My question is why a category called "Women's Fiction" exists (particularly when I'm unaware of a corresponding category called "Men's Fiction").
Given that women are the ones buying most books (if what I've read about this is accurate), it's not as if we need to specifically target them. It seems to me that the only group we target with this category label is men, telling them "Hey, sorry, but this book isn't for you."
When my books are published one day, I want everyone to read them. My goal isn't simply to be published, it's to be read. I don't want to signal to anyone that my book isn't for them. The thought that someone could get it into their head to categorize and market my book this way terrifies me. It seems like sabotage.
Are there stats that show the "women's Fiction" label creates more additional sales to women than the lack of that label would provide in sales to men? That might explain its persistence, but I don't know where one would get such stats, if they exist (I mean, you'd need a control group for comparison, right? Or no?).
And if that's so, then I'm even more surprised that there isn't a corresponding category "Men's Fiction" that would increase sales to them for books that deal with . . . Men Stuff? (we had the borderline-dismissive category "chick-lit" for a while, but I never saw "dick lit". Like Rodney Dangerfield, women writers get no respect, it seems).
Given the richness of the English language, there must be some more inclusive words to describe this category that could appeal to all genders. Why don't we use those words instead? From a marketing standpoint, this doesn't make much sense to me.
You missed Tucker Max?
And "lad lit"?
Tucker Max (I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell) is the epitome of Men Stuff lit. Take a look and you'll see what I mean.
Lad lit was coined to describe books like High Fidelity. The term never caught on.
It sounds like you're viewing categories like the NAACP views redlining. Categories aren't "you can buy a house here but not there." Categories are "if you like that book, you might like this one too."
Categories are designed to put books in front of readers most likely to pick them up.
Using myself as an example: I gravitate toward the crime/mystery section of the bookstore. Put a book there and if it's got an compelling cover I'm likely to pick it up and read the flap copy.
If you shelve a book in crime that isn't about crime, and is mostly about relationships and love ever after, I'm going to put it back on the shelf. And readers who gravitate toward love ever after themes aren't going to find this book cause they're shopping over in women's fiction not crime. Notice I say readers, not women. Women's fiction is read by a lot of people who aren't women. I know this because it's a HUGE category and sells well.
Categories are a way for book stores to help readers find books they will like. It's the same reason all the cereal is in one area of a grocery store, not shelved alphabetically with all the other products being sold. I don't want to sort through frankfurters to get to Frosted Flakes, much less wiener schnitzel to get to Wheaties!
When you say you want everyone to read your book I can appreciate that goal. What I know about selling books though is that you want your book in the place where readers are looking for it. Not everybody is going to want to read your book. The sooner that isn't heartbreaking news and just a recognition of how things are in the world, the better off you're going to be.