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Toothpaste
11-07-2009, 05:46 AM
Not sure if you guys were aware of it, but PW recently released a list of what they consider to be the best books of 2009 (http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6704263.html) and not a single one was written by a woman. Now I could have a few choice words about that, but Lizzie Skurnick at Politics Daily wrote such a great reply that I think I'm just going to steal her words:

"I got a glimmer of an answer last year as I sat in a board room hashing out the winners for one of the awards for which I am a judge. Our short list was pretty much split evenly along gender lines. But as we went through each category, a pattern emerged. Some books, it seemed, were "ambitious." Others were well-wrought, but somehow . . . "small." "Domestic." "Unam --" what's the word? "-- bititous."
...
But, incredulous, again and again, I watched as we pushed aside works that everyone acknowledged were more finely wrought, were, in fact, competently wrought, for books that had shot high but fallen short. And every time the book that won was a man's.
...
The conservatives are right: affirmative action is huge blemish on the face of our nation. And until we stop giving awards to men who don't deserve them over women who do, we're sunk. Because our default is to somehow feel like Philip Roth's output is impressive while Joyce Carol Oates' is a punchline. Our default is to call John Updike a genius on the basis of four very wonderful books and many truly weird ones, while Margaret Atwood, with the same track record, is simply beloved. Our default is to title Ayelet Waldman's book, "Bad Mother," while her husband's is "Manhood for Amateurs." Our default is that women are small, men are universal. Well, I know men get sensitive if you call them small. But gentlemen, sometimes you are."


Read her full response here (http://www.politicsdaily.com/2009/11/06/in-no-particular-gender-why-are-best-book-lists-mostly-male/).

Personally I am of the opinion that there still is a gender bias in publishing. I'm not the only one. Since I wrote it myself, I am going to quote myself and my sources from my blog:
[COLOR="DarkRed"]
This disparity between the genders seems to exist in every genre. Agent Kristin Nelson wrote in her blog post entitled Dad Wisdom & Publishing (http://pubrants.blogspot.com/2009/03/dad-wisdom-publishing.html):

"From my personal experience (and I really can only speak from that perspective), I truly believe that for literary fiction, it’s much easier to sell boy writers than gals. I know. Who can possibly make such a general statement but I have to say that I’ve encountered several worthy manuscripts that I’m rather convinced that if the writer had been male, the novel would have sold."

She also wrote another very interesting blog entry about the genders entitled PW Survey Says (http://pubrants.blogspot.com/2009/03/pw-survey-says.html) about the differences between genders within the publishing industry itself (an industry, one will note, that is heavily female).

So I am one of those people who will look at a list of top 10 books without a single female on it and get suspicious. I am also the sort of person, who while waiting in the queue at the bookstore will pick up one of those impulse buy novelty books entitled "100 Books Men Must Read" and flip to the index where it is revealed but ONE female author is worthy of their attention.

And then I see comments like for the post of Ms. Skurnick's article that say that for women "to pretend they write as well as men is absurd" and I just have to go take a breath of fresh air.

So what do you guys see? Do we see this gender divide? More importantly, what can we do about it? Personally as a female author my goal is to simply be an "author" not anything attributed to my gender. But I have to say, it kind of makes me sad that I am seriously contemplating changing my name to either a male pseudonym or initials should my next work ever sell - just so that it isn't utterly distasteful to male readers (and especially as it is centred around a male protagonist and deals heavily with themes such as the father/son dynamic).

Thoughts?

Medievalist
11-07-2009, 06:29 AM
I mind less that there aren't women represented than I do the fact that you'd have to pay me to read any of the selected books.

What on earth were their criteria?

Matera the Mad
11-07-2009, 06:31 AM
:Soapbox: ! ! !

colealpaugh
11-07-2009, 06:45 AM
I mind less that there aren't women represented than I do the fact that you'd have to pay me to read any of the selected books.

What on earth were their criteria?

You're nuts if you'd pass on a book with a jacket reading, "Philosopher and motorcycle repair-shop owner Crawford extols the value of..."

I've waited my entire #@$% life for that book.


And I leafed through the Cheever bio because I was in school when he won the Pulitzer and it was a hot topic. But I'm stunned this book would even be considered as a PW Top 10. How can there not be some hidden agenda?



ETA: Mental Floss came out with their Top 10 today: 2009 (http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/40063)
They are books I've read or would consider reading.

BigWords
11-07-2009, 06:49 AM
The bigger question that sprung to the forefront of my mind was the one about the PW list's relevance in an age of the internet, and a gazillion other lists counting down the books of the year. If they want people to question their credibility, that list would be a fine starting place...

backslashbaby
11-07-2009, 07:04 AM
You weren't aware that a penis emparts super writing skills to its owner? Sheesh, no wonder they say women are illogical!

Linda Adams
11-07-2009, 07:10 AM
They're not the first. A similar controversary occurred a few years back with International Thriller Writer's Awards. They announced their winners, and no women. There was some very nasty feedback on it at the time.

The Washington Post has also gotten nailed a few times for having reviews of books by men and not by women (of course now they dropped their book section and only have a few reviews a week). In fact, I remember when they reviewed Sue Grafton's mystery series book. She had put this single sentence into the book about the character wearing makeup--a single sentence that took up two lines in a huge book. The reviewer homed in on that sentence and derided the book with a paragraph longer than the original sentence, moaning the fact that the series was going to the women.

And I've also seen instances where, just because a book was written by a woman, it was automatically considered somehow inferior. I wanted to write an action-adventure thriller where the heroine of the story got a good, realistic role--and I had people look at me askance. You want to do what? I even had two writers who were extremely offended that I would do such a thing.

I ended up going to to urban fantasy, though there, my story requires a male character. Even then, I've been thinking at times that maybe I need a male pen name.

backslashbaby
11-07-2009, 07:16 AM
I'm going with initials. I really am.

Oy! I have a female protagonist, too :( But it's not a girly story at all. I don't like incredibly macho stories and understand men not liking incredibly girly stories... but note 'incredibly'. It's flat-out wrong for PW to think male stories are the only ones that can be good.


