as a masterwork of literature. Think of The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen or Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot.”

It is therefore difficult to judge whether the assumption of Picoult’s latest text as a romance novel comes from her gender or her reputation as an author

Like actors are typically ‘type cast’, the same comparisons can be made for Picoult. She typically attracts a female based demographic.

While Small Great Things may not involve a romance storyline, many of her past works do, including but not limited to: Vanishing Acts, Between the Lines and Off the Page.

It is therefore difficult to judge whether the assumption of Picoult’s latest text as a romance novel comes from her gender or her reputation as an author. With authors writing in a certain style, there may be an expectation that the novel will contain certain themes and structures. As readers, we have preconceived ideas on what to expect from certain authors.

Small Great Things may sway from Picoult’s usual themes but a reader won’t know this until they read the novel. While it has certainly been mislabelled as a ‘romantic novel’, Picoult is still bestselling contemporary female author. With over 25 million copies of her books sold world-wide, she is leading the discussion of gender misconceptions in the literary field and reclaiming the narrative that her work is not a ‘romantic novel.’

A simple shift of universally ‘gender neutral’ covers would lead to a book more appreciated by both genders

Like any field that has been traditionally dominated by men, politics, journalism and science to name a few, there are still issues that women face. According to Picoult, women are not being taken as seriously.

While an author’s name and reputation may sway people from reading a text, author Jojo Moyes, famous for her novel Me Before You, believes the marketing of a book is also to blame. When a woman writes a book, the cover may be including illustrations and typically ‘gendered’ colours, while a male author will have more ‘gender neutral’ covers, according to Moyes. A simple shift of universally ‘gender neutral’ covers would lead to a book more appreciated by both genders.

Jodi Picoult is a bestselling author; her works elaborate on human interactions, a subject stereotypically appealing to women. While Small Great Things is a work that can be appreciated by all genders and ages, preconceived notions of the author may result in people not reading the book, men and women alike.

With the rising trend of wrapped books, hiding the cover and the authors name, maybe we will begin to choose our books based on the content rather than our perception of the author. If a text alone is being deemed “an important work of literature”, surely it doesn’t matter who wrote it.

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