Literature: The boys’ and girls’ clubs

When I interviewed Jane Smiley at last year’s GetLit! festival, the first question I asked her was in response to a quote I’d read by her about how it’s damaging to all writing to split it to writing by/for/about women versus writing by/for/about men. Her quote was in response to reading Jennifer Weiner’s Certain Girls and reads as follows:

“American fiction has split again, into the boys’ team and the girls’ team. Certain Girls demonstrates that this works to impoverish both sides.”

I don’t remember my exact question, or how Smiley responded (and I’m not feeling motivated enough at the moment to go look it up), but I do remember that she talked for quite some time.

I thought about this earlier today when I came across an article by Claire Messud, author of When the World Was Steady, her debut novel, which was nominated for a PEN/Faulkner award. In it she discusses the gap between who reads/writes books and who gets nominated for awards or put on The-Best-Of lists.

Now, this gender gap in writing is nothing new, and I doubt its reality is surprising to most writers: Women find it much easier (and more enjoyable) to read about men than men find it to read about women. In fact I’ve seen this sentiment first hand in workshops I’ve had, even one where I was told by a male writer that my story (primarily featuring a woman) was not worth telling.

I wanted to do a bit of my own research. Since I doubt none of Messud’s facts, I pulled out a reading list I was given to prepare me for the AP English exam (which I took in 2002). I don’t know if my teacher made the list or if it was supplied for her, but it contained titles that had come up on the test in the previous 20 or so years. So I went through the list, turning to Google when I didn’t recognize a title and found this as a result: Out of the 223 titles listed, only 43 were by women. (My unsure section indicates titles I couldn’t find immediately and didn’t feel like spending hours researching.)

Author’s Gender Number of Titles % of Total Titles
Men 174 78%
Women 43 19%
Unsure 6 3%

Now, I’d expected to find a slant, but never this large of one. Four titles to males for every one by a female. And I could go into lots of reasons about why I think it’s this way (I’ve got a gender studies background as well as a literary one), but what was more intriguing to me was to think of my own preferences. Yes, I usually prefer to write from the point of view of a female character. Yes, I tend to prefer the representation of women in fiction written by women. A few weeks ago when we had to recommend a book in class, I think it was 13 out of 15 of us that recommended a book by an author of our own gender.

So I went to my own bookshelf, curious to see how I stacked up, and how much I let gender influence my book buying. I’m pleased to say that my choices were much more balanced (though there was still a sizable difference).

Author’s Gender Number of Titles % of Total Titles
Men 144 57%
Women 109 43%
Both 1 less than 1%

The results surprised me. With my preferences, I expected to have a library that was skewed toward the female, but I found that I sort of fell into the same problem: I read more men than I do women.

Now, I could break this down further. I could split it by genre (which I actually did but decided not to post here). I could split it by gender of the main character (or characters). I could list my favorite character from each book (well, the books I’ve read anyway…let’s not talk about the percentage that sit there on my shelf unread). Heck, we could even talk about the fact that I have very few non-American or Western European authors. But what I was most interested in was how, even being aware of this gender phenomenon, even having such strong preferences to the opposite of it, I still ended up having a male preference, at least by the numbers.

I don’t propose a solution for this. I don’t think suddenly flip flopping the statistics is the answer. But I do wonder at just how widespread this is, and what we can do to expose readers at all levels to a wider variety of authors and ideas.

Also, how does your bookshelf measure up?

34 Comments

  • Marcus says:

    The flaw here is that your argument is predicated on an equal number of women and men writing, and the study of your own bookshelf is predicated on an equal number of titles available by men and women (in which case you would purchase more of the women). I don’t think either of those are the case.

    While I find gender arguments almost always end up being spitballing contests, I will point out that writing is generally accepted to be at least somewhat narcissistic, and will also point out that the general sentiment among Western cultures is that men tend to be more self=indulgent than women.

    I think that’s a ridiculous connection to make, of course.

    I think what your study needs is a baseline of how many male authors there are to how many female authors. That’s going to be very difficult to quantify without specific timeframes or something, though. But it will provide you some background for your more-specific analysis of your own bookshelf especially. Now in order to put the totals in perspective we need to know how many women and how many men were trying to get published. And then to put that in perspective we need to know how many men/women were encouraged/discouraged and able/unable to write. And so on, which is why gender equality arguments always end up being people repeatedly slapping each other in the face and not getting anywhere. Because you can’t quantify psychological bias, and you can’t have a rational argument without quantifications of some sort.

