I am a browser of book stores. There is a Barnes and Noble about a fifteen minute walk from my house and I try to stop in every week to check the stacks.

In my particular BN, the recent fiction is along the front right wall as you walk in: the heading at the top screams RECENT FICTION, and then there are subheadings on the shelves below- historical, Other worlds, etc. There used to be a sub heading “Women’s Fiction”. And one day there wasn’t a subheading that said women’s fiction…

I used to like the WF section. More than likely, the books that I chose were from that section. They tended to be fiction set in the present, and the protagonists tended to be women who were over forty, and they weren’t too sad or depressing or heavy. There was probably not a big twist or reveal. They tended to be written by female authors, so I felt a sense of simpatico. They were books I wanted to get lost in for a few hours.

Now that section is no more.

And I am a little saddened.

Of course I wonder why they would get rid of that sub,sub genre. Was it that they were termed women’s fiction? Is that not “in” to say that?

Is it because we shouldn’t think that there are books that only women would be interested in? Are we excluding books from male viewership? Personally, I know my Husband looks forward to nothing better than picking up a book about two women who have been best friends forever and then something bad happens and they have to persevere… (that’s sarcasm for those who don’t know my husband)

What’s wrong with labeling something women’s fiction?

Are we embarrassed to be women who like those books? Cause I’m not. Sign me up for a story about a recent empty nester, or a woman who has faced a health scare, or anything of that sort…I like these books and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

What do you think about sub labeling fiction?

Do you have a problem if a section is labeled “Women’s”?

How do you like to browse at book stores? Do you wander or do you have a favorite section?

Discuss:

73 thoughts on “How We Label

  1. In this era of political correctness about everything, I’m sure someone found it offensive to designate some books as women’s fiction. The other day at PT, my physical therapist showed me a poster that they had to cover up with tape because someone objected to “I can keep up with my crazy 4-year-old.” Naturally someone didn’t like the term crazy. Is it too much? I think so.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I like to think I’m spending my brain power on things that matter…not being offended by every word uttered (a few months ago I wrote a post about words the university Washington considers problematic…including the word “see”

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I like books labeled Women’s fiction as well, and for many of the same reasons you mentioned. It was always the first section I would Check out. And I’d always find something that caught my fancy. I’m saddened to discover Barnes and Nobles removed it. That seems wrong…

    And while the books in that section do usually have female protagonists and female authors, in most cases they can also blend into other categories. Rather like when you are roaming through Netflix and a movie shows up in mysteries, Women’s history, time travel, science fiction etc. . Just because a novel may fit nicely in one category it doesn’t mean it’s only for women. But truth be told, I prefer reading novels that have a female protagonist. (It’s more fun to read about characters I can relate to).

    I actually haven’t set foot in a book store since Covid broke out. And now I’d have to drive quite a bit to get to a B&N. But I miss going to my local book store, which closed a few years back and became a health food store. In fact, a group of my teaching colleagues and I would meet monthly at our now defunct B&N. (We had a book club and made sure to meet on a monthly basis). During Covid our meetings turned into a zoom platform). But the environment of a book store was certainly more enticing.

    Having a Women’s section was helpful. I’d peruse the shelves and my favorite authors were always within reach. Plus, my local B&N frequently had female authors giving lectures about their latest books. I miss those days. And I am fine with sub labeling. I love Women’s fiction, I love mysteries, I love paranormal… I love a lot of categories. And I too am not afraid to admit it!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Exactly!! We are allowed to love what we love, and not feel like it’s a dirty secret when we want to read a fictional account of someone’s life post menopause or as an empty nester. These books make us feel like we are less alone

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I think so so. I don’t know, I’m proud to be a woman. I want to read about regular women who have overcome the obstacles my friends and I face. I think it’s empowering

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My immediate thought after reading this comment was to laugh. Because quite often when men have a midlife crisis they don’t write about it, they do one of the following: buy a sports car, have an affair, get divorced, get hair plugs, buy a gym membership… you get my drift. I know, I’m generalizing. But women tend to take classes, go to lunch more with friends, join book clubs, protest for causes… they look inward for enlightenment, they help the environment, and Men tend to do the opposite. Women apparently are never allowed to have a crises, in midlife or any other time. So of course we want to read about another women dealing with middle age.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Yet another sign of the new narrative to get rid of gender differences. That’s a whole other issue I could spend paragraphs writing about. I wonder if you should ask them directly why they got rid of it. Maybe they think it’s a service to be PC, but in actuality, it’s a disservice.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. 1. Haven’t been in a real bookstore in years as they all closed around here, although we have our quaint local used bookshop. 2. Don’t buy new and usually research books that sound interesting online before buying used. Even without the label designation a book in that category probably wouldn’t be high on my list. 3. I have a label issue in general that stems from an antiquated social structure: ie: those who still label specific books/writers in the “feminist literature” genre infuriates me. 4. I’m just fine with fiction or non-fiction and leave it at that.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Very interesting and probably very PC…and dare I say it–CRAZY move on the part of B&N. I will keep an eye on what publishers are doing. As a reader and reviewer of Advance Reader Copies, I know that publishers use the “WF” (Women’s Fiction) label and sometimes have both that and “GF(A)” (General Fiction Adult) on the same book. In both roles I appreciate the labeling and I assume my readers do too. I include the category in my review notes so a reader can quickly tell if it is the kind of book they are looking for. (The previous sentence seems like stating the obvious, but given your B&N experience, I guess not.) I have some online male reviewer friends; those kinds of labels don’t stop them from reading that category–they just know what to expect.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. LA, I’d be interested to hear your daughter’s thoughts on this. She’s an intelligent young woman. Would she find the label Women’s fiction offensive? I’m not around enough young women to know how they collectively think. But I’m very curious.

