Discussion, Guest Post

Stop defining women by the men in their lives | written by Gail

stop defining women
Wow I’m really on a roll with this feminist content, huh? I have to admit I’m so crazy busy I can’t believe I even have the energy to come up with this stuff. But so much stuff makes me angry! Whenever I get angry about antisemitism next, y’all will be the first to know, because there will be a post about it. I’m sorrynotsorry for how short this is in comparison to the previous posts, but you should see my schedule. Have some empathy.


Book titles.

The Zookeeper’s Wife. The Aviator’s Wife. The Bishop’s Wife. The Doctor’s Wife. The Centurion’s Wife. The Headmaster’s Wife. The Last Wife of Henry VIII. The Shoemaker’s Wife. The Time Traveler’s Wife.

The Hangman’s Daughter. The Heretic’s Daughter. The Painter’s Daughter. The Madman’s Daughter. Daughter of the Pirate King. The Taxidermist’s Daughter. The Apothecary’s Daughter. The Musician’s Daughter.

All I did was google “books with daughter in the title” and “books with wife in the title”. And I found dozens, dozens of books that define women by the men in their lives. They’re supposedly the main character, and yet – they aren’t allowed to exist without male influence. They aren’t allowed to be people, to be fully fledged.

They’re women, you see. Behind every successful man is a good wife or some shit. Behind every woman is a man taking credit.

We need to learn to pay attention to this. Female writers aren’t immune to this. Internalized sexism can and will influence the writing of a book, can and will influence the way read a book.

And we need to let women speak for themselves, okay?

Have any tips on how to look out for sexist tropes, or any ideas for what we should all be looking for? Leave your suggestions in the comments!


24 thoughts on “Stop defining women by the men in their lives | written by Gail”

  1. I completely agree. I was just saying on another channel that I feel like authors dont know how to have men and women as lead characters unless there is a romantic relationship involved and for the froggen life of me I dont know why.

  2. Wow, now that you actually mentioned it, Gail, I definitely notice A LOT of titles that use the words “Wife” and “Daughter” after a role that is typically depicted for men. Honestly, I think a lot of the sexism has been so ingrained into our society and minds that when we see titles that are sexist and depict women as not being successful without a man’s influence, we don’t think twice about it usually.

    1. Yes!!! This is exactly why I write this stuff, honestly. Recently in class I had a problem with something the lecturer said. I knew I wasn’t going to change his mind, but I still raised my hand and said something because otherwise nobody else would have heard it (specifically in this case it was that he ignored Mary Shelley as a much better example of the birth of sci-fi horror and erased the queerness of a historical figure). I know I’m not going to change current publications – I don’t have that power. But the more we use our voice to point out injustices, big and small, the more likely it’ll reach and change the minds of people who *will* be in charge of these things.

  3. “I have to admit I’m so crazy busy I can’t believe I even have the energy to come up with this stuff. But so much stuff makes me angry!” LOL. What an amazing intro to a post ^_^ I agree! These titles don’t just have a sexist undertone, but they are also so cliched and overdone at this point. I don’t know how many of these authors are responsible for the titles though. It may be the publishers thinking these titles are catchy and evocative. In the case of the fiction about real-life people, the point might be to highlight that there were important women are behind-the-scenes.

    1. There are, I think, many reasons to write titles in styles that already sell; I just think there are also plenty of reasons, in this case, not to.
      Thanks for finding my exhaustion amusing ;)

  4. You forgot Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen. YES! That is an actual book and it’s so meta and ridiculous. And I definitely agree with these kind of titles being so sexist but also just overused and unappealing to start with.

    1. I’ve never heard of it, but I also wanted to focus on women being defined by men rather than other woman. However, it’s absolutely ridiculous

  5. *inserts mug with tea in it emoji* I would love to just count all of them — just to create a statistic of how many books are titled in that similar way and how many are not. It’s a lot of them which is incredibly alarming and uncool to see. Doing these “(..) Daughter” and “(…)’s Wife” titles is probably the most easy way to name a novel while not giving away too much and still describe the storyline honestly — and maybe that’s the problem. If the best way to talk about the book and best represents it is some title that sets the main character in relation to a male figure then it’s already a bummer. I do get why that’s the case but it’s still sad. This is a really great post! Loved that you spoke up about it!

  6. I love all of your feminist material! Keep it coming. My eyes are always opened while reading these posts. I never even thought about the book titles that define a person based on who they are married to. It is something so common, based on the many examples you gave, but it is so accepted in society.

  7. Wow this is a huge thing and I never thought about this way. I can think of so many book titles like these. Blatant sexism is what this is! Keep it coming, Gail!

  8. Hi Gail! This is a really interesting pattern in literature, and I’ve noticed a lot of thriller books with the same pattern: e.g. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train. I remember that I became aware of this issue first freshman year of high school, when I read Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck for my English Literature class. The story has only one prominent female character, and she didn’t have a name — she was just called “Curly’s wife” the entire novel, which resulted in me writing my essay on how awful that was.

    Anyways, great post! :)

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