    Now, the workshop criticism may not have been based on your character’s gender; it may simply have been that the story wasn’t worth telling–not all are. However, having read the story in question I feel confident saying that the person who commented negatively lacks an understanding of what makes a story impactful/interesting/useful/etc. But laying that lack of understanding on gender bias is sort of jumping to conclusions, isn’t it? As in, because a (hypothetical) man dislikes a work by a (hypothetical) woman, it must be because of gender.

    Maybe it is.

    Anyway. I’ve been reading more and more work by women simply because I enjoy the work, not because of gender. In fact this gets to the same kind of idiocy of people voting for Obama because he’s black; that’s still racism. And it’s still sexist to like women writers better than men just because they’re women. Etc. Big political/psychological/logical pit there that I’d rather not dig into at the moment. (Also not saying you’re an idiot, because of course you’re interested in more than just the fact that these women are writers; you’re interested in how their writing differs, the tonality, the presence of the characters and characterization of genders, etc. Short: you’re an un-idiot.)

    I guess that writing shouldn’t matter who’s holding the pen/typing or whatever. Should be about the effect the work has. If men like to read about men, that’s fine and understandable, because all people are self-interested and also because one of the reasons we read is to explore our own understanding of the world and actions through a character, and it’s simply easier and more useful to do that if a given character is of the same gender or of the same working class or education level or whatever. Maybe we need more women readers? We need more readers in general; the percentage of adults who read for fun declines every year–now that’s an alarming statistic.

    Okay. Enough. Good post; thought-provoking. I still don’t like Jane Smiley.

    • Kathryn Houghton Kathryn says:

      I don’t think you need to go all the way back to who submits work to declare that there is a gender bias present in who reads what and which works receive acclaim. But I also don’t think that because one person (say a male, for this discussion) prefers to read work by his own gender, that the logical conclusion is that that person is sexist–it’s mostly likely a preference. I’m not trying to take the argument there. But if you look at sales, if you look at who reads (and women buy 55% of fiction according to Publishers Weekly), if you look at bestseller lists, things are much more even. So I think to declare that this argument has little basis is to dismiss what’s going on at the root here.

      Just look at how we classify genres. You have fiction and you have women’s fiction (or chick lit, as some will call it), and women’s fiction is often seen as less worthy than other fiction, as more disposable.

      I also don’t think anyone needs a baseline to examine his or her own preferences, or to look at those preferences through a wider lens, considering “what-ifs.” What if I read more male authors or stories about males because that’s what I’ve been exposed to and led to believe is more worthy? What if it’s really just a coincidence. You’re right that in one person’s library, you can’t make over arching accusations (and I don’t feel that I was making accusations of any kind), but it’s still useful as evidence.

      Also, re: the workshop piece, I would never dream of making a blanket statement that says whenever a male doesn’t like my writing it’s sexism. However, from the multiple workshops I’ve had (and I’m going back to undergrad and earlier here) and from the multiple classes with reading, I’ve seen a general trend that more often men will dislike work by women than vice versa. And I think that some of that comes from the fact that women are used to reading about men but that the opposite isn’t true. And I could go into an entire gender politics thing about why I think that is, but I’ll save it for parties maybe. :)

      Finally, I agree with that last paragraph. No writer should sit down with these ideas crowded around him or her, but as readers I think it’s always useful to be aware of your own tendencies and that you challenge yourself to sometimes stepping outside of them.

    • Asa Maria says:

      “If men like to read about men, that’s fine and understandable,…Maybe we need more women readers?”

      Marcus, the majority of readers are female so I don’t think getting more of those will fix the problem that Kathryn is addressing.

      • Marcus says:

        That would be why there was all that stuff where you put the ellipses; also, you used it to connect separate thoughts. And I think we do need more women readers. I don’t understand how that would be a bad thing. The more readers, the more demand for more and higher quality work, which puts pressure on publishers to print better stuff, in theory.

  • Marcus says:

    “I don’t think you need to go all the way back to who submits work to declare that there is a gender bias present in who reads what and which works receive acclaim.”

