It’s 2018 And Some Female Authors STILL Have To Disguise Their Gender So Male Readers Won’t Be Turned Off

By LS Hawker

The first time an Amazon reviewer referred to me as “Mr. Hawker,” I wasn’t angry. I wasn’t offended. My reaction was this: “It worked!”

I confess that I chose LS Hawker as my author name because it’s gender-ambiguous. I have heard men say they just don’t read fiction written by women. It’s nonsensical, but it’s so deeply ingrained in segments of the male population that it’s taken for granted. I wanted my thrillers to have wide appeal, and I suspected using my first name would limit me.

Is this a truism or a myth? Statistically, it’s hard to pin down since most modern American men will not cop to a female-writer aversion. But just in case, I thought. Just in case. Better safe than sorry. It’s also a safety valve for readers. If a man is caught reading an LS Hawker thriller, he can always say, “How was I supposed to know she was a woman?”

Like most women in American life, I’ve been subjected to passive and not so passive sexism all my life. I wanted to avoid this as much as possible once my dream of being a published author became a reality. Readers have expressed surprise upon learning that LS Hawker is a woman. I find these instances amusing rather than offensive, the assumption that anyone writing about murder, mayhem, and .357 Magnums must be a man, especially since according to The Atlantic, women authors have come to dominate the crime genre.

The trend is so strong that male authors have taken to using gender-neutral or female pseudonyms to take advantage of it. British author Martyn Waites’ female alter ego sells far more books than those bearing his given name.

Women have made massive gains over the decades, going from a roughly 3-to-1 ratio of male to female authors on the New York Times bestseller list to close to 1-to-1. So everything’s cool now, right? Not so fast.

In thinking about my experience as a woman in the thriller world, some unfortunate incidents have come back to me. For instance, I’ve been on panels at writers conferences where male authors talk over any woman who tries to share his spotlight. I remember one in particular where you’d have thought one male author was filibustering on the senate floor the way his voice rose whenever one of the female panelists tried to join in the conversation. When another man did, however, this guy respectfully deferred.

When I was a finalist in the International Thriller Awards Best First Novel category, four of the finalists were women. One was a man. Guess who won? Was his gender actually a factor, or was his first novel superior to the others? Well, the best that year, without question, was Gilly MacMillan’s WHAT SHE KNEW. But that’s just one woman’s opinion. More than one, according to my own informal poll.

I’ve had the privilege of attending and teaching at many conferences, and I’ve rarely encountered overt sexism. Part of that may be that I’m loud, unlike a lot of writers who are soft-spoken introverts. The ratio of men to women in my classes is fairly equal, so I don’t think there’s been much gender-focused boycotting.

When dealing with other published authors, the men have typically been very respectful and not dismissive of me, my writing, or my opinions, especially the younger ones. They haven’t been socialized as much to look down on chicks. I don’t know if I’ve just been lucky, or if my aforementioned loudness has provided a buffer. I’d be interested to hear other authors’ experiences in this arena.

One of my favorite aspects of the publishing industry is that I’ve suffered much less disregard than in the normal workaday world. The proportion of women in the industry is pretty high, so there’s not as much discrimination as in traditional circles. As a matter of fact, I’ve received far more professional respect since becoming a published author. Maybe it’s because this is perceived as more of an art than a craft, and arts are sometimes perceived as traditionally feminine pursuits.

Maybe we’re approaching a time when gender won’t matter anymore, but for now, I’m just happy to be here. So go ahead and call me Mr. Hawker.

LS Hawker is the author of the thrillers “The Drowning Game,” “Body and Bone,” and “End of the Road,” all published by HarperCollins Witness Impulse. “The Drowning Game” was a USA Today bestseller and a finalist in the ITW Thriller Awards’ “Best First Novel” category. Hawker grew up in suburban Denver and wrote her first novel at 14. After receiving her B.S. in Journalism from the University of Kansas, she started a radio show called “People Are So Stupid,” edited a trade magazine, and worked as a traveling Kmart portrait photographer, but never lost her passion for fiction writing. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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