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View Full Version : on Women Writers (stemming from the NYT article on playwrights) (Moved from Novels)



errantruth
06-25-2009, 03:18 PM
Not sure if y'all have seen today's NYT article outlining recent research finding on the rate of acceptance of work by female playwrights by literary agents, artistic directors and producers. (The results don't point fingers at male agents/artistic directors, etc.)

The article is available at this link:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/24/theater/24play.html?em

Anyway, I was wondering what you more experienced folks know about the equivalent experience for women writers in your various fields?

Sorry if I'm a grammatical mess today; late night writing and my coffee's not hit me yet.

Thanks and be well,
:) ~ R

dawinsor
06-25-2009, 03:27 PM
Fascinating research. Thanks for posting the link.

errantruth
06-25-2009, 04:40 PM
Glad you found it interesting :)

~ R

daehedr
06-25-2009, 05:09 PM
I can't speak from the perspective of a writer in a particular field but I am well aware within a University environment that women have higher expectations of women, whether or not that is explicit or implicit and sometimes not recognized by the women themselves. In Women's Studies classes and programs the reading lists are usually 30% longer than in traditional classes when compared, and the expectation of quality and quantity of work is much higher than in a regular classroom. It is almost harking back to those days of early feminism when it used to be said that in order to earn half as much money as a man a woman has to work twice as hard, and twice as long. We used to believe that this pressure was from a patriarchal society, which initially was true but when women (and men) began to push the boundaries in feminism and critical theory it became the women in charge who laid down this written and unwritten rule. I graduated in 1993 from University with a minor in Women's Studies and was explicitly told by the new Department Chair (a female with a degree in Engineering) that in order to prove the worth and value of women's studies she had to ensure that women did twice as much work as the "traditional" departments. So much so that I took a Women's Lit Course and had to read 16 books and in my "traditional" English Lit had to read 9, do I believe much has changed in the world in the past 16 years - no.

SarahMacManus
06-25-2009, 06:50 PM
I hate to say this, but I do think that women are harder on other women than men are. Last summer, I was approached by a director to write something for one-act series because he wanted a woman's viewpoint on the theme.

I'm afraid that some of the stigma of the women's movement in the 70's turned and bitten a lot of us on the butt. Professional women seem to take it personally when other professional women don't 'live up to standards'. Look at the backlash at Palin last year; a lot of women wanted a woman candidate, but they didn't want to set the bar that low (even though a male VP with similar credentials might have seemed perfectly adequate).

I think that rather than viewing each other as competition, at least in the professional arena, women tend to view each other as representative of the gender, and that's raised the bar in some rather strange ways. I imagine that men would welcome another man's failing in the field as an opportunity to exploit.

But I don't think this applies to fiction publishing. Writing for theatre is very different than writing a novel or short stories. Live theatre has a much narrower market and only three genres to work in. It's a much harder market, I think, and requires a ridiculous amount of investment to produce. So competition is going to be much fiercer.

raburrell
06-25-2009, 07:05 PM
Hi Ruth,
Most of my experience comes in the engineering field. I have one positive experience and one negative.

Positive: While I was working on my doctorate, I was the lecturer for a graduate-level course in biomedical engineering. I had exactly one student in the class who was my age, the rest were older. It was a small class, went well, and I never felt any of the students had an issue with my age or gender. The department head (male) was extremely supportive.

fast forward three years. I'm teaching an introductory electrical engineering course to a much larger class of sophomores, mostly men. Wanted to strangle the lot of them by about the second week in. It was quite clear they didn't feel like a twenty-five year old woman could be a proper professor. (For the record, I generally relate much better to men than I do to women, so I don't think this was my problem). The women in the class generally afforded me greater respect. (Completed assignments on time, did well on exams, etc)

I was hoping it was just my age that was the problem at the time, but one of the other professors pulled me aside and said that the only other female professor in the department had similar issues with the male students and she was a) significantly older and b) a very competent instructor, so... it was a bit of an eye-opener.