    Yes, you do. Otherwise you have no idea if what you perceive as a bias is just a reflection of the available work. I have no doubt that there’s bias, but you can’t make that argument without something to back it up. Instance: let’s say 65% of the work that journal X publishes is by men. There’s a big difference if 60% of the submissions they receive are by men (in which case there’s a very slight gender bias that’s probably within the margin of error for any given collection of works) or if only 40% of the submissions they receive are by men (in which case there’s a very significant bias that probably can’t be explained without bringing gender into the argument). You can extrapolate this to publishing houses, et al.

    “You have fiction and you have women’s fiction… and women’s fiction is often seen as less worthy than other fiction, as more disposable.”

    And again, you have to figure out who made those categories and why. See, from a marketing perspective, if 55% of fiction buyers are women, you should absolutely have a women’s fiction category, because you’re targeting the market. You’d be an idiot not to recognize that there’s a potential extra sale just be making up an arguably arbitrary category and lumping a bunch of female authors into it.

    I’m not saying your argument has little basis; I’m saying there’s a hell of a lot more going on than what’s shown in the couple of specific counts you’ve detailed. And that’s not a knock on your post, but a call for people to contribute more numbers/knowledge so we can open up this discussion and get to what’s at the root of it all.

    As for workshops, I never like anything. (It’s because I’m a guy.)

    I should also expand on something I said earlier, which is that readers are often looking to explore their own worldviews through a character’s. A reader who’s interested in understanding The World instead of just The World As It Seems To Characters Similar To Me is going to read all kinds of things and not really give a crap who wrote them beyond being able to find more of that writer’s work later. I think.

    So, again, I’m not denouncing your post/argument. I’m just saying that we need a whole lot more information–which I’m hoping some other readers can help add–before we can make any kind of conclusion.

    I’m also now wondering how glbt perspectives fit into this argument. Thoughts?

    (Of course, we all know that as a straight, white, middle-class American male, I have no right whatsoever to even think about biases, much less comment on them.)

    (B.S.)

  • Sam Ligon Sam Ligon says:

    Could it be that there weren’t as many women on the AP list or the Modern Library’s list of the 100 best novels of the twentieth century because it wasn’t until very recently that women started publishing as much literary fiction as men? It seems that in the last 25 years this has changed significantly,
    though as Messud notes, “in 2006, the New York Times ran a list of the best American fiction of the past twenty-five years [and] Toni Morrison’s Beloved was pronounced the winner; but she and Marilynne Robinson (for Housekeeping) were the only women out of twenty-two titles.” So woman aren’t equally represented there, for the years 1980 to 2005.

    But when looking at National Book Award finalists in fiction since the year 2000, 24 out of 50 finalists have been women, and women have won the nba in fiction 4 times in those 10 years.

    I’m not sure gender bias in publishing is as much of an issue as it once was.

    Messud writes, “The great twentieth-century American poet Elizabeth Bishop refused to be included in anthologies of women’s poetry, insisting that she was a poet plain and simple, rather than a ‘woman poet.’ She wrote that ‘art is art and to separate writings, paintings, musical compositions, etc. into two sexes is to emphasize values that are not art.'”

    This is why I find it so odd that, later in the essay, she says that “when given the chance to gather a selection of writers for the magazine, I didn’t hesitate: I knew at once that I wanted to showcase the work of women writers. Not because they’re women, but because they are writers whose work thrills and surprises me.”

    And only the work of women writers thrills her?

    She goes on to write that “simply on account of their gender, [women] are too often overlooked by the silly popularity contests that are juries and boards and lists.”

    But regarding at least one significant award in American fiction–the nba–the data do not support her conclusion.

    • Kathryn Houghton Kathryn says:

      I agree that it isn’t so bad as it once was, but to say we’re in a world that’s past those issues makes me uncomfortable. Messud also talks about how it’s more common to females to recognize great male authors than vice versa.

      I’ve actually been incredibly pleased with the balance struck at EWU, and I’ve never felt like any author was included in the syllabus to bolster a set of numbers (which is a balance that I wish all areas set). And yes, some times there will be imbalances, that’s just how the odds work. And most (all?) of us here do come from a broad literary background, and I think we are more aware of work that society might push to the edges, but I’m still interested in those greater societal trends.

