“A feminist novel is one which addresses the plight and agenda of the females.”

This is a weird definition of a feminist novel, right? It gets weirder. Here is the complete explanation from Ask, which comes up in the first page of “feminist novel” search results:

A feminist novel is one which addresses the plight and agenda of the females. The main theme of such novels addresses the issues that affect women such as abuse and violence from their counterparts in marriages. Typically, feminist novels are authored by women writers who easily sympathise and empathise with their colleagues.

That is some bullshit, which I will get back to later.

I am writing a feminist novel

I’m writing a feminist novel. It’s about new adults making their way in the world, wanting to love and be loved, but not being totally sure how to go about it.

Two best friends, Jill and Delia, are high school English teachers in San Francisco. They met a couple years ago in a women’s studies class at Berkeley, define themselves as feminists and struggle to live their lives in a real way that aligns with their beliefs.

What do you do when you realize you’re not living the life you believe in?

Breaking down the components of a feminist novel

Obviously, Ask’s definition is ridiculous.

1. The females?

2. Issues that affect women are defined as abuse and violence from their counterparts.

3. Feminist novels explore marriage.

4. Women writers write feminist books

5. Easily sympathize and empathize makes it sound like a weakness.

6. Colleagues? As in, the professional sisterhood?

This definition was not written by someone who understands feminism. Jezebel, will you please address this in the awesome way that only your writers can? What does make a feminist novel?

Okay, what does Goodreads say about feminist novels?

Users create shelves to organize their books in Goodreads, and there are 27 books that readers have considered “feminist novels” (several of them are nonfiction). Out of hundreds of thousands of books rated on Goodreads, this seems paltry.

Also! The highest ranked feminist novel has been shelved only twice! It’s The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Other feminist novels include A Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games with one shelving a piece.

What does it all mean?

I know there are more feminist novels and authors out there than my cursory search revealed. But I’m still suspicious that there is a hesitation to label anything feminist, because it still takes a lot of guts to come out as feminist (and more than that, be strident, as Caitlin Moran, a hero, says).

Or maybe it’s about wanting to avoid reductionism. Read Meg Wolitzer’s Rules of Literary Fiction for Men and Women (and her fantastic new novel, The Interestings).

Or is it something else? What do you think?

Related, I now want to read Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner, which was heralded as “the most feminist novel you’ll read all year, and one of the best of 2013” by Alyssa Rosenberg in ThinkProgress.

A version of this post also appears on Medium

4 thoughts on ““A feminist novel is one which addresses the plight and agenda of the females.”

  1. It’s funny Lauren, I have just written a funny, feminist novel which is currently on submissions. The feedback I’m getting so far is it is hard to genre define. Surely funny, feminist novels have a place too? I think this is going to be a much more widely explored area in the coming months/years/decade. Keep writing ’em! 🙂

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