Location: new york
Occupation: professor

Spent some time checking out the general content of the books that
made the list - the summaries are all taken from the Publisher's
Weekly website below. Simple to observe that the content that "stood
out from the rest" according to PW is all about mostly male
protagonists and their realities: war, adventure, science, boyhood
adventures, taming the wilderness, the male writer's life, etc. In other
words, the novels that deal with women's realities simply "don't stand
out" - check the content of the TOP TEN "UNIVERSAL" MEN:

aadams73
11-07-2009, 07:26 AM
Even Oprah rarely picks books by women for her book club. One in the past 6 years.

http://www.oprah.com/article/oprahsbookclub/pastselections/20080701_orig_list

colealpaugh
11-07-2009, 07:31 AM
You weren't aware that a penis emparts super writing skills to its owner?

Well, I'm not spilling the beans about what we type with, but it shows mad skillz to hit the ampersand.

Wayne K
11-07-2009, 07:33 AM
It can hold the steering wheel straight as I roll a joint.

Wayne K
11-07-2009, 07:39 AM
The male dominated society doesn't want to lose the argument "Who's smarter boys or girls?"

They cheat at everything else, why not this?

They know the answer.

eyeblink
11-07-2009, 12:00 PM
From a UK perspective, concerns about female representation in awards shortlists such as the Booker Prize resulted in the Orange Broadband Prize (which one AWer, Orion aka Patricia Wood, was shortlisted for last year). There were complaints about this being sexist, but if you think about it, more people are eligible for the Orange (open to women writing novels in the English language) than the Man Booker (open to novelists of either gender, but only ones who are citizens of the UK, the Commonwealth of Nations, Ireland and Zimbabwe - so Canadians are eligible but US citizens aren't).

Maybe it has had some effect. The three literary novels that were published in the UK this spring that had the most buzz, were the most ambitious, and also sold quite well, were all by women - A.S. Byatt, Hilary Mantel, Sarah Waters. All three were on the Man Booker shortlist, and Mantel was the overwhelming favourite and went on to win.

Personally, I'll take Joyce Carol Oates over John Updike any day - but then JCO is the novelist I've read more works by than any other - over 35 of her novels or book-length novellas so far.

Having said all that, I'm quite aware that many boys and men will rarely if ever read novels by women. Hence Joanne Rowling becoming J.K. Rowling, for just one example. (That said, no-one accused J.G. Ballard of hiding his gender as far as I know - and there are many examples of male writers using initials or a female pseudonym to publish in genres primarily read by females.) Personally I'm saddened by that - I do want to read about people different to myself, male or female both. I don't want to have my prejudices confirmed. Maybe that's just me.

Here's a true story. A friend of mine teaches English in a Scottish secondary school. A book that is frequently taught is S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders (a novel my friend cannot stand, and don't get her started on the film version). This is at the headmaster's insistence, who thinks that The Outsiders is a novel which is relevant to and speaks to teenage boys in particular. The head is a man who won't read novels by women. He wouldn't even read my friend's published short-fiction collection, which includes a story which deservedly won a Crime Writers' Association award - nice of him. As far as I know, no-one has broken it to him that the initials in S.E. Hinton's name stand for Susan Eloise.

eyeblink
11-07-2009, 12:06 PM
Even Oprah rarely picks books by women for her book club. One in the past 6 years.

http://www.oprah.com/article/oprahsbookclub/pastselections/20080701_orig_list

Two, actually - Pearl S. Buck and Carson McCullers.

Medievalist
11-07-2009, 08:54 PM
You're nuts if you'd pass on a book with a jacket reading, "Philosopher and motorcycle repair-shop owner Crawford extols the value of..."

I've waited my entire #@$% life for that book.

Check out Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert Pirsig; he got there first. 1974

HelloKiddo
11-07-2009, 08:55 PM
As a female (wannabe) writer, this is always on my mind. I can't help but wonder if anything I write will be viewed as inferior because of it.

Of course, some women writers are highly respected--Virginia Woolf, Elizabeth Bishop, Flannery O'Connor--but they are the exception, not the rule. And those are examples of brilliant super-genius freaks.

BigWords
11-07-2009, 09:35 PM
Check out Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert Pirsig; he got there first. 1974

<DERAIL>

I read that after it was recommended in the old run of The Question comics back when Denny O'Neil made reading DC titles an educational experience as much as a form of entertainment. *sigh* Ah, the good old days...

</DERAIL>

Stacia Kane
11-07-2009, 09:43 PM
I'm going with initials. I really am.

Oy! I have a female protagonist, too :( But it's not a girly story at all. I don't like incredibly macho stories and understand men not liking incredibly girly stories... but note 'incredibly'. It's flat-out wrong for PW to think male stories are the only ones that can be good.



Location: new york
Occupation: professor

Spent some time checking out the general content of the books that
made the list - the summaries are all taken from the Publisher's
Weekly website below. Simple to observe that the content that "stood
out from the rest" according to PW is all about mostly male
protagonists and their realities: war, adventure, science, boyhood
adventures, taming the wilderness, the male writer's life, etc. In other
words, the novels that deal with women's realities simply "don't stand
out" - check the content of the TOP TEN "UNIVERSAL" MEN:

That was the exact point I made, in comments on the original PW article. :) Yes, it's not right to say no women will be interested in "Woodworking Makes Me A Man, See?" or "Men Have Adventures" or "Men Do Great Things" as books, but there really is no denying those books are overwhelmingly male-focused. The few female characters seem to be femme fatales or abused, and all appear to be secondary.

In fact, an additional thought on that "Shop Class" book: Had a woman written it, and it had been about "manual competence" as it relates to knitting, sewing, cooking, cleaning, whatever--more traditionally female manual tasks rather than traditionally male--would it have been on the list? Or would it be "That knitting book that lady wrote"?

Jamesaritchie
11-07-2009, 09:51 PM
Everytime I see something like this it makes me think the human race has no chance. Men who don't deserve arads and women who do? WHT makes that decision? A woman, I guess.

Equality means you vote to give the award to teh book you like the most, and if this means every last damn award goes to men, that's teh way it should be.