      And yeah, I knew about the National Book Award numbers, and maybe should have offered them in the post for a bit of a counter balance.

      However, and I might totally get grilled for this but I’m going to say it anyway, I think that the average story from a male is more likely to be considered literary than the average story from a female just because the world of the male is still considered much more universal to human experience.

      And I think, maybe Messud’s quote could possibly mean that she was looking for women who thrilled her rather than just looking for women, if that makes sense. I totally have no evidence for that, but that line stopped me too, because I don’t think a solution is to elevate the women writers over the men as somehow more worthy.

      • Marcus says:

        “I think that the average story from a male is more likely to be considered literary than the average story from a female”

        By who? Who thinks this? And why does their opinion matter?

        • Asa Maria says:

          Editors and Publishing Executives and their opinion matters because they publish books and give writers paychecks.

          • Marcus says:

            That’s a prety broad lump. I can’t imagine all publishing executives think this. I hope even that most don’t. I would suspect that editors and publishers are also mostly concerned with what creates sales, and so are trying to reflect the opinion of the buying populace when they make decisions. Which is not to take the blame away from them totally, but to put it in perspective.

    • Asa Maria says:

      Interesting figures on the NBA nominations and winners Sam and I agree, I think a lot of things have changed in the last 25 years, but I also don’t think it has changed enough. If it had, then women writers wouldn’t feel the need to form organizations like the 2009 founded Women in Letters and Literary Arts (WILLA: http://www.willaweb.org/).

      I didn’t interpret Messud’s comment to mean that she didn’t find male writers thrilling or surprising. My first thought was that she’s paying it back—-as a woman writer who’s become successful she’s the perfect mentor and advocate for upcoming female writers. I wish more female authors would take on that role, I think this is one of the ways that we can start to address the imbalance that currently exist.

  • Pete Sheehy says:

    Has there ever been a cross-country car ride involving a heterosexual couple where there was a long period of silence broken by the man turning to the woman and saying, “What are you thinking?”
    I doubt it.
    And I don’t think that necessarily indicates men don’t care what women think; I believe that men generally regard thoughts as more private or less significant than women do. Writing, obviously, is a different thing because the writing/publishing would not occur if the author didn’t deem their thoughts worthy of consideration. But I think my example of the car ride is one factor that explains why women are more likely to read/enjoy fiction by men than vice versa. I’m not presenting my idea as a total explanation of the phenomenon, because obviously we live (and have lived for a very long time) in a male dominated society (though western society is less male dominated now than it has been for a very long time, maybe ever). But if there are psychological aspects of men and women that naturally differ (regardless of culture, etc.), then I think it would be foolish to ignore that.
    That said, my bookshelf is definitely male dominated. Why? As the dying punk rocker in “Repo Man,” said bleeding on the floor of the convenience store, “I blame society…”

    • Marcus says:

      My wife and I moved from Oregon to Virginia, and then from Virginia to Washington. We drove both times. I can remember maybe once that she turned to me and asked what I was thinking. I can remember seven times off the top of my head when I turned and asked her that.

      Does this mean I am abnormal?

      I am generally more interested in what she’s thinking because she’s smarter than I am.

    • MelinaCR says:

      I’m glad you brought Repo Man into this (not sarcastic). We needed that.
      I like what you’re saying about psychology, and I disagree with Messud that being a woman is “an irrelevant fact of birth.” Seems pretty relevant to me.
      And it seems like this investigation comes back to the fact that peoples’ gender biases are now so ingrained and institutionalized that they’re buried under some kind of assumed “P.C.” attitude. No one wants to consider that they could have one.
      I know nothing about the publishing world, so I can’t speak to that, but I do often notice a brick wall of male dominance looming in many areas of the literary world (workshop included), and so don’t think the fact that there’s an imbalance can be discounted as chance.

      • Marcus says:

        Probably not chance, but without some kind of quantification it’s impossible to say whether anything is chance or trend. That’s all I’m saying.