I would like to make it clear I'm not male-bashing here - I'm still clinging to the idea they were just a bunch of obnoxious know-it-alls :D

Ardelie
06-25-2009, 08:04 PM
I know nothing about the world of playwrights or even how this research might relate to other areas of writing but here's my take. At the risk of offending some, I believe this research illuminates a problem found in all arenas where women judge other women's work. Women are their own worst enemies in terms of equality not only work, but in life. As far as writing goes, look at the prejudice some women have over "feminine" writing genres: romance, chick-lit, etc. I'm not talking about preference here. Just straight out, "this genre is not worth writing or reading". When shopping for an agent, I have seen this discussed (again, not just in terms of preferences) and even heard these opinions on NPR. It is seriously everywhere.

Warning: political commentary. If you get inflamed easily, please just don't try to hit me. I do bruise.


Look at the backlash at Palin last year; a lot of women wanted a woman candidate, but they didn't want to set the bar that low (even though a male VP with similar credentials might have seemed perfectly adequate).


Let me say first I don't like Palin. I agree that many women didn't want the bar set that low, but then again, Hilary dealt with backlash, albeit in a different sense, because women judged her more harshly (and more personally) than most men would. It's this constant onslaught of women bashing women and it never ceases to amaze me that it has become not only pervasive, but accepted in our culture (look at the attacks on Elliot Spitzer's wife (despite the fact the headlines should've been about him) or Elizabeth Edwards, or what will soon be the S.C. Govenor's wife).

sunandshadow
06-25-2009, 08:34 PM
Wow, that's a startling article. The only part that didn't surprise me was the fact that female protagonists tend to be judged as unlikeable by both men and women, and possibly more so by women. That part has been completely borne out by my own experience.

It might be true that in general female writers produce less per year than male ones - that wouldn't surprise me. But I would assume there are more women currently writing novels than men, I would expect that to be different between screenwriting and novel writing.

The two really controversial questions are, is there a difference in average quality between men's writing and women's writing, and is there still (because we know there used to be) an average bias on the part of publishers and directors towards male authors. I also wonder how they decided who to send the male-name script copies to and who to send the female-name script copies to. And, with the broadway plays, there might be big economic pressure to produce them for a standard length run regardless of how profitable they are.

SarahMacManus
06-25-2009, 09:35 PM
Warning: political commentary. If you get inflamed easily, please just don't try to hit me. I do bruise.



Let me say first I don't like Palin. I agree that many women didn't want the bar set that low, but then again, Hilary dealt with backlash, albeit in a different sense, because women judged her more harshly (and more personally) than most men would. It's this constant onslaught of women bashing women and it never ceases to amaze me that it has become not only pervasive, but accepted in our culture (look at the attacks on Elliot Spitzer's wife (despite the fact the headlines should've been about him) or Elizabeth Edwards, or what will soon be the S.C. Govenor's wife).


I think you and I are in complete agreement. Often, women tend to judge other women more harshly than they do men. I don't like Palin, either, I thought she was a bad joke. I didn't love Hillary, although I thought she was a great candidate, just the wrong time.

Being female is a kind of damned if you do, damned if you don't scenario. I decided a long time ago not to listen to what other women said, simply because it was colored so heavily with prejudices and emotions I couldn't hope to understand or adapt to, which makes me an offender as well, I guess.

The worst sexism offender we have at work is a woman.

Well, it's a bigger issue than one writing forum can address.

*sigh*

Michiru
06-25-2009, 11:43 PM
Sure, but women judging women more harshly is something any group that has faced oppression does.

For example, Will Smith once chastized...I believe it was Denzel Washington for having a gay kiss on screen, because black people looked to their actors as role models. (No comment on the man's homophobia; the point I'm trying to make here is that Will was hard on him because they were black and thus held each other to different standards than they would have white actors).

It IS true that there are prejudiced people, male and female, who will use women like Palin as an excuse to smear all women. Thus, women--like any group that tends to be judged on the basis of the least of its members--get sensitive and think they must put their best face forward to get any respect at all. That kind of pressure will stop when societal pressure on women stops, and that's going to be a long time in the future.