I have no patience fro whiners who blame everything on gender when I know for a fact that even blind judging awards typically produce the same results.

If you want to win an award, then write the best book. The best book, by definition, is the one most people like, not the one written by a man or a woman.

HelloKiddo
11-07-2009, 10:12 PM
Men who don't deserve arads and women who do?

Who said that? Nobody, only you.


The best book, by definition, is the one most people like

That is not the definition of the phrase "best book." If it were we'd just give the prize to the bestseller or have the public vote.

BigWords
11-07-2009, 10:13 PM
Equality means you vote to give the award to teh book you like the most, and if this means every last damn award goes to men, that's teh way it should be.

And everyone would agree on the books that are most liked, right? There is no generally agreed upon 'best' in anything, so the concept of an award itself is flawed.

eqb
11-07-2009, 10:14 PM
If you want to win an award, then write the best book. The best book, by definition, is the one most people like, not the one written by a man or a woman.

This is so true. Imagine all those years when only straight white men from Western Europe and the US won awards. Clearly no one else in the whole world was writing anything worthwhile. (/sarcasm)

Wayne K
11-07-2009, 10:24 PM
I'm with the girls on this. Come to think of it I'm always with the girls, they're smarter than us.

ishtar'sgate
11-07-2009, 10:38 PM
I'm a woman and a writer but my favorite books are primarily written by men. That's not to say that I don't have any favorite books written by women, I do. Overall though, when I think of purchased books on my shelf, most of the authors are men. I don't know why that is. It's not something I deliberately chose to do. It's simply the way it is. If men are writing the best books, the books most people want to read, I don't see that as gender bias I see that as writing to aspire to.

MGraybosch
11-07-2009, 10:52 PM
So, a bunch of small-minded wankers at Publishers Weekly compiled a list of their favorites, and not one of them had been written by a woman? This only matters because people pay attention to PW. Ignore PW; their opinions only matter because people allow them to matter.

icerose
11-07-2009, 11:32 PM
Everytime I see something like this it makes me think the human race has no chance. Men who don't deserve arads and women who do? WHT makes that decision? A woman, I guess.

Equality means you vote to give the award to teh book you like the most, and if this means every last damn award goes to men, that's teh way it should be.

I have no patience fro whiners who blame everything on gender when I know for a fact that even blind judging awards typically produce the same results.

If you want to win an award, then write the best book. The best book, by definition, is the one most people like, not the one written by a man or a woman.

I took James' post to be completely satirical due to many errors that rarely make it into his posts.

Though, I could be wrong.

backslashbaby
11-08-2009, 03:29 AM
I can't figure out if it's satire, lol!


I wonder if women are afraid to bother to write the coming-of-age novel from a female perspective. Is there a smaller selection pool of women writing about these things? Do they think both men and women aren't interested in those stories?

I am. And I love stories like This Boy's Life. I'm just not big on a lot of romance* or shopping. Or super-cool explosions and brainless sexy girl leads.

* I do love a quirky romance but personally find most romance in stories kind of boring. Just a personal taste, not a comment on talent, etc.

gothicangel
11-08-2009, 03:42 AM
Putting gender issues aside, I think I've only heard of one book on that list. As far as I am concerned there were better books published this year: Wolf Hall (Mantel); The Little Stranger (Waters); The Occupied City (Peace); and The Complaints (Rankin).

Or is it a nationality bias? (That's meant to be satirical!!!)

Xelebes
11-08-2009, 04:44 AM
You also have to remember that many of these books probably read like a man's romance: "you have to achieve enlightenment before you get the right woman."

I don't know how many women-written books tell of a "story to attain enlightenment to get the right man". Haven't read many of them but it might be important to ask.

icerose
11-08-2009, 05:28 AM
There'd be a really easy fix for this. Top ten books by Men. Top ten books by Women. Equal honor for both sexes, better representation for the readers. Everyone's happy.

Horseshoes
11-08-2009, 06:50 AM
Ice, if ya take a trait (gender) and make top books lists for people who fit the trait one way, then another, then you head down the road of other traits (color, sexual orientation)...and there are prizes for folks with a particular trait...but the point of the PW list was that it was ostansibly not pre-selected for trait.

Anyhoo, meh, it's a list.

icerose
11-08-2009, 06:53 AM
Ice, if ya take a trait (gender) and make top books lists for people who fit the trait one way, then another, then you head down the road of other traits (color, sexual orientation)...and there are prizes for folks with a particular trait...but the point of the PW list was that it was ostansibly not pre-selected for trait.

Anyhoo, meh, it's a list.

Yeah but when you're purposely leaving out half the population some compensation for that might be needed.

Wayne K
11-08-2009, 07:10 AM
But then the guys will snicker and say that women need their own category because they can't compete. It also removes women from the competition. I'd rather fight incredible odds and lose than give them the satisfaction.

Salis
11-08-2009, 07:12 AM
Don't see the divide at all, to be honest. Some of my favorite authors are women. If anything, I'd say in the genres I read, women are more common than male authors.

This may be a matter of the establishment though--not that the establishment favors men over women, but that men are attracted to the sort of writing the establishment favors.

Personally, I don't pay any attention to the formal awards and best book lists (where formal is most often literary), so I guess I can't get very worked up over it.

Honest question: thinking of women authors you enjoy, is there a theme to the writing? I'm not convinced either way, but maybe women are (for whatever reason) writing pieces that are more interested in quality than message. Many mediums reward people who try to do something "big" or "meaningful" over doing something well (i.e art films vs. films that everyone loves).

If Ayn Rand had written her books without any of the political idealism, I think it's fair to say she'd probably be unknown today.

Libbie
11-08-2009, 10:16 AM
Gosh, guys, I'd much rather make it to a "best books of the year" list because my book was actually considered to be one of the best, not because I'd be a token female author, included in some attempt at "fairness."

I don't know what the criteria for this list might have been, but maybe in the listmakers' estimation, all the best books this year were written by men. Statistically unlikely, but possible. Snub? Probably not.

Maybe I'm just thinking too much like myself here. If I were compiling a list of what I deemed the best books published in a given year, I wouldn't care enough about who the authors were to even pay attention to their genders. All I'd care about would be the books themselves. Maybe this list was made in such a way.