        Also, and this is a question directed far beyond your particular comment, what’s a guy to do? I’ve been told in the past that I’m oppressing women just because I’m a man. What, exactly, am I supposed to do about it? I sure as hell hope I’m not gender-biased, and I like to think I treat people fairly regardless of what they look like, so what am I supposed to do? And this, then, leads to what I think is one of society’s biggest problems: we’re all happy to point out problems, but most of the time it’s done without proposing a solution. I’m perfectly willing to consider that I have some kind of bias (I rule nothing out until I’m absolutely beyond a doubt sure, and even then I’m willing to entertain challenges to that knowledge), but until I know how to identify it I don’t know what’s to be done.

        So I guess in the end (and from the beginning) all I want is to find out what the problem is (statistics, data, polls, experiences, etc.) so it can be fixed. (I know it’s not that simple, but that’s the process that I’d like to apply in general.)

        I guess I’m getting into gender theory, which is territory that I’m not allowed to tread in.

        Also, why isn’t it sexism that there’s no Men’s Fiction category? (Oops.) That is, why is it considered condescending for there to be women’s fiction? If you look up the catalog entries for books considered “Women’s Fiction” they’re also listed under “Fiction.” So why does it have to be a slight? Isn’t it the perception of the condescension that brings the condescension into existence? That is, how does one know the intentions of the people/person who created the category?

        Anyway. Foot in mouth. This is why I should never have started talking about an ism.

        • Kathryn Houghton Kathryn says:

          As for the category: What do you think of when you hear the terms Women’s fiction or Chick Lit? I know the first thoughts that come to my mind, and they aren’t positive adjectives mostly, and I certainly don’t think “literary” or “universal.” So yeah, I do find it a bit sexist that there’s no men’s fiction, but because the absence implies that all fiction is for men except what goes in that corner, not because men are somehow left out. And as Jane Smiley says (and I totally agree), these designations hurt everyone.

          As for not being allowed into gender territory, I don’t think anyone here has either said or implied that. And what my post got at toward the end is that maybe we all have a bit of that bias, and that doesn’t make anyone an evil human being, it’s just something to be aware of, and not talking about it sure isn’t going to help. And though my post focused on gender, it could easily have been race or ethnicity or sexual orientation (as someone said above, I think). It’s just being aware of the things we tend to reach for first–not that we shouldn’t have preferences but just so that we can widen our own horizons. And not everyone may be interested in that.

          And who says you can’t illustrate a problem (if that’s what we’re agreeing this is) qualitatively?

          As for the people that say you’re oppressing women just by having a Y chromosome, well, they’re idiots.

          And I’m with Melina in agreeing that being female seems incredibly relevant to me. Actually, pretty much everything she said. Except Repo Man, because I have no idea what that is. (But perhaps I should?)

        • Asa Maria says:

          “what’s a guy to do?”

          Continue what you are doing, read books because of how they’re written, not by whom they are written. And when you become a big shot editor, make sure that your list has a balance between authors who examine issues that interesting to females and interesting to males.

          • Marcus says:

            I’m not sure that’s a good idea. Because then you’re blatantly saying there’s fiction for men and fiction for women. This may be true; I’m not sure, but it makes me uncomfortable because it seems to contribute to the perception of an otherness, which is how this whole conversation got started. I’d rather just publish what’s good. (And determining that is a whole other conversation, of course.)

  • Kathryn Houghton Kathryn says:

    Also, because it kind of relates, here’s a forum discussion on men and fiction over at Nathan Brandsford’s blog. And I swear I wrote my post before I read this. Some interesting thoughts.

    http://forums.nathanbransford.com/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=251

  • Tiffany says:

