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.
AMarch 2, 2012 at 4:51 pm
Back in May of last year I wrote Christine an email about this:
"Maybe that should not bother me, but as a writer and as a woman I guess I get a little overwhelmed with the world of publishing. And also about the format or type of writing people enjoy reading, which I definitely don't write. Then I dug a little deeper, thinking back to this article that I read about women writers in 2010. The article is linked. It documents the slim number of women that get published by literary magazine such as The Atlantic and The New Yorker. When I saw it I felt ill. Because as VIDA, the website – a place for women in the literary art – mentions women are writing and women are reading, so why are they being rejected? I just think it is disturbing in some aspects. I'd like to think better of the world and that we have progressed as a society. Have tossed aside our heavy hatred and injustice, especially directed at women. I think a lot of my insecurity – about myself and my craft – has a lot to do with the fact that I am a woman. It also has to do with that maybe my writing isn't marketable in a sense, but mainly it is the underlining fact that I am a woman and I am doing something men have been praised for, for years and years before woman were. Sort of like I am invading someone else's territory, which is silly since art certainly does not belong to men or women, but rather everyone who sees or reads or experiences the art. Once you write a novel and it is flung away into the hands of the publisher, it is like a baby you have no real control over. Yes, it is yours but it has its own life to lead. I really have no answers for this, why I get these sudden bouts of uncertainty, only that they happen and happen frequently."
I don't really feel any differently today than I felt last year, so I thought I would share. VIDA is a great source of encouragement, it really is, but being a woman is still is this weird thing and I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. It is as if whatever we say will not be accepted or acknowledged. I have even seen this daily in the college environment. Women overall have a harder time speaking up. Maybe that is really general, but in a general sense is the only place I know where to start, because I have no answers for why people aren't reading as many women authors.
J.D.March 2, 2012 at 7:09 pm
What's also worth mentioning too, I think, is that a vast majority of contributors in those literary journals (like The New Yorker and The Atlantic) are usually solicited writers, and because of that, you'll inevitably go through the same old cycle of writers again and again. It's just more dusty, conservative, and self-perpetuating. There's a lot less fresh blood because of it, which I think is partially why (and due to the rise of the internet, obviously) more indie journals are popping up all over the place, and are probably much more equalized across the board. I know that a lot of the stories and poems I've been linking to on here lately have been written by women, so it's not that women aren't writing!
RobbyMarch 4, 2012 at 4:53 am
I find this so interesting, because I read almost exclusively female writers. I'm actually much more reluctant to read male writers, because I fear they won't have the sensitivity and sensuality that the bulk of female writers do, but this has not often been the case. Nearly all of my favorite books are written by women. My homosexuality may contribute to this.
J.D.March 4, 2012 at 10:39 am
It is interesting, especially because it seems a lot of people aren't even consciously aware of the particular writers they're drawn to. A lot of people don't seem to even think about gender at all. I think I'm pretty much equal when it comes to my own reading habits, although I could be wrong about that.
Jamie DrewMarch 4, 2012 at 3:56 pm
There's a lot more female-driven lit stuff now thanks to the internet, and I think 'ladyblogs' like Hello Giggles are going to be instrumental in levelling the field, exposure-wise.
A more pertinent question is: who the fuck actually reads literary journals? I mean really, who? I'd like to see some names, because I've never met anyone who reads lit journals.
J.D.March 4, 2012 at 4:55 pm
I know a few people who read Granta and The Paris Review, but other than that, it's a very valid question I think. In general, it's probably only other really serious writers who want to get published in them and no one else. They were already kind of a special niche obviously, but I think they're quickly becoming a lot less culturally relevant myself – especially the ones that outright refuse to post anything online.
M. DominicMarch 8, 2012 at 5:53 pm
My reading shelf is predominately male. I don't know why. I do know that often, women writers don't write about things that I care about, or in a manner I care about – which feels awkward for me as a female writer (see, i'm trying to fill a void!).
J.D.March 9, 2012 at 3:46 am
This is all too true – you have a noticeable lack of femininity in your library! Remind me next time we're at the bookstore to foist some female writers on you.