Monday, September 20, 2010

Gender Bias and the Written Word

Meghan O'Rourke of Slate asks a very intriguing question: why are women so infrequently heralded as great novelists? I never really thought about it (stupid, I know) until I read this column and began nodding my head over and over. So often women's fiction is considered "rom com," "click lit" or "beach read." Nothing more. But there are plenty of fabulous female authors out there - current ones, even, not just your Brontes, Austens, etc. - so why aren't they considered more frequently on the best-of-all-time lists? Is it because most of our reviewers are men? Is it merely an unconscious movement? Is it because female authors tend to write about female characters? If those "great American novels" had been written by women, would they never have been called great? Should women authors start sending in manuscripts with male pseudonyms? Something to think about at least. A few quotes from the article that I enjoyed:

"In many circumstances, we also simply assume men are more talented: Before the advent of blind auditions, fewer than 5 percent of the players in major American symphonies were women. But after blind auditions began to be held, the percentage of female players soared almost tenfold. Is there any reason to believe our evaluations of literary talent (which almost always happen with full knowledge of a writer's gender) are uninfluenced by that kind of unconscious bias?"

"Studies have shown, for instance, that in the face of subtle discouragement (facial expressions and so forth) candidates perform less well. It's really, really hard to write a book. It takes a lot of time and solitude. In my experience, women are not as good at insisting they need that time and solitude. (I wonder how many female writers have, like me, sometimes wished they were a man so everyone—family, friends, partners—would understand a little better when they go in the room and shut the door for weeks on end.)"

"There's the provocative female writer who was asked if she had an eating disorder because she is naturally skinny, and whom reporters badgered for information about the number of men she'd slept with... There's the author who sent out a proposal about John Lennon and learned that editors worried readers might not believe a woman could write with authority about a musician."

1 comment:

manda said...

Ah! So glad you wrote about this article. I read it on the bus last week and was nodding my head along with it too.

As you know, I don't listen to mainstream radio anymore because the ratio of chick to dude artist is like 1 to 5. I prefer to spend my time remedying this than figuring out why it happens-I'm not that smart. Since the year my new years resolution was to only buy female-fronted or majority female artists my iTunes has made a dramatic shift in gender representation and I've discovered so many female musicians and love music so much more. I identify with these women. (oh, and just you pay attention to the music at our wedding-women. will. represent.)

I was, not two days ago, thinking that 2011 is the year of female authors. I'm going to get out there and find them on my own if the folks who produce the "best of" and other lists won't cover them for me! I was also thinking you were the first person I'd be asking for some recommendations. So how about it? Give us some ideas of the women you love to read, and who you may have heard some buzz on. (p.s. way to go that your Top Tomes are 3/4 women!)