    Science fiction genre writing was entirely dominated by men to the point where women writer’s would adopt a male pseudonym to sell their books, until recently. Now women writers have definitely moved in and, although primarily in fantasy rather than sci-fi, they are dominating the shelf space. I challenge anyone to find a male name author on the romance shelf. Mysteries curiously enough are well split. The gender bias issues definitely start with submissions and publications and the perception of what society thinks will be acceptable. In the past women were neither commonly published nor more importantly supported and encouraged in writing. This translates to literary fiction having a long cannon of male authorship before women seriously began to contribute. This same trend encouraged women to read lighter materials- there is an old marriage counseling book that tells men to monitor their wives reading and discourage anything too serious for their small minds. That damn book is still on the shelves at Barnes and Noble, although I’ll grant everyone I’ve seen looking at it thinks it’s just funny now and doesn’t take it seriously. The point is, men have had more time to contribute to literary fiction, their writing- style, flavor, and themes- is the foundation of what we consider literary and therefore what we compare new works against in deciding literary merit. It takes time to change, it takes time for more women to contribute and for female readers to break out of societies historic opinions of what they should be reading, for female writers to break out of their boxes, and it takes time for younger more modern thinking men and women to replace and evolve the thinking in institutions.
    In all fairness to men who have been laid over with guilt for this inherited issue- marketing wise, money wise, the leading seller of books and determiner of what will therefore be financially supported is a woman, Oprah.
    Aside from that, when I say it takes time to change I should also clarify that this change will follow a tipping point trend and it’s coming up on us fast. Look around at your classmates, at the posts here, at the short story writers baseball and basketball teams and you’ll see women authors are being appreciated and included. Those classmates and others like them are taking over the industry and the changes will come fast and furious.
    The idea that everything is written for men unless labeled “chick lit” is really not gonna fly so well pretty soon either. 55% of readers are women and we are reading across the spectrum. Maybe men should start a men’s lit- unfortunately the distinction of what makes chick lit is in part the focus on women’s issues and women’s emotions. Whether from society influence or nature, women generally have a different, more public and social, method of expressing and dealing with our emotional crap than men and that lends itself well to the making and marketing of chick lit. I suppose this could be used as an argument, or an explanation, in favor of the idea that men’s stories are interesting to women and men and women’s stories are accessible more to women than vice versa. Men’s writing rarely gets caught up in the emotional cat’s cradle women often- though not always- follow. Not to say that men’s writing lacks emotional depth, but that more goes unsaid emotionally, and philosophical and ethical considerations are more universal- just a thought. I still think the larger frame of the issue is in contributions, available works, and society slant in both reading and writing subject matter and I think this is changing.

    • Marcus says:

      Very excellent work. Well reasoned and explained.

      And so to reiterate, if change is desired, the best way to do that is for women to continue writing kick-ass stuff. (Which I have seen a lot of; I think on the whole the women in the last few workshops I’ve been involved in have overshadowed the men, myself included.)

      • Asa Maria says:

        I agree with you Marcus when you say that one way of creating change is for women writers to write kick-ass stuff. However, what happens when a woman who wrote kick-ass stuff about issues that are mostly interesting to women is shut down by an editor (male or female) that has been conditioned to think that serious literature always examines issues that are traditionally more interesting to males?

        This issue is so much larger than just having female names in the author slot on a book spine. I think why women react so strongly to this is not because most women authors write about issues that are of interest to women and by not publishing those authors the industry is sending us a message that says that the things we are interested in are too trivial to be counted as serious literature.

        • Marcus says:

          “what happens when a woman who wrote kick-ass stuff about issues that are mostly interesting to women is shut down by an editor (male or female) that has been conditioned to think that serious literature always examines issues that are traditionally more interesting to males?”

          Then that editor’s an idiot. End of story.

          “This issue is so much larger than just having female names in the author slot on a book spine.”

          I assume this means it’s about larger cultural perceptions about women. But then your example is based on what’s being published. So I’m not sure I follow the reasoning here.

          I still think the best solution is for women to keep writing kick-ass stuff. Unless you have another suggestion?

          And I’m still waiting for someone to explain why being labeled “women’s fiction” is absolutely negative. Because it isn’t; it’s perceived as negative. And there’s a difference. Because here’s the thing: who says that non-women’s fiction is the “serious literature”? It isn’t me. It isn’t you. It isn’t any of the intelligent people I know. To say that some far-away, faceless editor is belittling women because they have in turn been conditioned by some vague entity is kind of passing the buck, isn’t it? It isn’t like women are helpless. There are organizations like the one you pointed out in a previous reply, and there are presses and even bookstores devoted to strengthening the presence of women in publishing. Yes, there are idiots in the world, and yes, there are people who think that women aren’t on a level with men, intellectually, but why give in to those perceptions? If there is going to be change, it has to start somewhere. Why not with ignoring the categorizations of people who don’t know or matter?

          And anyway, what is the solution? I haven’t yet seen any suggestion that seems more feasible and persuasive than continuing to write and publish awesome work.

          • Asa Maria says:

            “Then that editor’s an idiot. End of story.”

