Can we please stop naming women by their relationships to men, especially in book titles?
The Time Traveller’s Wife
The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter
The Mad Scientist’s Daughter
This article has a terrifying list of The ___’s Daughters, including figures for how the trend has increased.
But you know what? I haven’t seen a Time Traveller’s Husband, or a Mad Scientist’s Son.
These are not bad books, but the titles are AWFUL. Sure, they are a recognised trend in the book world, and therefore ‘sound’ like a certain kind of book, but that in itself isn’t a reason to think it’s a good title.
If the book is about the mad scientist’s daughter, what is it about the daughter that makes her interesting enough to have a book made about her? If it were just that she were someone’s daughter, the book would be called The Mad Scientist, and he would happen to have a daughter.
And, in point of fact, The Time Traveller’s Wife isn’t about the wife. It’s about the man who falls in love with her and has an unconventional relationship with her.
And this is what happens when you identify women by their relationships to men. We get decentralised. We don’t seem interesting enough on our own.
I’m not saying anyone did this intentionally - having talked to someone who worked on one of these books, I know that wasn’t true in that case - but if you’re looking to encapsulate what a book is about and you’re still putting your descriptives at one remove from the main character to define her in relationship to a man, that’s a) not very effective, and b) reflects an implicit sense that the woman on her own is not interesting enough to grab the attention of the reader.
Wow - a bullet-catcher! He sounds interesting! What’s this about his daughter?
A mad scientist! A time traveller! How cool do those guys sound?
But I don’t know anything yet about the women these books are supposed to be about. My interest in them is supposed to be entirely hooked by the fact that they have relationships with interesting men.
And FUCK THAT NOISE.
Women ARE interesting in our own rights.
If you thought they were interesting enough to publish a book about them, then FUCKING STAND BY THAT. Make the title about THEM. Because the book should be about THEM and you need to step back from the internalised sexist assumption that people won’t buy books about women. ‘Cause that’s what you’re doing when you make the title say more about the relationships a woman has to men than about the woman herself. You’re assuming that that relationship is either what defines her or that readers won’t want to read about her unless there’s a male in the picture to bolster interest.
I don’t want to buy books that define women by their relationships to men. It’s a bad selling tactic. It’s misleading and it’s insulting.
Again, I don’t think (most) publishers are consciously setting out to minimise their female characters - I think they’re just following a trend without thinking about how sexist that trend is.
Yes, occasionally a book is more about a close relationship and how that has actually defined a person, or how the other person has had a major impact on their life. The Magician’s Nephew isn’t sexist against men. But you know that the magician is the one with power in that relationship. And it’s a male-male relationship. And, crucially, it wasn’t published in a context where there are vast numbers of books following the exact same pattern where a (usually older) man has a defining capacity for the protagonist’s life. We have enough books in which women are defined by, or against, men. We need more books where women define themselves.
And if your woman main character is self-motivated and defined, why in God’s name have you titled her book as though she weren’t?
I know titles are hard, but if you can’t think of something interesting to say about the main character in her own right, your book has deeper problems than the title. And, like I say, I don’t think these are bad books. So let’s stop treating them like they are!