Just sayin'.

MacAllister
11-08-2009, 10:21 AM
My understanding is that the list was picked by four PW editors. So it's representative of what those four PW editors liked best, last year, of what they saw. Nothing more, nothing less.

Lady Ice
11-08-2009, 05:03 PM
I want to go into directing which is similarly male-dominated. I think some men think that any book written by a woman is going to be feminist and not for them. They perceive men as writing universally and women as writing for women-which isn't the case.

So some people have to work a little harder than others to get recognition. Yes, that's unfair, but take it as a challenge.

Ken
11-08-2009, 05:36 PM
... so what's being implied here is that PW is sexist?! Not very cool, imo. PW has been providing a great and informative resource for more than a century and I doubt very much that anyone associated with PW would ever think of slighting an author because of their gender or for any other such ridiculous reason. They are professionals in the truest sense of the term and clearly love literature, which is the only criteria driving their decisions. And that's why PW is as popular and trusted as it is.

Sophia
11-08-2009, 05:59 PM
Everytime I see something like this it makes me think the human race has no chance. Men who don't deserve arads and women who do? WHT makes that decision? A woman, I guess.

Equality means you vote to give the award to teh book you like the most, and if this means every last damn award goes to men, that's teh way it should be.

I have no patience fro whiners who blame everything on gender when I know for a fact that even blind judging awards typically produce the same results.


I'm not good at expressing myself when I'm this angry, so I hope this makes sense. This quoted post reminds me of an attitude that often comes up in these discussions, which is, "What women obviously have never even thought of is that the best books are written by men, and it's not due to inequality, but just a simple, unbiased fact!"

I don't know the numbers for sure, but from posts elsewhere on the boards, I have the impression that there are perhaps a couple of hundred thousand books published every year. This is a big enough sample that I would expect the proportion of the top ten best books written by female authors to correspond to the proportion of total published books written by female authors.

The only way to get close to a 'true' poll result would be to question every reader who read several books published this year. This again would be a large enough number that the results should reflect the tastes of the majority of each sex. I have the impression that readers are broadly divided into 70% female, 30% male, so if there is an inherent bias in what each sex prefers in terms of content and who they will read, then that should become apparent in the books picked.

The fact that all of the books in this list are by men does suggest a bias in those doing the picking. If it is just four male editors, then the result isn't surprising, but it is disappointing. It doesn't say those books aren't worthy of being on the list, but it does suggest that it doesn't have a lot of claim to being worthy of being called a "Best of 2009" list.

Hedgetrimmer
11-08-2009, 06:09 PM
I posted a similar thread this morning over in the children's section. The PW "best" children's books for 2009 are written almost entirely by women.

Linda Adams
11-08-2009, 06:09 PM
A different question might be--is it the subjects the women are picking and what's included?

I like a good action-adventure novel--particularly a treasure hunt. I picked up a book about a treasure hunt for a lost treasure, written by a woman. I actually had my doubts because it was written by a woman ... very suspicious it would derailed into romance territory. I was slightly wrong. It had an overpowering marital angst subplot. Nothing to do with treasure hunting, and instead of treasure hunting and action, it spent most of the novel with the main character moaning about the state of her marriage.

Or a political thriller. I picked up a political thriller about a woman Vice President who was the victim of assassination attempt. I was thinking political intrigue, threats to the U.S. government, high stakes, tension right up until the end. It was a romance novel billed as a thriller and definitely not up to the standards of other political thrillers. The main character was not even qualifed to be Vice President because of age, and she was lacking basic required skills (which would have probably made her less of a romantic image).

Yet, I've read another woman author who is well-known for military science-fiction, and there's utterly no doubt that if I pick up one of her books, I'm going to get a military science-fiction novel. I also just read another book by a woman author--science fiction also. The character leaves home and leaves her family behind to fix a crisis. This leaving home is treated as part of the job of being in a military role and given it's due, but the story takes front and center. We don't get sidelined with relationship subplots that don't fit the story (the woman wrote under initials). Basically, I read the back of the back and got what I expected.

I actually wondered about this when I saw the ITW awards a few years ago. The male writers I'd read that were on the list had stayed true to the genre, and some of the female writers had veered into the relationships and romance department. I'm not railing against romance or relationships in a story; rather, I'm railing against buying a book about a mystery or a treasure hunt and getting a different book entirely. I've never seen a male writer veer off into a lengthy relationship subplot in a thriller, but I've come to expect it from the women.

Libbie
11-08-2009, 07:03 PM
Linda, your post made me think. In my list of really, truly favorite authors, only one is a woman: Ursula K. LeGuin. The rest are men.

Hmmmm.

I'm not saying this proves that men write more universally appealing books -- that would be silly, of course. But for me, I've probably enjoyed more books written by men than by women in my lifetime. Romance and "women's issues" certainly do not appeal to me as a reader; that's just me.

But I believe the issue with this particular book list is the "that's just me" factor. It was put together by four male editors. Clearly they selected the books whose subjects and execution appealed to them the most. Are men statistically more likely to be interested in books about motorcycle gurus, carpentry, and bumming around in the woods than women would be? I'd say yes, probably.

I'm sure if a more bias-neutralizing method were used to create a "best of" list, such as reader votes, sales figures, or a kind of "Rotten Tomatoes" positive-versus-negative-reviews thing (say, what a good idea!) you'd have a more even representation of books written by men and women -- and nobody would be discriminating against the gender-neutral folks on either side of the chromosome, either.

I seriously doubt this list was intentionally compiled to be a Boys' Club, No Girls Allowed type of thing. It just reflects the taste in stories and style of four guys.

Toothpaste
11-08-2009, 08:19 PM
I'm sorry, but anyone who doesn't think there is still sexism in publishing is being naive.

I would also like to point out that I posted more than just the PW list. That was just a starting off place. I posted links to a very well respected agent's opinion on sexism in the industry as well. And the very well written article by a woman who had been involved in choosing books for another award and her noticing that books that well well written were often overlooked in favour of books that were "ambitious".