            That’s not the end of the story, the end of the story is that those “idiot” editors are dominating the industry right now, so that means a very talented author (male or female) didn’t get published.

            “Why not with ignoring the categorizations of people who don’t know or matter?”
            I think that when prejudice keeps you from competing on an equal playing field, it does matter.

            I’m not sure how to address most of your comments because I’m not sure if we’re arguing about whether or not there is a gender bias in literature and publishing. I think most of the world agree that there is.

            • Marcus says:

              It is the end of the story unless you think you can change those particular people. I hope you can. Good luck.

              And, as I’ve said a few times already, I don’t doubt that there’s gender bias; all I want is some way to quantify it so it can be put in perspective and examined appropriately. I just want to know how big a problem it is. Because I’m interested in it.

          • Kathryn Houghton Kathryn says:

            I have explained why having “fiction” and “women’s fiction” is a negative thing. You might disagree with my explanation, but I -have- explained this. And I challenge you to find a single person who thinks “chick lit” is serious literature. That doesn’t mean that everything that isn’t women’s fiction is serious literature, but when you have an entire category of books addressing women’s issues that has been written off…well, yeah. That seems like a negative thing to me.

            I’ve also offered some solutions, which have also been glossed over or dismissed. And yeah, to me, this entire discussion seems like part of the problem in the fact that it’s so easy to look past the problem–and it’s so taboo to acknowledge it. So being aware of a problem is the absolute first step toward a solution, hence why I examined my own reading tendencies. Because while I knew this existed on a broad level (and it does) I wasn’t aware that I had let it into my own life.

            Yeah, I can’t change publishing single handedly. It takes time, and we’re certainly further than we once were. But we are by no means there.

            • Marcus says:

              I don’t disagree because I don’t fully understand the explanation (which is not saying it’s wrong). If you break it down into its logical elements, there’s a couple of steps missing between the premise and conclusion, and I’m just still puzzling out what’s filling those in.

              I’m sorry you feel like your solutions have been dismissed.

              And I’m not sure how the discussion is looking past the problem. This whole time I, at least, have been trying to piece together the specifics of the problem so it can be understood and dealt with.

              And no, we’re not there. But until we know where there is, and how best to get there, I’m still going to be confused.

    • Kathryn Houghton Kathryn says:

      Interesting comment about Oprah. A quick look at Wikipedia (I know, very academic of me…) shows that there hasn’t been a book club selection written by a female author since 2004.

      And I guess even seeing the language here about the “emotional cat’s cradle” makes me think there’s a problem. And I think, as you get at, that a large part of the difference comes from society slant, and it’s this more than anything that I would tackle as a way to work at this problem.

      • Asa Maria says:

        Isn’t that just sickening? I think the worst part about any gender imbalance is that a lot of times women are equally guilty of keeping our own sex from succeeding.

        • Kathryn says:

          Well, with Oprah I’m prepared to think it’s a coincidence, though maybe still a telling one. Her earlier years of selections were much more female oriented, though it’s interesting to note that this was before the list went mainstream. Not sure what that means.

          Also, the Wikipedia page didn’t have a lot of books listed for recent years. So maybe she did pick more but only those were reported. So yeah. Not sure where I was going with this.

  • Asa Maria says:

    Great post Kathryn! I love how you took a thought that struck you about gender imbalance and used it to examine your own bookcase. I had a look at my bookcases after I read your post and as I—and probably anybody who knows me—expected, I have a HUGE bias towards female authors. However, if I look at my husbands (mostly technical manuals or outdoor nonfiction) and my books together, male authors win. I’m sure there are all kinds of conclusions I can draw from this, but the point is that you made me think about how I select the books I buy.

    It looks like there’s been some great debate here too; you definitely must have touched a nerve, which usually happens whenever gender issues are involved. I don’t agree with any of the comments about you needing more statistics to back up your point. What I got from your post is that there’s a gender imbalance in our society (which we all know without quoting statistics) and that one way we can start talking about how it affects the literary world is by examining our own bookcases.

  • Marcus says:

    Okay. This has all been fascinating, but these discussions are going to have to go through email or in person; I can’t keep track of the dozen or so different threads here. Thanks, all, for trying to help me figure out the issues. I hope you believe me when I tell you that’s what I really want, is to understand what’s happening. I’m not interested in dismissing it.

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