We at Creative Content are very proud of our Short Histories series – it’s given us the chance to work with some fantastic historians and terrific narrators.
Next in the series is “The Lowdown: A Short History of the Origins of the Vietnam War”, by Dr. David L. Anderson – and we’ve taken the decision to have a female narrator. I thought it was a little unconventional, but as my business partner Ali (Muirden) said at the time, “Why not?”
And it got me thinking – why are there so few history titles narrated by women?
I did some casual research of the top-selling 100 general history titles on Audible UK and Audible USA. About 95% of them are narrated by men – and the ones that are narrated by women have either been written by them or are histories of particular women. (Yes, there are one or two exceptions, like the very well-received “This Sceptred Isle” by Christopher Lee, narrated by Anna Massey.)
When it comes to war, the titles narrated by women are even fewer – and those usually have to do with particular women, or are about the civilian experience of war -Don't Forget to Write: The True Story of an Evacuee and her Family by Pam Hobbs, narrated by Penelope Freeman, Clara's War by Clara Kramer, narrated by Rula Lenska, The Blitz: The British Under Attack by Juliet Gardiner, narrated by Catherine Harvey.
I asked Ali, “Why do you think it is that around 95% of best-selling non-fiction history audio books are narrated by men?”
She said: "I think it's because people assume that history is a genre that appeals more to men than women. There is also the feeling that the sex of reader should be the same as that of the writer of the book being recorded. Perhaps subconsciously we feel that if a man has written the book then the reader should be male too - and vice-versa! And a lot of history, particularly military history, is written by men.”
Maybe. Do we think women’s voices don’t suit the material? I’m not sure it’s that: we accent female newsreaders delivering the grimmest details of combat. Is it because war is usually fought by men, or because most significant military figures (with some exceptions) have been men? Is it, as Ali suggests, because most consumers of military history are men, and they prefer to hear male voices reading it? Or is it simply a convention that we don’t question?
I’m not trying to be provocative, and I’m not even saying it should be different – I’m genuinely curious! Why do you think it is?
And we’d love to know what you think of our ‘experiment’ - having a straight military history title read by a woman.* - LK
*“I think it's great that we're challenging these assumptions and it's been really interesting to hear so many different view points on the subject on Twitter this week!" - Ali Muirden
Photo by Beverly & Pack
Photo by Beverly & Pack
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