Conventional wisdom says men read sci-fi and high fantasy. Women read urban fantasy. And why is that? Has urban fantasy become chick-lit for escapists? Or, as a UC-Davis prof once said, is UF a “post-feminist way of taking on power”? (And what does that MEAN?)
I discovered urban fantasy first through Simon R. Green, by some fluke, then moved on to Jim Butcher. Only then did I discover male UF writers–and protagonists–were rarer than the Ivory Billed Woodpecker. And why is that?
Here are my theories:
1) Guys will pick a book written by a guy over one written by a woman.
That’ll probably get me some boos and hisses, but it’s true, right? Books by men are for everybody to read. Books by women are either “literature” or they’re marketed for women. I don’t know why this is true but I believe it. And there aren’t a whole lot of male UF writers, Butcher and Green notwithstanding. There’s Mark Henry and Mario Acevedo. Classically, Charles de Lint is technically UF, and Neil Gaiman is in a genre unto himself. Alex Bledsoe and Mike Shevdon are up-and-coming. And…running out of steam here. Exactly.
2) Video culture has linked urban fantasy with teenage girls.
Blame Buffy and Twilight. ‘Nuff said.
3. The tattoed chick phenomenon.
Look at most urban fantasy book covers. Chances are you’ll find a scantily clad, fierce chick–often with red or jet-black hair because you can’t be both kick-ass and blonde. She’ll have tattoos, and often will be pictured from the back so you can see the nice ass and the tat just above the low-slung leather pants. Usually, there’s some smokin’-hot guy hanging around in the background, or else the implicit impression that she’s so tough she doesn’t need one. On first examination, one might think–hey! Guys should love reading a book with a kick-ass girl on the cover. No, they don’t. Because kick-ass girls are scary and, besides, there’s reason #4….
4. Urban fantasies often contain…gasp!….relationships.
And everybody knows only women want to read about stuff like sex and relationships and all that emo crap, even if it’s only a minor plot point. Right? Because even kick-ass heroines come home to whip their men into shape at the end of the day. And, to be fair, even our kick-ass heroines melt at the sight of their wounded alpha male whose life can be saved by their tender mercies. And, besides, as we’ve established on this blog before, the line between urban fantasy and paranormal romance is often very thin.
Okay, all this has been only partly tongue-in-cheek. Beneath the sarcasm are some dynamics that seem to be at play in urban fantasy gender biases. Do guys read urban fantasy? Maybe I’m wrong. Why don’t they?