Thursday 10 July 2014

Do You Agree, Or Disagree? (#9) TOPIC: Is the Fight for Gender Equality in Literature Causing More Segregation?

This campaign #ReadWomen2014, which aims to bring gender equality to the literary world is a really lovely idea. And I'm all for supporting it. But I can't help thinking that ... singling women out is just going to cause more segregation. If we really want to support gender equality, shouldn't we be aiming to read books from an equal amount of men as women?

What do you think? Do you think the fight for gender equality in literature is addressed in the right way?

Is the Fight 4 #GenderEquality in Literature Causing More Segregation? #ReadWomen2014 #Authors #amreading #GenderBias



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  1. This sort of thing makes me cringe, to be totally honest - it strikes me as well-meaning but patronising. Some inferences that might be drawn from the campaign:
    - 2014 going to be the only year we read books by women and then we'll all go back to reading men again
    - women's books are so bad that we need encouragement to read them
    - isn't this positive discrimination based on political correctness?
    - female authors are so bad at standing up for themselves and marketing their books that the poor little things will never find any readers if we don't give them a helping hand

    Personally I read a lot of books by women (many more than by men, though I'm not a great consumer of chick-lit). I don't decide to read a book because of the gender of the author, but by whether it promises me an entertaining and stimulating experience. I would feel offended if someone chose to read one of my books because I'm a woman rather than because of the book's appeal in its own right.

    I know that there are still a lot of people who feel that identifying the author as a woman is a no-no (hence J K Rowling etc) but I would not dream of putting my books out under a gender-free name in the hope that people would assume I was a man. This archaic attitude surely stems largely from the traditional publishing industry that preferred Currer Bell to Charlotte Bronte and George Eliot to Mary Ann Evans. I'm hoping that the influence of the more democratic and free-thinking world that is self-publishing will help erode these ridiculous outdated attitudes.

    I've been very lucky in that throughout my career (over 3 decades long) I don't think I've ever felt that I was held back by being a woman even though misogynists is hardly an endangered species. But I do refuse to kowtow to misogynists by pretending to be a man or seeking positive discrimination for my femininity. That would feel like I was giving into bullies.

    I therefore won't be supporting in the campaign. But you've probably guessed that already if you've read this far! ;)

  2. What you just said. It draws awareness, which is both a good and a bad thing. It can feed itself.
    I probably read more books by men, but just because of the genres I read. Overall, I know a lot more women authors than I do men. By a lot. And I don't think most readers are biased - they just enjoy a good book.

  3. Let me put on my disparities hat, which is what I study by day... Your opinion on the matter, while I GET IT (and don't disagree, if we lived in a more utopian world) misses the fact that right NOW there is a huge gap with many more men than women being read--with men making larger advances, selling more books... For the SAME EXACT WORK they earn double or triple what we do. Now does THAT seem right? The benefit to making a point of reading women is to boost the reviews, boost the buzz, and start to reduce that disparity. Now I'm not going to EXCLUSIVELY read women, by any means, but I look at it like I do voting... if I'm not sure, lean toward the woman... given two equally appealing options, go girl...

  4. Yes, it does stir up division. Because what we're talking about doesn't seem to be true equality at all, but only the appearance of it.

    If we want things to truly be equal, then we should want our work to be judged, to succeed or to fail, by its merits (and by the work we are willing to do to promote it, etc). Of course, that means that things won't always LOOK equal.

    One author never does the "SAME EXACT WORK" as another. We're not talking about a man and a woman who both put in equal hours flipping burgers at the Burger King on the corner. One 80,000-word novel is not the same as another, no matter who wrote it.

    I have no problem with the idea of individuals promoting female authors (or male authors) if they feel like they're getting the proverbial short end of the stick. But personally, I believe in reading. I don't have an agenda when deciding what to read. I just want to read a good book.

  5. I confess I think it makes women sound a bit weak - as if we need a helping hand to get our books read. It's like Affirmative Action. Yes, it helps to create opportunities for individuals who are underrepresented in particular fields. But it also makes outsiders question your capabilities - did you really earn your position, or were you just given a leg up? There's a part of me that thinks that if women want to be treated like equals, they should act like them - and this type of campaign doesn't encourage that kind of thinking.

