Posts Tagged ‘Meghan O’Rourke’
As this story continues to unfold, and unfold and unfold, I thought I would do a quick round up of the articles rippling out from Vida’s work:
The latest is from UK’s The Guardian which starts with a succinct recap of the statistics gathered by The Count, it also includes some very telling quotes about the gender gap. the one that perturbed me the most was this one:
Peter Stothard, editor of the TLS, said the gender issue was “not a small matter” for the magazine or its readers. “We take it pretty seriously,” he said. “I’m not too appalled by our figure, as I’d be very surprised if the authorship of published books was 50/50. And while women are heavy readers, we know they are heavy readers of the kind of fiction that is not likely to be reviewed in the pages of the TLS.” The industry source for book data, Nielsen, does not keep records of authors’ gender.
“The TLS is only interested in getting the best reviews of the most important books,” Stothard continued. “Without making a fetish of having 50/50 contributors, we do have a lot of reviewers of both sexes and from all over the world. You have to keep an eye on it but I suspect we have a better story to tell than others.”
So, basically, not only is he saying that he doesn’t care what women are writing, or that women readers don’t read the books that TLS covers (which in and of itself places a pox on his house as far as I’m concerned), but he goes on to say that the “most important books” are the only ones of interest to the publication. Double damn. I mean, seriously, does this guy trundle around in tweeds with a waistcoat and pocket watch, smoking tobacco from a plantation in the Caribbean while sitting at his gentlemen’s-only club lamenting the frailty of the female intellect? If he’s married, I need to have a talk with his wife. She’s asleep at the wheel, here. And, yes, ladies, if your man is backward, THAT’S YOUR JOB. Comes with the license. Right there in the fine print.
Fortunately, there are also folks out there in the Fatherland getting it. John Freeman from Granta gets a big Happy New Year swig of scotch from me for this quote:
“While numbers and graphs like this are helpful,” he said, “conspiracy theories are not, because we have to ask a deeper question, which is how gendered are our notions of storytelling? I have been on mostly women-run prize committees which questioned their own feminist bona fides and then voted for the men’s books.”
I salute you, sir. And John, please pass along my thanks to the people in your life that shaped you into a decent human.
This conversation of gender equity takes place with the entire culture. LA Times has a short blip of an article regarding the statistics of women in film (and I’m here to tell you it doesn’t dig anywhere near deep enough to uncover the real internalized bigotry that prevents gender parity). The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University (who knew they existed? They need a better publicist!) calculates that the number of women working behind the camera hasn’t changed since 1998… the first year they put togther their “Celluloid Ceiling” report. The stakes, my friends, are nothing less than the culture, as Martha Lauzen puts it:
“I don’t think people know when they walk into a theater that nine out of 10 times they’ll see a film by a male director,” Lauzen said. “It’s not just an employment issue for women, it’s a cultural one for all of us. Movies make a difference in how we see the world and how we see certain groups of people. These are the architects of our culture.”
And reading through the comments is like a 50s flashback. Seriously, people, give it up.
Here are some choice quotes from the other articles I’ve found. (Hyperlinky goodness let me label them with the author names, so hover for the attribution.)
It may be that more men than women write what editors consider “important” books—in part (and this is speculation) because more men than women write about international affairs and politics. (Of course, writers like Samantha Power and Elisabeth Rubin are successful examples of women who do.) If that’s the case—and I’d like to see the numbers—the salient question is why. Another salient question is whether what editors consider “important” is itself affected by gender. (Sometimes I think it’s no accident that some of the most influential female writers have refused to foreground the fact that they were women: Take Elizabeth Bishop, who wouldn’t allow her work in an anthology of women writers, or Susan Sontag, who, as Sigrid Nunez recounts in her forthcoming memoir Sempre Susan, refused to wear make-up or carry a purse.)
My own rough count of fiction editors at prominent publications reveals that the majority of final decision-makers are men. Is a bit of mirror-gazing occurring? Are male editors more likely to see their own concerns in men’s writing? If so, this bias may cut both ways: My work has frequently been championed by female editors. But for now, the gatekeepers of literary culture—at least at magazines—are still primarily male.
In at least some areas, it seems that women’s writing is getting less recognition than men’s. It’s also true, however, that this could have a trickle-down effect — women have fewer role models in magazines and on year’s best lists, and so they may choose to promote their work less or, in some cases, stop producing it at all. As Elliott says, if women are truly submitting less, they need encouragement. They also, however, need an environment where writing by a woman has as good a chance of being considered Serious as writing by a man. And male and female authors alike acknowledge that we’re not there yet.
…Do women write as much as men? And probably more importantly, Do they submit their work to literary journals? Certainly in terms of books reviewed the percentage of literary books published by women to men would be the most important statistic. As much effort as was put into compiling this data one imagines the data on books published could certainly be found, even if it had to be limited to a dozen presses just so we would have an idea.
We love you VIDA, but we want a little more.
Poetry Foundation: just a round up….
This is day two of crappy stats about women in the creative business – this time, the literary world.
In my personal experience as a writer in the publishing field (a field that’s filled with women, by the way), I see young writers doing this a lot—women speaking humbly and in self-deprecating terms of their own writing (myself included), while male friends of splaying their latest work onto their various blogs, Facebook pages, or Twitter feeds. While there is great work from both, there’s no doubt in my mind who is getting their name out more and who feels validated about their work (and are more likely to submit it to journals).
VIDA wants to know what you think. Here’s some more ideas on what to do: Check out She Writes and other online writing communities, question the literary canon (See: Chally’s recent Iconography Series), and make an effort to encourage all the writers in your life—yourself included.