Ardelie
06-25-2009, 11:45 PM
I think you and I are in complete agreement.

Indeed, we might just be the same person :). I feel the same way about Palin and Hilary and the rest of the things you just said, so you must be one smart lady!

motormind
06-25-2009, 11:56 PM
I just shrugged at the article. So what? Whatever your chromosome-makeup, just keep writing. When it's good, it will come out on top.

errantruth
06-26-2009, 12:01 AM
Interesting. I don't think I see that discrimination in the international aid/development sector at all. Am I looking through rose-colored glasses? *shrug* I don't reckon so. Odd.

But I was also wondering how this plays out in writing across genre, really.

Sunandshadow said:

It might be true that in general female writers produce less per year than male ones - that wouldn't surprise me. But I would assume there are more women currently writing novels than men, I would expect that to be different between screenwriting and novel writing.


This is among screenwriters, of course, that men produce more than women. One might imagine reflexively that this is because women take a larger role in caregiving at home, but maybe not.

Are there more women novelists? Do you know the stats on whether one gender or another is relatively more often published? I understand there are more female literary agents then male agents--or am I fantasizing that?

(As a newbie I am prone to fantasies, although usually they're about finishing a fabulous book I love and then having an agent grabbing me up in a frenzy. So far they've not focused on said agent's gender. Odd, that.)

I wonder about that... About the gender of the author affecting how characters are read, how books are perceived. Like that amazing detail about how female characters are judged more harshly than men. YOWZA. But who's doing the judging? And are the female characters judged thusly being written by one gender over another, specifically?

Shweta
06-26-2009, 12:09 AM
Being female is a kind of damned if you do, damned if you don't scenario. I decided a long time ago not to listen to what other women said, simply because it was colored so heavily with prejudices and emotions I couldn't hope to understand or adapt to, which makes me an offender as well, I guess.

Unfortunately, this is true.
And it's something I've done in the past too, and had to work past.

It's only ever the power group anywhere in any situation that gets to judge its group members as individuals, and isn't prone to overgeneralization. That overgeneralization is thrown at us in every form of media 24/7. Listen to the news sometime with an ear open for overgeneralization about or unnecessary emphasis on someone's gender or race or sexuality or religion. I guarantee it'll consistently be the non-privileged option that's gets that stress.

Which is to say, this particular way of acting is us picking up (and reinforcing) the general misogyny of the culture by going "see I'm not like those women", rather than doing the harder job of going "Hold on, those women are like that in part because of the shit we're constantly dealt, which is the actual source of the problem."


Sure, but women judging women more harshly is something any group that has faced oppression does.

For example, Will Smith once chastized...I believe it was Denzel Washington for having a gay kiss on screen, because black people looked to their actors as role models. (No comment on the man's homophobia; the point I'm trying to make here is that Will was hard on him because they were black and thus held each other to different standards than they would have white actors).

This! Exactly.
And it's not just *oppression* per se, in the sense of persecution -- though it can be at its worst in cases of truly oppressed subcultures -- it's also true, and so pervasive it's invisible, when there are more subtle forms of bias/stigma going on.

And yeah, it's absolutely still happening. And the biggest challenge we face is it becoming so invisible nobody believes it's happening. But I do think progress has been and will be made; we just have to not fall asleep at the wheel :)


And having babbled, I'm moving this to the Roundtable, which I think is a better forum for the discussion. So buckle up :D

NicoleMD
06-26-2009, 01:12 AM
For example, Will Smith once chastized...I believe it was Denzel Washington for having a gay kiss on screen, because black people looked to their actors as role models. (No comment on the man's homophobia; the point I'm trying to make here is that Will was hard on him because they were black and thus held each other to different standards than they would have white actors).


Is this the same Will Smith that starred in Six Degrees of Seperation? He did more than kissing in that one, if I recall correctly.

Nicole