  6. I'm with Hart, who said pretty much what i was going to say.

    I know people say they're unbiased and they just read what they want, but they don't realize that in many cases the decision has already been made for them.

    Like Alex said, he reads more men because of his genre. And it's not that women aren't writing sci-fi (because they are, in equal numbers or greater) it's just that they're not getting a fair shot from the start.

    1. Two sci-fi series that I've read recently are by women (Lunar Chronicles and Across the Universe). These are great books. I didn't realize I could enjoy a science fiction book so much until I read Across the Universe. Did these authors not get a fair shot from the start? Who knows! But if women are writing books like that, publishers will want them.

  7. I read books that I think are worth reading; it doesn't matter who wrote it—female, male, oyster—gender doesn't even play into it, unless I'm looking for a specific author. So what are the things that make me think it's worth reading? Too many factors to list, but more or less, quality of the work, however limited—is it impressive? Does the book (or author) have good word of mouth? Things of that nature. I've probably read equal amounts of men to women, enjoyed equal amounts, and have closed the book after the first page on equal amounts, as well.

    I'm of the same thinking as Debbie, Rebecca, and Lori, but don't discount Hart's or Sarah's opinion and do validate their feelings. Perhaps that may sound like condescending psychobabble, but I understand how it feels to be the underdog, and I advocate for them to this day.

    However, that being said, I make sure to know the facts, which includes statistics from reliable sources, not merely opinion or hearsay. I caution those for whom I advocate not to make broad statements without said sources because that's how misinformation gets around as "fact," then goes about ruffling feathers.

    And also, I always caution people about being on the other extreme so far that the message is lost. I was raised during the women's lib movement, had two sisters and a loving and strong-will mother. I'm sympathetic to the cause. There are men like us out here. Many of us—maybe even the majority, nowadays. Overzealousness and passion for the cause can also turn a blind eye and deaf ear, and at the worst, be detrimental to the cause. Just as there are blatant misogynists out there, some women are appearing to be blatant misandrists, whether they are or not. That's not a good thing, and creates a division, but is the risk of any type of movement.

    Personally, I read what I want and it seems to be that way with most people I know.

    M.L. Swift, Writer

  8. Absolutely with Hart on this one. But I think the question's context needs clarifying - yes, the campaign is called "a year of reading women" but it is a campaign that, in line with the work done by VIDA, is about representation in the media more than the choices of individual readers. As Sarah says so succinctly - for many readers the decision has already been made for them by editors, columnists and bloggers. Whilst there is a disparity in the status quo, any attempt "to just do it equally" can never do anything but maintain the status quo. And that works for any priviliege axis. So much bias is structural and unconscious that letting editorsd get away with "we cover the books we think are best" simply won't cut it - for so many reasons. Not only have their ideas of "what's best" been formed in the melting pot of a discourse based on centuries of privilege but the context in which writers are producing and submitting work has been framed by that same discourse - of which they are part. Yes, of course there are people from every group who will break through privilege barriers but examples aren't helpful - the fact remains that when a straight white male cisabled middle class kid who loves words looks around the literary landscape he sees nothing that is alien. It feels like a world he can slip into. There is no sense of disconnect. Becoming a writer feels like a dream he can put right on the front burner. Of course a kid who's female, PoC, LGBTQI, disabled or from a poor background *can* put their everything into making their love of words develop into a career as a writer - but *it is harder* for them to make that mental commitment *in general* because when they look around at who's in the books there is at least some sense of disconnect, they see at least some degree of fight to get in - yes, a fight will spur some people on and yes those people may have more success than those who never had to ight, but take a demographic group en masse and it's a whole lot easier not to shelve that dream and try another one if you are made to feel instantly at home in a world. Until kids, and adults, of every background find themselves reflected back in the literary landscape campaigns like A Year Of Reading Women are not just OK, they're pretty much a duty if we purport to care about our literary future. IMHO and YMMV of course!

  9. Thanks for all your fabulous thought-provoking comments!

    Hart and Sarah, I totally see where you're coming from, and to an extent, I do agree. But don't you think that the "way" equality is being fought for here goes totally against what equality is all about? Sure, let's run a campaign like this to gain more exposure for women writers. I'm all for that! I want women writers to get more exposure too. But to say that it's a campaign fighting for EQUALITY, is hypocritical in my opinion.

