Thursday, July 25, 2013

Seriously, Guys...Don't You Know Any Women?

I've noticed a disturbing trend in the NYT Book Review. No, not this one, though I'm very glad the VIDA people are on it, but yet another instance of demoralizing gender bias in our ranks.

I enjoy reading the "By the Book" author interview column every week. I appreciate the glimpse into the minds of a variety of authors and I think they do a pretty good job of inviting diverse voices.

The authors are asked to name favorite reads and authors in a variety of questions ("Who's your favorite poet", "What book have you always meant to read", etc.). Far too often, the ratio of men to women is so lopsided as to be embarrassing. Now, I'll admit that my own list might be skewed slightly male. I don't know what the ratio would be - maybe 60-40? 55-45? But it's when the equation starts heading toward 90-10 that I'd question the author's reading list. Because I think it represents carelessness or bias in selection rather than quality.

I don't mean to pick on Kevin Powers, but of the fifteen authors he mentions in last week's column, there were exactly...ZERO women.

I can feel my pulse racing a little just thinking about it. Seriously, Kevin?

Everyone: if you have a vagina or care about anyone who does, think carefully about who wrote all the books piled on your nightstand or loaded on your e-reader. If you've neglected half the authors working today, maybe fix that.


Jujuwiz said...

Love you. I've started purposefully re-tooling my answer to "who's your favorite author" to omit the men, actually. I still read the men and love them... I just won't talk about them until there's a bit more equality. Easy, since there are so many women authors who are also favorites.

Lisa Alber said...

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, especially as a debut author...I've even gone so far as to wonder whether I should be going out under a gender-neutral name (L.A. Alber). It's too late now since the book is registered with the Library of Congress...but man, I'm nearly kicking myself...So sad. It still really is a man's world--sucks--except maybe in the romance world, but I don't write romance...

Sam Thomas said...

Hey Lisa,

If it's any consolation, it occasionally runs the other direction. I'm a man writing fiction largely about women, with a female narrator. The book sold and is doing great here in the US, but the UK won't touch it because I'm a man. (Their honesty is refreshing.)

I too wish I'd gone with initials, though S.S. Thomas makes me sound rather more like a ship than an author.

Anonymous said...

I got my MFA in San Francisco (from the Jewsuits, as our program leader called it!), and even there, where people worked hard to be inclusive, the ratio of male to female authors taught felt more like 7/1 than even 2 or 3 to 1. I imagine Kevin's alma mater isn't any better, even though it's Austin. It would have been worse in SF but one my profs was WAY into Flannery O'Connor.

You have to poke a noir panel pretty hard to get them to think of Patricia Highsmith or Megan Abbott. Though when they do remember, they're very happy about it.

I think from now on I'll ask my friends "Which women are you reading these days," until things even out. What else could we do, I wonder?


Lisa Alber said...

Hi Sam,

S.S. Thomas -- very nautical indeed! Too bad you're not writing the next great Moby Dick novel. :-)

Interesting that U.K. market is fickle that way. I've often wondered if I'd do better starting in the U.K...

Cheers, Lisa

Mike Cooper said...

Okay, so I just checked the last 143 books I read. (They're listed on Goodreads, if you're interested.) Giving me credit for two by KJ Parker, whose gender is unknown (as is everything else about him or her, impressively), 14 were written by women. That's not even one in ten.

Hmm. I'll have to pay more attention going forward.

Sophie Littlefield said...

thanks to all of you for replying! and for your honesty. as we discovered a year ago in a lively discussion at seton hill, the first step is just to get people thinking about what they read and how they make their choices. moving the needle in the right direction, even a little at a time, is what counts.

Gigi Pandian said...

I thought I was incredibly skewed toward reading women writers, but after looking at my Goodreads list, I see that I only read about twice as many books by women as by men. And my favorite authors are about evenly split: e.g. Elizabeth Peters and Aaron Elkins for modern-day mystery favorites, John Dickson Carr and Agatha Christie for classic favorites. Interesting that I was wrong about my assumptions until I looked it up!