Here's the thing. Isn't it just possible that our definition of "great writing" in and of itself is skewed male? Think about it. Romance is the most popular genre. And yet it is the most derided. Notice how whenever someone wants to say why they don't like female writers it's because there might be romance in the book. Or it will be about women's issues. But why are either of those things bad, or examples of bad writing? Maybe just maybe because it's something that women tend to like more than men.

If you also look at the hierarchy of books, you'll note the most respected genre (literary fiction - I know I know, we can debate that fact that it deserves to be, but it still is true) is heavily male. And when I quote an agent who says she knows it would be easier to sell a literary fiction book written by a woman if the author had been male, maybe that says something. Note too that in society, the more female dominated the profession is, the less respect it gets.

So you get children's books at the far end of the spectrum (because what effort does it take to write for kids?) and literary at the top.

I'd also like to point out that whenever there is a male author writing for kids he gets way more respect for it. For example, I am a member of a group here in Canada for writers and artists of Children's Books. I had been going to their once a month meetings for a long time. Told them I'd love to give a talk on any subject (they always have someone doing a talk at each meeting). I am the published author of two fantasy books that have sold internationally. One month a young man shows up. The author of a fantasy book that is doing well (but not better than mine). The next month he is asked to give a talk on fantasy books. I am actually probably more qualified on the subject, and quite frankly, a better speaker. But they chose him. He and I have since discussed this, and he totally agrees with me. It was because he was an attractive young man who was a published children's book author that got them excited. I don't begrudge him, he and I are friends. But it was pretty obvious why they made their choice. A man at any of these meetings gets so much attention. I've seen it.

At any rate, back to my initial point about the hierarchy: Let's look at the teaching hierarchy - Nursery School, Elementary School, High School, University - more women are working with the smaller children. More men at the top. Guess which one gets the more respect.

We can look even at restaurants. At how the high end restaurants have male servers, and how you go down to a diner say and now it's all women.

Another fact which someone else brought up. Men are considered the neutral. Supposedly you can write about men without having to make it a story about being a man. And women always have to be a story about being a woman. But that isn't actually true. It's the perception of it. Like what Linda said about the Sue Grafton novel - mention makeup briefly and it's a distraction. Mention the guy putting on his fedora and getting a shave and that's universal.

Women also suffer from much higher scrutiny. If one book in one genre by one woman proves to suck, then evidently all such books in that genre by women must therefore suck. This happens in Hollywood all the time. If a film with a female lead bombs, the studio points to that as, "See! No more female leads!"

James. I assume what you wrote was satire (especially because of the spelling mistakes), but if not, let me say you are very ignorant of the current situation, but that's okay. It happens. Look maybe, just maybe this list was compiled and truly the books by women this year were not that good (personally I just can't believe this as I rock, but whatever). But we have seen far too many such lists to truly believe this is the case, too many instances of "The Best Mystery Books" "The Best Horror Books" (oh the irony in the last category, where so many claim that women can't write in that genre and yet it was basically invented by a woman). The problem is there is no such thing as blind judging. Our beliefs about quality and not have been so ingrained that we don't realise it might not be a universal truth (witness the article I linked to and what happened in that judging room). Just as people insisted that the current business setup - office, cubicle etc - was the only way to work, and then Google comes along with its comfy chairs, and play spaces, and massages, and becomes one of the top earning companies in the world. We can't see the forest for the trees, in other words.

Oh and thanks for calling me a whiner. I thought my articulate, calm post, which involved several quotes from multiple sources and a call for other opinions was rather the opposite. But thanks for showing me the light.

I know sexism in the industry definitely exists. I know because when guys read my books they are stunned, STUNNED, to find them as funny as they are. I know because little boys somehow have figured out that they don't want to read books with girls as leads. I know because I see books by women dismissed as chic lit, and books by men about the exact same thing hailed as beautiful commercial fiction.

I've seen it. It exists. Whether or not this list is a good demonstration of it, I don't know. But it is a good way to get the discussion started.

(Note I said discussion, not dismissal. For those of you who don't agree with me, maybe instead of calling people names, you could engage in a back and forth.)

Selah March
11-08-2009, 08:22 PM
I think it comes down to how men and women view their lives. Traditionally in Western cultures (and very generally speaking) men have a tendency to view career, adventure and world-changing events as the "important stuff," and personal relationships as tangential to what their lives are really all about. They compartmentalize, in other words. And when they write books, they compartmentalize there, too.

I think this is changing, but slowly.

Women, on the other hand -- even fully "liberated" ones with excellent educations and strong commitments to their careers (and again, VERY generally speaking) -- tend to see their lives as a whole. Relationships -- particularly those with husbands/potential husbands and children, but also relationships with friends and other loved ones -- are of just as much importance as career, adventure and world-changing events. Women don't compartmentalize in the same way.

Therefore, for example, when a woman writes a book about a female lawyer embroiled in a federal case against a terrorist cell that ends up having worldwide implications, she's probably also going to write about how much it pains her not to be able to attend her eight-year-old's first piano recital/Little League game. Or how she wishes she had time to visit her aging father in the old folks' home. Or how lonely she is, not to mention horny, and how much she wants to fix that by meeting the love of her life. Or even how much it sucks to have to struggle into pantyhose and heels and makeup every morning in order to be viewed by her colleagues as "professional."

Frankly, when I read a legal thriller that includes these personal parts of life that most of us experience -- whether written by a man or woman, whether the main character is male or female -- I feel more connected to the characters, and I care more about the outcome of the story. A writer who never paints a full picture of the main character's life does not engage me in the same way.

I know for a fact that while my husband is out there saving lives in the Emergency Room, he's also wondering how our son did on his science test. To me, the probability that a male writer likely wouldn't mention the son or the science test in a book about my husband's experiences as a doctor means he's not giving the whole picture of his character.

To me, the real question is this: Why do (some? many? most? I'm trying really hard not to generalize too much here) male writers seem to think that mentioning the personal side of life will trivialize their work? Do not most humans have relationships? Are they not a valuable part of life? Then why not refer to them, even in the most oblique way? Don't you think their inclusion would deepen any characterization?

