I see two commonly used terms:
Each of them has a significant methodological problem. Women Readers implies that the act of reading is central to being in the audience. Although I think Kreuger, in her book of the same title, did tackle this problem in her introduction, as a general term, it’s misleading.
Female audience relies on the adjective female, meaning “possessing breasts and vagina and other appropriate ladyparts”.** When actually what I care about is audience-members who are women, that is, identified by themselves and/or those around them as women; individuals performing and expected to perform femininity; and individuals who are not performing femininity and are marked as transgressing the bounds of their gender because of it. Even if most or even ALL of that audience possess female junk, I don’t actually care about their ladyparts! Their ladyparts are not relevant to this conversation.
But woman audience just sounds wrong, and rather like I think there was only one woman who received this text (which it shouldn’t; nouns in compound must be the same in number – see also bookshelf) and women audiences still sounds like I want to treat them in discrete sets. Given that it’s also foolish to assume that an audience is homogenous, women audiences might be an acceptable option. But then you’d have to also say lay audiences (pl) and men audiences (pl) – doesn’t the latter one sound RIDICULOUS?
So far, I’m sticking with female audience, on the grounds that the 12th century isn’t known for its sophisticated concepts of gender fluidity; an individual born with ladyparts had even less opportunity to self-identify as anything else than do genderqueer and transgendered people today. But it’s not an entirely satisfactory solution. What if I want to have a cross-disciplinary conversation about ladies-who-consume-literature with modern scholars? How does the gender-savvy modern literary theorist refer to an audience composed of women, without excluding transwomen? Perhaps the modern literary theorist can get away with women readers – but a film theorist, or pop culture theorist, surely can’t.
Also, speaking of genitalia and gender, here is a post about Christ’s penis. Go on, you know you want to.
*But why, I wonder? I mean, I am talking about gendery stuff, so it seems natural. And I think I agree with whoever-it-was (probably Kreuger) who argued that the gender gap between Man Dude Writing Things and women in his audience is bigger than the vocational gap between Clerk Dude Writing Things and his lay audience. Although as I recall that wasn’t so much argued as stated as if it were obvious to all right-thinking feminist readers. Hmmm. Given that this is romance, the fact that we have a Celibate Dude writing about love and sex and stuff is pretty damn important. Tracy Adams goes interesting places with this, as I recall. All that stuff about sex and rape and love and more rape? Probably written by celibate dudes who, at least in theory, were not supposed to do any of these things.
**In modern terms we might also mean “possessing XX chromosomes”, and then we can get into a fun conversation about how sex isn’t really binary at the chromosomal level, or the hormonal, or the neurological, and certainly not in the what-bits-go-where level. Unless someone has citations to the contrary, I’m operating on the assumption that the “male/female” decision was usually made in the Middle Ages on the basis of whether a baby was in possession of a penis or a vagina. If anyone has read fun and exciting articles about people with ambiguous genitalia in the middle ages, I would like to hear about it!