I’m a fan of baseball statistics. And of the old Bill Parcells post-game aphorism that “You are what your record says you are.” These numbers are deeply depressing, along any rubric. The annual AWP conference is in D.C. this weekend, and I hope people will ask editors from Tin House, Poetry, and Paris Review what their plan will be to rectify these numbers. Get whatever they’re promising in writing. In blood. With naked, embarrassing photographs. I don’t know what their reaction will be, or what kind of promises they can make that would assure me. There seem to be systemic problems in the ways literary magazines accept and publish work, just as there seem to be giant problems with the ways the editors at the New York Times Book Review choose who they review. 438 men reviews to 295 women reviews in the 2010 New York Times Book Review. I don’t know what the breakdown of book publishing in America was last year, but I’m pretty sure there were lots of books by women that could have filled that gap. Sam Tanenhaus, the Review editor, was smugly quiet on Picoult’s rather prescient criticism. Something is up. What is he going to do about it as an editor?
Jim, I, too, am a fan of FACTS. I read through so many of these apologias for why cultural production in America still skews towards male creators. Women consume and create culture IN PARITY. But that isn’t reflected in our commercial marketplace. Why? Well, that’s probably at least a PhD’s worth of sociological analysis, but the least of it has to do with people in positions of power continuing to reinforce the patriarchy through their choices in material, hiring, and promotion. That’s what “Institutionalized” means. We’re in a gender prison right now and about to stage a riot. Or two. Jim, I got a finger or two or three of that Scotch with your name on it when the book sells. And maybe some of these liquor donuts.
I’m going to keep updating this post with new links as they become available. I’ll try to remember to do it top down so you don’t have to scroll this. Big changes popping all over the world. ONWARD!
OK, so I lied. I’m putting the updates down here at the bottom. :-)
Ms. Magazine Blog: A quick round-up BUT on the same page as some other hard-hitting feminist tidbits, like how to explain to your kids that you’re watching a superbowl game that glamorizes a man accused on multiple counts of rape.
I’m sure Patrick Lane over at the Missouri Review is very nice, but his response to The Count just makes me imagine him as a one-legged blind man in an ass kicking contest. Against that multi-limbed bitch, Shiva.:
I certainly wouldn’t deny that there most likely is a significant gender gap in publishing (though I wouldn’t take this particular report as proof of that — though it does help justify the hypothesis), and such a gap is a problem (though is it a problem of bias, education, opportunities, or even genre definition?) that we should be investigating. But it’s important also to recognize where the data is problematic before launching into action campaigns or making accusations against editorial staff. [Ed. Sounds like he’s offering cake to the masses. Italics mine.]
Ruth Franklin over at The New Republic put on her Big Girl Panties and cracked some numbers on books published. Sounds like she didn’t like what she found–I know this is a big chunk and recommend you all head over and read her entire peice:
We looked at fall 2010 catalogs from 13 publishing houses, big and small. Discarding the books that were unlikely to get reviewed—self-help, cooking, art—we tallied up how many were by men and how many were by women. Only one of the houses we investigated—the boutique Penguin imprint Riverhead—came close to parity, with 55 percent of its books by men and 45 percent by women. Random House came in second, with 37 percent by women. It was downhill from there, with three publishers scoring around 30 percent—Norton, Little Brown, and Harper—and the rest 25 percent and below, including the elite literary houses Knopf (23 percent) and FSG (21 percent). Harvard University Press, the sole academic press we considered, came in at just 15 percent.
I speculated that independents—more iconoclastic, publishing more work in translation, and perhaps less focused on the bottom line—would turn out to be more equitable than the big commercial houses. Boy, was I wrong. Granted, these presses publish a smaller number of books in total, so a difference in one or two books has a larger effect on their percentages. Still, their numbers are dismaying. Graywolf, with 25 percent female authors, was our highest-scoring independent. The cutting-edge Brooklyn publisher Melville House came in at 20 percent. The doggedly leftist house Verso was second-to-last at 11 percent. Our lowest scorer? It pains me to say it, because Dalkey Archive Press publishes some great books that are ignored by the mainstream houses. But it would be nice if more than 10 percent of them were by women. (In the 2011 edition of Dalkey’s much-lauded Best European Fiction series, edited by Aleksandar Hemon, 30 percent of the stories are by women. Last year, at least Zadie Smith wrote the preface.)
Now we can better understand why fewer books by women than men are getting reviewed. In fact, these numbers we found show that the magazines are reviewing female authors in something close to the proportion of books by women published each year. The question now becomes why more books by women are not getting published.
The VIDA numbers provide a start toward an answer: Of the new writing published in Tin House, Granta,and The Paris Review, around one-third of it was by women. For many fiction writers and poets, publishing in these journals is a first step to getting a book contract. Do women submit work to these magazines at a lower rate than men, or are men’s submissions more likely to get accepted? We can’t be sure. But, as Robin Romm writes in Double X, “The gatekeepers of literary culture—at least at magazines—are still primarily male.” If these gatekeepers are showing a gender bias, there’s not much room to make it up later.
Then Becky Tuch restored my faith in humanity with this piece over at Beyond the Margins:
… we need to understand how complicated these matters truly are. While women should and must continue to submit their work, fighting doubly and triply hard to share their stories with the world, we need to keep in mind that the inequality in submitting and publishing cannot be explained only by women’s bad thinking habits. Telling us to “Toughen up!” or “Get out there and submit more!” is wonderful and encouraging advice. But we must not lose sight of the larger forces—economic, social, commercial—which act against women who wish to be artists. To those women I would like to say, “By golly, if you’ve made it this far, you’re pretty damn tough already.”
Amen, sister. Will continue with updates as I find pieces.