        Liked by 3 people

  6. This could be fun. Is WF a title indicating these books are for Women? Or are they written by Women? I personally believe it is “for” women and generally speaking not my thing. I read many books written by women. I spend too much time in book (new & used) stores, and you will find me visiting the YA section and honestly it creeps me out but they have some good Fantasy books. So why do young adults get a section? I’m guess, BN decided it would be financially beneficial to make their customers browse all Fiction books.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They tended to be books about women over 40 facing the same challenges that my friends and I face: empty nest, divorce, death of parents or spouse, trying to find a second career after getting laid off from jobs, dealing with illness….I like them because they make me feel like I am not alone in the everyday challenges I face…they’re more emotion driven than plot. It’s not to say men wouldn’t read them, but who know

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My wife is fond of them for the same reasons. So instead of for or by it’s “about.” Which should have its own section unless you want to force your customers to browse the entire section.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow I’m shocked that this label doesn’t appear on the shelves at B&N. I’m with you. I am not embarrassed to read these books because who doesn’t want to read about experiences we all have been through? I’m headed into work soon and I’m going to see if our book vendors still list this category.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. By eliminating it I feel like we aren’t supposed to be ok with reading books about women of a certain age experiencing issues with our lives that generally appear as we mature

      Liked by 2 people

  8. I think that people are making too much ado about nothing but I can’t tell that to my 25-year-old daughter. She says I need to open my mind to the thought that in certain situations, someone would be offended so I need to watch how and what I say. We were discussing your list of “forbidden” words. To me it’s all the same thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I get similar uttering from my daughter. There are two ways to think of this….1) by changing thins like womens fiction it offends me, as a women, because I feel women over 40 are being marginalized 2) I can only worry about what I say, not how someone interprets it

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Personally I get most of my books from the library where I work, but I do love book stores too. I tend to read more non-fiction then fiction, and I do look for female authors because I identify strongly with them.

    It seems a case of political correctness running amuck at B&N, making mountains out of molehills. Do ask and let us know their answer.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I include bookstores among the places I like to do my retail therapy which for me means cruising close to all the aisles.
      As far as this puzzling change to the BN shelves, I’m with most of the other comments and you in kind of wondering why.
      The main reason I often prefer books by or about women is that I can usually relate to them more than those by or about men. There are of course some exceptions.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. It seems bizarre, but as B&N is a chain it’s probably a PC corporate decision. If you decide to ask, let us know what they say? I’m wondering what percentage of readers are women versus men? Certainly I know more female readers than men, and I mystel tend to read more books by female authors, with some exceptions like John Grisham. It would be interesting to know the statistics on all of that.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I love women’s fiction. It’s my go to sub sub genre. I had my first book club and will post about it tomorrow. The book was supposed to be historical fiction from the 1850s but included all the “issues” of today. The author didn’t miss a single one.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I think sub-labeling fiction to some extent is fine, but some places (I’m glaring at you, Amazon) take it way too far. Is it really an honor to crack the Top 100 in Women’s Fiction About Grocery Store Clerks Who Have Won the Nobel Prize and End Up Kidnapped by a Mad Man Who Loves Goldfish Crackers?

    Liked by 3 people

  13. I agree Women’s fiction is great and I really hope the reason they took away the label is not due to someone being offended, because thats just CRAZY! I envy you having a bookstore close by! Ours closed down. I miss it a lot! The closest bookstore is a 35 to 40 minute drive.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. If there’s still a WF section on B&N’s online store, then I’d suspect it may be to do with your store’s demographic – it being in NYC ‘n all. There are more & more sub genres in fiction, and it must be hard to make room for them all within a floorspace, so choices end up have to be made.

    I love browsing in book stores, but it is a rare treat now as most of the fiction I read is on Ebook, so I’m mostly looking at biographies, cookery, photography and coffee table tomes. My reading choices are: 1) authors I’ve read before & enjoyed 2) recommendations from real-life & online people who share my taste 3) certain book prize lists and 4) indie writers I know online. Book stores and how they display work haven’t featured in my fiction purchasing in over a decade.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. They just closed our wonderful B&N, now I have to driver further… sigh. I do love that store. I’m sure like someone else said, it has to do with sales, etc. Plus, bookstores like to keep changing things around, so we THINK they have a lot of new books, keeps our interest.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Maybe they thought, if there’s a section labelled women’s fiction why isn’t there one labelled men’s fiction? Perhaps because everything else is men’s fiction… What would your reaction be to a shelf of, I dunno, tough guy thrillers and war stories under Men? I’d be ok with it, I never go near that stuff anyway 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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