Is it fear of girl cooties?

I know some folks -- readers and writers alike -- will answer, "I'm not in it for the characters, I'm in it for the story." Which is fair. For me, as a reader and a writer, characterization will always come first. If I don't care about the characters, I don't care about what they do in the story, and I'll put the book down every time.

That may or may not have something or everything to do with my gender.

MGraybosch
11-08-2009, 08:27 PM
To me, the real question is this: Why do (some? many? most? I'm trying really hard not to generalize too much here) male writers seem to think that mentioning the personal side of life will trivialize their work?

I think that for a lot of male writers, it comes down to whether or not they deem the character's relationships directly relevant to the plot.

Selah March
11-08-2009, 08:43 PM
I think that for a lot of male writers, it comes down to whether or not they deem the character's relationships directly relevant to the plot.

That's fair. Again I'd say that for me, as a reader, to be interested in the plot, I need to be interested in the character first. In order to be interested in the character, he needs to be fully developed. I think that for a female writer, that would naturally include his relationships to the people in his life.

But that's just me. I don't expect everyone to approach a book the same way, whether reading or writing it.

What I do expect is that the judging committee of a major award would have at least this much understanding of the differences between (many? most?) male and female writers, and not consider books that include relationships as part of characterization (or even relationships that ultimately affect the plot, heaven forfend) to be somehow less "ambitious."

HelloKiddo
11-08-2009, 08:59 PM
It's a topic I'm always interested in hearing people's views on. Some people have put forth the suggestion that men get more respect because men are better writers.

I know Camille Paglia has discussed this before. She feels that men, as a whole group, are simply more ambitious than women. I think there is something to that, but it's difficult to image that any single argument will explain this problem. Sexism is deeply ingrained in our culture, and it seems ridiculous to me to deny that.

The truth is though, we really don't know how much of this is sexism and how much of it is not. None of us know that.

Ken
11-08-2009, 09:00 PM
... my own post, up above, pertained strictly to PW and I stand by every word of it. As to sexism being a factor in the industry as a whole I suspect that there is some, but not nearly as much as you're suggesting. (Suppose that makes me 'naive,' ;-)

With romance books, many are written by men, you know, under female pen names quite often. So if there is a bias against romances it has to do with the category itself rather than the authors, supposing there is a bias. Indeed, many of the most renowned works in literature are romances. To name a few there's: Anna Karenina, The Pearl, Madame Bovary, and Ethan Frome.

As to sexism in society as a whole there's some to be sure. But the way to amend that is for women to excel in their fields and prove the stupid lingering biases wrong. The female sergeant at Fort Hood who took down that lunatic did just that. Shot four times, in her efforts to save her fellow soldiers, she still managed to take him down! If anyone ever thought that women don't have what it takes to be soldiers they will have a very difficult time maintaining that bias from now on!

AnneMarble
11-08-2009, 09:11 PM
I think that for a lot of male writers, it comes down to whether or not they deem the character's relationships directly relevant to the plot.
They might not be relevant to the plot, but generally, they should be relevant to the character. I'm not crazy about stories where the characters step onto the stage without having any background outside of the story. The author doesn't have to dwell on it, but they should appear to exist as part of a world outside of the novel. Otherwise, they make me think of cardboard cutouts, or Fisher Price characters hopping around in a plastic setting. (To be fair, many many women authors write characters like this, too. :D)

You can't get much more male then Dragnet. The original radio episodes were just under 30 minutes long. Yet we still got an idea of the private lives of Joe and his partner -- especially his original partner, who used to go on about his wife or his latest medical complaint or his in-laws. It was rarely, if ever, relevant to the plot, but it was a neat part of the show (especially when performed by Barton Yarborough in the earliest years of the radio show).

For a more recent example, I also love the Agent Pendergast thrillers, and part of the fun is knowing the continuing cast of secondary characters and all their ongoing relationships. (Many of them know each other, some get along, some don't, some have married, etc.) Preston & Child didn't have to put all that stuff into the stories, but I'm glad they did.

Selah March
11-08-2009, 09:18 PM
Bit of a derail, but...



With romance books, many are written by men, you know, under female pen names quite often.

Yeah, not so much, though this is a popular myth. There are a few male writers of romances working today (more in small press/epub than in traditional NY romance publishing), and at least one husband and wife team who writes for Harlequin. "Many" is really stretching. I'd guess less than 5%. (Actually, I'd guess less than 1%, but I don't want to discount those guys writing under deep, deep cover who never attend conferences, never sign in public, and have never been outed as male.)


Indeed, many of the most renowned works in literature are romances. To name a few there's: Anna Karenina, The Pearl, Madame Bovary, and Ethan Frome.


None of the books you've mentioned would be published as genre romance in today's market. The definition of genre romance -- as opposed to the classical definition of romance, which is a romantic adventure that often ends tragically -- includes a "happily ever after." Check the submission guidelines of any romance publisher or imprint, and you'll see this is so.

This is also why Nicholas Sparks' books are considered to be commercial fiction by those in the industry rather than genre romance.

Jane Austen's books are a better example of historical romance written to today's genre standards. Bronte's Jane Eyre is another. Off the top of my head, I can't name any historical male authors of romance that would fit today's genre romance guidelines, but that doesn't mean they don't exist.

HelloKiddo
11-08-2009, 09:18 PM
As to sexism being a factor in the industry as a whole I suspect that there is some, but not nearly as much as you're suggesting. (Suppose that makes me 'naive,' ;-)

-----

But the way to amend that is for women to excel in their fields and prove the stupid lingering biases wrong.

I've taken the liberty of cutting and pasting a few of your points slightly out of context, so please tell me if I've muddled your point at all. I just assume your suggestion for fixing sexism in society is the same as your suggestion for fixing sexism in the literary world.

I think the point here is that a lot of women in literature have proved the detractors wrong--I gave three examples in my first post. But the sexism still exists (at least it is many of the opinion of many that it does).

And besides, our idea of what constitutes good literature was created by a gender-biased society. Nobody argues that that woman in your example is very awesome, but "good writers" and "good books" are, (as we have been reminded many many many times on this site) subjective. Throwing yourself in front of a bullet is not.

