"Immersion in the life of the world, a willingness to be inhabited by and to speak for others, including those beyond the realm of the human, these are the practices not just of the bodhisattva but of the writer." --Jane Hirshfield

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

If a woman writes a book, will anybody read it?

A lot of attention lately to the disparity in publishing and reviewing between men and women. Do men care what women think? Will they read books by women? (No, apparently.) What is the reason for the disparity? Can women write as well as men? Are women overlooked more often? Pushed into chick lit categorization which turns men off? Not as concerned with international espionage and warfare? Or is it the male literary establishment hanging on by its fingernails? Why will a woman buy a book by a misogynist and/or with misogynist characters, but Jews, blacks, men and other groups largely boycott authors bigoted against themselves?

I don't want to summarize these really good articles, linked below. I think they reward reading and thought. The comments, well, some are really good, but this kind of subject tends to bring out the haters and the bigots, too. And the hidden bigots, who claim to be fair while they hold you back because you're just not as good... It's chilling, but I suppose just another example of people's rotten manners on the internet. Commenters' rage?

I wanted to say a few things that I have not seen anywhere else. One, that the establishment, any establishment, tends to defend itself from all comers. Even the literary magazines, often run by graduate students, favor male writers over female. The editors are largely male -- is it competitiveness? Is it scarier to compete with women? Because, you know, pretty soon if you let women in and blacks in and Native Americans in, let alone other ethnic groups, they will want the editorship, too. (And the Paris Review might become the Native American Women's Menstrual Review, or something, right?)

Is that why the establishment prefers its own? They don't question the gross unfairness at the bottom of it all? They embellish the status quo?

Life, Keith Richards' book, which I am reading right now and totally love, is very clear on this issue vis a vis rock and roll. At one point a group of legal big shots sat down with the Stones to ask what they wanted -- as if facing dangerous revolutionaries. Keith says it was a real eye-opener to him, how threatened they felt, how invested in a shaky status quo that must change. I think he told them they were dinosaurs, deal with it.

One thing I'd like to share is from a creative writing class years ago. We had an assignment to write about our mothers, and woman after woman wrote about a dissatisfied, critical, unhappy woman. A man in the group commented, "Another hard mother," after one of these. His story was nothing like that. Which made me wonder then and now if mothers share their unhappiness mainly with their daughters. If legions of dissatisfied women somehow transmitted their lack of self-worth or were jealous of their daughters' opportunities, or just passed on bad beliefs?


Is there a glass ceiling for women writers?

Why are literary hard-hitters male?

Vidaweb survey, with thanks to Amy King.

Gender Balance, at the NY Times blogs, with links to other articles.

Women are underrepresented in literary publishing because men aren't interested in what they have to say -- Laura Miller at Salon.

It's not just writers. Women are under-represented on the radio, too.

And the solution is: How to Publish Women Writers.

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