When it comes to dealing with other people’s reading habits, something that has always bothered me is the way so many readers of fiction largely ignore women writers, whether consciously or unconsciously. I always think to myself: I must be dreaming! This is 2012, and this is still going on? Yet I’ve encountered (and continue to encounter) quite a few male readers who simply just don’t read any at all (maybe a short story by Flannery O’Connor or two, and maybe some Joyce Carol Oates, maybe). It just seems really extraordinary to me.
Obviously, there is something to be said here about patriarchy and how women have been stifled and silenced throughout history when it comes to writing, philosophy, the arts, the Western canon, etc. The other day, I came across these statistics that detail the gender breakdown of contributions to the biggest literary journals around. Shocked? Well, I suppose you could reasonably guess the results without even looking. I know I did. But the gender disparity is still fairly alarming regardless, and the divide is far more gaping than I imagined. There have been several responses to these statistics already, with both editors and readers alike trying to come up with possible solutions to address these problems. Other relevant questions might be: How many men actually submit to these magazines in comparison to women? If more men do (which I suspect is the case), why is that? Do women still feel powerless in their attempts to become great literary writers, or is their attention simply focused elsewhere? Or both?
I remember once coming across a particular male reader’s blog discussing how few women writers he has given the time of day. It went something like this: “I’ve noticed I don’t read female writers at all, but I think that’s simply a coincidence. It’s just the type of books I like.” Honestly, with all the women writers I can name (even those considered “literary”), I don’t think that’s a very convincing argument.
And what about the newer and upcoming online literary journals? Is this disparity the same for them, or is it becoming more equal? This is just based on my own observations (no official statistics here or anything), but I do suspect there may be a much more equal gender representation among these journals, than say, The New Yorker.
With that said, I think it would be great if people actively tried to search out more books by female authors this year. As of now, I’ve only read one novel so far, but at least I can safely say that that is, in fact, just a coincidence (back in 2011, I actually read more female writers than I did male writers). There are many on my to-read list already, and I look forward to getting to them. Particularly Carson McCullers, who I’ve grown to love very much recently.