Which is not to say that all conventional wisdom of literary standards is rubbish, but it does make us wonder how things might have been different if women were more respected and "feminine" books and writers weren't instantly regarded as inferior.

Bubastes
11-08-2009, 09:20 PM
But the way to amend that is for women to excel in their fields and prove the stupid lingering biases wrong.

As someone who works in a male-dominated field, I've found that excellence will not change the mind of someone who insists on holding on to a stupid bias.

MGraybosch
11-08-2009, 09:43 PM
That's fair. Again I'd say that for me, as a reader, to be interested in the plot, I need to be interested in the character first. In order to be interested in the character, he needs to be fully developed.

I suppose it depends on how one defines "fully developed". For my own part, I define it as having exposed every property of a character that needs to be exposed so that the story works. In the case of my own story, the antagonist is trying to manipulate the protagonist using his understanding of the protagonist's psychology and his relationships. So, in order to make the reader believe that the antagonist knows what makes the protagonist tick, I have to show the reader what makes the protagonist tick -- including his relationships and emotions.


I think that for a female writer, that would naturally include his relationships to the people in his life.

I think it might be sexist to make such an assumption. :)


What I do expect is that the judging committee of a major award would have at least this much understanding...

Wait. You expect the members of a committee to think?

backslashbaby
11-08-2009, 09:44 PM
...Like what Linda said about the Sue Grafton novel - mention makeup briefly and it's a distraction. Mention the guy putting on his fedora and getting a shave and that's universal.

So very true. If it helps any, I think identifying with a man getting a shave is easy and a no-brainer, and it seems silly to have any problem with it. So reverse that, you know?

OTOH, it depends on how much of the emotional part of a novel is meant to be identified with rather than being interesting on its own. Personally, I think there are a lot of male authors who expect me to identify with their MC's need to be the Alpha, for instance. Well, I don't identify with that. If a great part of the interest relies on 'you know how this feels,' I don't.

Same for women handling emotional issues.

I do like emotional issues in novels, but I like them to be interesting, maybe quirky, on their own. In a way, I don't like having to identify with a character. I like to watch :D

And I don't think this 'problem' with female authors happens overwhelmingly, personally. Maybe they are cutting a new niche in mystery[slash-romance], etc, but that's cutting a new niche, I'd think. I don't know; do they sell?

Women do write gender-neutrally, too. But mentioning lipstick once is a different yardstick, and that's unfair.

Selah March
11-08-2009, 09:54 PM
I suppose it depends on how one defines "fully developed". For my own part, I define it as having exposed every property of a character that needs to be exposed so that the story works.

I absolutely agree there are stories out there that could and do "work" without delving into the characters' private lives at all. I'm not sure I'd want to read them.

Apropos of that, I recently went on a Raymond Chandler binge. I assume (perhaps mistakenly, as I'm not well-read in the genre) that Philip Marlowe is about as hard-boiled as you can get this side of Mickey Spillane, and yet we still get many fascinating insights into his loneliness, his yearning for connection on the cold, mean streets of LA, his dissatisfaction with the emptiness of his life outside of his work. Had Chandler not included this, I likely wouldn't have read beyond The Big Sleep.



I think it might be sexist to make such an assumption. :)

I think you might be right. :) Allow me to amend my statement?

I think that for many -- though certainly not all -- female writers of my acquaintance, that would naturally include his relationships to the people in his life.




Wait. You expect the members of a committee to think?

It's not the first time I've made that mistake.

Ken
11-08-2009, 10:51 PM
... it honestly amazes me that any sensible person could continue to hold on to a sexist attitude in the face of a woman (they know personally!) exceling and doing well in their field. It defies common sence and logic. But there is sadly an irrational component in the human psyche. So perhaps those who have said that sexism can't be eliminated in this way are correct ... to a degree.

Interesting about genre romances requiring happy endings. I never knew that. And my belief that 'many' men write romance was based on just a few opinions I've heard on the issue over the years. So it's not surprising I was wrong on that score.

Good luck everyone here and just keep working hard. Maybe individually your efforts may go under-appreciated, but collectively as a whole you are pushing society forward.

MGraybosch
11-08-2009, 10:52 PM
... it honestly amazes me that any sensible person could continue to hold on to a sexist attitude in the face of a woman (they know personally!) exceling and doing well in their field.

Homo sapiens is a misnomer when applied to the majority of the species. :)

Ken
11-08-2009, 10:59 PM
Homo sapiens is a misnomer when applied to the majority of the species. :)

... I've always been of the (quite possibly mistaken) opinion that most homosapiens are good, but that they are made bad or un-homosapien-ized by a few bad, but influential, people who drag down everybody within their vicinity. So I agree with you on the surface at least :-)

Medievalist
11-08-2009, 11:35 PM
So, a bunch of small-minded wankers at Publishers Weekly compiled a list of their favorites, and not one of them had been written by a woman? This only matters because people pay attention to PW. Ignore PW; their opinions only matter because people allow them to matter.

Err . . . that's all well and good until you've published a book you want bookstores to carry, and libraries to offer.

PW is still important in terms of sales.

Medievalist
11-08-2009, 11:37 PM
I can't figure out if it's satire, lol!


I wonder if women are afraid to bother to write the coming-of-age novel from a female perspective. Is there a smaller selection pool of women writing about these things? Do they think both men and women aren't interested in those stories?.

No, not at all there are enough of them written, currently and in terms of the canon that they are studied--"female bildungsroman."

Note that the male bildungsroman is simply a "bildungsroman" ;)

Medievalist
11-08-2009, 11:52 PM
Oh please, of course there's no sexism in publishing.

If there were still problems with sexism, you wouldn't see publishers, editors, and agents suggesting that men writing romance change their names to something feminine, or women writing anything but romance or childcare and household management, cooking and craft books, use male names or reduce their names to initials or use a name that not sex-specific.

Oh. Wait a minute . . .

Wayne K
11-09-2009, 12:00 AM
I love problems. I love to point to them and talk about them as much as the next "person" :D

I like solutions more. Is there anything that can be done? Sexism is an age old problem that is getting better, Can we find what worked with other things and use it here?