  10. Just because there is a backlash to any campaign for fairness, among those who feel uncomfortable acknowledging an imbalance or who want to subconsciously protect their own complicity in an unfair system, that's no reason to give it up. In fact, it's a sign that it's necessary. This campaign is addressing an imbalance, not replacing a biased-toward-males system with a biased-towards-females one. You don't fix an imbalance by placing equal weight on both sides of an imbalanced scale. Dan explained this very well, how the idea that we are not pre-biased as readers is naive. Addressing an uncomfortable case of discrimination is brave, helpful, and exciting. Even making a commitment to intentionally add more women authors to one's personal library is an action that's radical and life-changing. Same goes for authors of color and any author who has significant barriers to publication and readership that are correlated with that author's demographic. Reading more women is good for the individual reader's mind, good for the world, good for literature. The fight for equality never begins with delusions that things are already equal, and it ends with a more enlightened world.

  11. This reminds me of the scene from "The Devil Wears Prada":

    Miranda: (Miranda and some assistants are deciding between two similar belts for an outfit. Andy sniggers because she thinks they look exactly the same) Something funny?

    Andy: No. No, no. Nothing's... You know, it's just that both those belts look exactly the same to me. You know, I'm still learning about all this stuff and, uh...

    Miranda: 'This... stuff'?' Oh. Okay. I see. You think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select... I don't know... that lumpy blue sweater, for instance because you're trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don't know is that that sweater is not just blue, it's not turquoise. It's not lapis. It's actually cerulean. And you're also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent... wasn't it?... who showed cerulean military jackets. I think we need a jacket here. And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it, uh, filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it's sort of comical how you think that you've made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you're wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.

    Okay, here we have Miranda, who represents those who "make the decisions on what to publish" (which, according to some, is only the privileged, abled, white, male, etc.) and Andy, the reader, "blithely unaware that her reading selection has been made for her" in the form of whose work was published—the current "color" of the season.

    While this is true for any business (decisions of what stays and goes are made every day), it doesn't keep anybody from coming up with their own "Shades of Gray" (or blue, in this case). The argument is that, since it's written by a woman, it won't get much more than a second glance, if that, and maybe not make it out of the slush pile.

    Guess what? Chances are mine won't make it out of that pile, either. The market is flooded with good writers—great writers, even—whose work, as Porter Anderson recently tweeted, may never be recognized.

    Thing is, we all want to be a de la Renta or St. Laurent or Wang or Karan, but the truth is, many of us are not at that level. Yet, rather than admit we're not of that caliber, we lash out and blame The Powers That Be for our own inadequacies, stating we're not given the same chances as they. Further truth reveals that perhaps we can't create our own Cerulean, and in our attempts to do so, ride the current wave and create outfits that are suitable for that tragic Casual Corner discount bin. We've written the equivalent of a lumpy blue sweater and think we've come up with something original and totally detached from the Wangs of the world. Then, because it doesn't sell as well as Patricia Cornwell's latest, we feel wronged...victimized.

    But guess what again? Feeling as a victim will keep you as a victim. You find strength from wherever you choose to find strength, and get out of that victim mentality. So let's say you're getting your strength from a supportive group such as #ReadWomen2014. Has that support system improved your writing? No, it just supports you in your efforts. Your writing may still be that lumpy blue sweater.

    Truth is, there are more lumpy blue sweaters out there than Oscar de la Renta originals. My advice is to write your best, do your best, market your ass off, and do what you can to get your book in front of as many readers as possible, then move on to writing your next book.


“I'm using my art to comment on what I see. You don't have to agree with it.” ~John Mellencamp

“Allowing an unimportant mistake to pass without comment is a wonderful social grace” ~Judith S. Marin

“I don't ever try to make a serious social comment.” ~Paul McCartney

“I'd make a comment at a meeting and nobody would even acknowledge me. Then some man would say the same thing and they'd all nod.” ~Charlotte Bunch

“Probably what my comment meant was that I don't care about the circumstances if I can tell the truth.” ~Sally Kirkland

“We're not going to pay attention to the silliness and the petty comments. And quite frankly, women have joined me in this effort, and so it's not about appearances. It's about effectiveness.” ~Katherine Harris