Wayne K
11-09-2009, 12:02 AM
I'm kind of a moron so that might be a stupid question.

MGraybosch
11-09-2009, 12:04 AM
Err . . . that's all well and good until you've published a book you want bookstores to carry, and libraries to offer.

I'll burn that bridge when I get to it. :)

MGraybosch
11-09-2009, 12:06 AM
Sexism is an age old problem that is getting better, Can we find what worked with other things and use it here?

Sure. Wait for the old people with the bad old attitudes to retire and die, and then get younger people with better attitudes on the job. :)

Medievalist
11-09-2009, 12:34 AM
I love problems. I love to point to them and talk about them as much as the next "person" :D

I like solutions more. Is there anything that can be done? Sexism is an age old problem that is getting better, Can we find what worked with other things and use it here?

I'm all about solutions.

One thing we can do is to point and say -- hunnnhhh.

Sorta odd that there aren't any women included/mentioned/listed.

and

Sorta odd that there aren't any men included/mentioned/listed.

Or Walloons . . . the thing is, no one wants to have percentages or quotas. What we want is The Best, of whatever It is.

But I don't think it's a bad idea to double-check ourselves, all of us.

Another thing is to call attention to Really Good Stuff (books, music, ideas, thoughtful gestures) by BOTH sexes.

It's easy to forget to call attention to stuff we take for granted, so I'm trying to not take good ideas, good writing, good art, or just being a good person for granted.

I'm trying to point to it/them/people and say Hey. I like you/them/this/that, and think you did a really good thing. And then get other people to look, too.

There's a thing where we are more likely to overlook women in some contexts and and overlook men in others.

Heaven knows I've been at highly technical meetings, have suggested a solution, had my solution examined and adopted--but then credited to a male colleague (sometimes when he wasn't even present!).

N.B. It isn't always sexism--sometimes, that's the way it works, ESPECIALLY in publishing. I know that when I've read blind submissions (when the reader is "blind" about who is subbing because data has been removed) I have:

1. Approved only male-authored books/articles on some occasions, and on others, only female. I really didn't know the sex while reading, and didn't much care.

2. Rejected stuff by someone I wouldn't have expected to reject. In hindsight, when I've (often in a panic) re-read the thing once I know who wrote it, I've mostly decided I was right to reject it.

Wayne K
11-09-2009, 12:38 AM
I'm all about solutions.

One thing we can do is to point and say -- hunnnhhh.

Sorta odd that there aren't any women included/mentioned/listed.

and

Sorta odd that there aren't any men included/mentioned/listed.

Or Walloons . . . the thing is, no one wants to have percentages or quotas. What we want is The Best, of whatever It is.

But I don't think it's a bad idea to double-check ourselves, all of us.

Another thing is to call attention to Really Good Stuff (books, music, ideas, thoughtful gestures) by BOTH sexes.

It's easy to forget to call attention to stuff we take for granted, so I'm trying to not take good ideas, good writing, good art, or just being a good person for granted.

I'm trying to point to it/them/people and say Hey. I like you/them/this/that, and think you did a really good thing. And then get other people to look, too.

There's a thing where we are more likely to overlook women in some contexts and and overlook men in others.

Heaven knows I've been at highly technical meetings, have suggested a solution, had my solution examined and adopted--but then credited to a male colleague (sometimes when he wasn't even present!).

N.B. It isn't always sexism--sometimes, that's the way it works, ESPECIALLY in publishing. I know that when I've read blind submissions (when the reader is "blind" about who is subbing because data has been removed) I have:

1. Approved only male-authored books/articles on some occasions, and on others, only female. I really didn't know the sex while reading, and didn't much care.

2. Rejected stuff by someone I wouldn't have expected to reject. In hindsight, when I've (often in a panic) re-read the thing once I know who wrote it, I've mostly decided I was right to reject it.
I was talking about setting fires and turning over cars. For now I'll call this plan B. :D

BigWords
11-09-2009, 12:58 AM
We can always set fires and turn over cars while we wait, right? Something to pass the time...

Zoombie
11-09-2009, 03:19 AM
This list is stupid. PW is stupid. We should burn their place down Peacefully protest them.

Also, as a random personal side note, I actually got to meet one of my favorite authors, Tamora Perice. She could beat the shit out of me.

Susan B
11-09-2009, 05:56 AM
A man in my writing group periodically offers criticism, then "qualifies" it by adding: of course this may be aimed mostly at women readers.

He recently offered this thought, in relation to a proposal I'm putting together for my second memoir/narrative nonfiction book, which involves ethnic identity/family issues (including a famous ethnic writer/relative who died under mysterious circumstances):

He needed to remember this book would probably appeal mostly to women readers, the kind of people who liked Angela's Ashes and the Joy Luck Club!

He's a nice, supportive, guy, too.

I don't know whether to laugh or cry.
(So I guess I'll just keep writing...)

Phaeal
11-09-2009, 11:03 PM
You weren't aware that a penis emparts super writing skills to its owner? Sheesh, no wonder they say women are illogical!

Yeah, because the best writers actually WRITE WITH their penises. Strap on that pen or wheel over that extra-large-keys keyboard, and they're good to go. Can get ouchie during writing marathons and NaNoWriMo, though.

:scared:

MGraybosch
11-09-2009, 11:05 PM
Yeah, because the best writers actually WRITE WITH their penises. Strap on that pen or wheel over that extra-large-keys keyboard, and they're good to go. Can get ouchie during writing marathons and NaNoWriMo, though.

:scared:

And we also use our cocks to read women's minds. :)

scarletpeaches
11-10-2009, 02:28 AM
Sure. Wait for the old people with the bad old attitudes to retire and die, and then get younger people with better attitudes on the job. :)You're no fun.

I say we give nature a helping hand.

But you, with your psychic mindreading peen o'clairvoyance, already knew I was thinking that.

MGraybosch
11-10-2009, 02:31 AM
I say we give nature a helping hand.

But you, with your psychic mindreading peen o'clairvoyance, already knew I was thinking that.

Actually, I was getting a lot of NSFW interference from you.