New study shows male writers still get the lion's share of critics' attention.

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Shady Lane

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I feel like I've just been running around to all the threads lately and going YEAH WHAT TOOTHPASTE SAID. But seriously. Yeah.

I will say, though, that this seems to be much less of an issue in YA, where books my female writers not only frequently sell well, but earn a ton of critical acclaim. Looking back over the past 4 years (which is all I can remember) I'm pretty sure that 3 of the 4 Printz winners were women. (E. Lockhart, John Green, Melina Marchetta, Libba Bray, right?)
 

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Not at all :) I just didn't want to go down that road, since I know there's a thoroughly unproductive flame-war at the end of it. That said, I didn't feel comfortable letting that comment slide w/o a mention, either.
 

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I feel like I've just been running around to all the threads lately and going YEAH WHAT TOOTHPASTE SAID. But seriously. Yeah.

I will say, though, that this seems to be much less of an issue in YA, where books my female writers not only frequently sell well, but earn a ton of critical acclaim. Looking back over the past 4 years (which is all I can remember) I'm pretty sure that 3 of the 4 Printz winners were women. (E. Lockhart, John Green, Melina Marchetta, Libba Bray, right?)

That's a good point. I wonder if the percentage of women writers in YA is high enough to counteract the bias so the numbers don't look as skewed. As in, if 80% of YA books are written by women, but only 50% of YA books reviewed are written by women, that could still indicate a bias. I'd be curious to see how those numbers compare.
 
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Anne Lyle

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In a male-dominated society, masculine novels are sure to sell best.

Do they? I thought there were a lot more women readers around. Romance routinely outsells all the other genres put together.

Personally, I don't read "women's fiction" whatever the label, but then a) I don't read mainstream fiction and b) I'm not exactly your typical woman (apart from the regulation pair of X chromosomes). I could easily have chosen a gender-neutral pen name (to go with my androgynous avatar), which would have been closer to my internal self-image, but I didn't want to be seen as just another woman writer "pretending to be male" for commercial reasons. If that makes sense.
 

Toothpaste

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I think you've hit the nail on the head Anne. You aren't alone in seeing yourself as "not a typical woman". I think a lot of women feel that way about themselves, and yet all the images we see suggests that what's "typical" isn't us and so therefore we must not be the norm. We want to be seen a people first, women second. And that's what we want in our writing. We want when our name is on a cover of a book for it to be gender neutral not "Oh that's a book for women" because the person wrote it happened to be female.

It's incredibly difficult to be an "everyman" as a woman. And that's part of the very very deeply rooted sexism that exists. Look at the new attempt to get boys reading, a lot of it has to do with writing books with boys as main characters. But women and girls have been reading books with boys as main characters since novels were first invented. We've been studying them in school, The Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, Crime and Punishment etc etc and so forth. Somehow the male experience is seen as universal, the female experience unique to women only. When do we get to be seen as human beings first and foremost?
 

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Of course it's theoretically possible that these statistics happened by chance. But given the fact that this trend continues--year after year--even as the pool of available reviewable books continue to change, doesn't it seem pretty obtuse to assume that it's happening by random chance? I'm sure some statistician among us can tell us the statistical probability of this happening randomly, say, twenty years in a row, and I'm sure that probability is...unlikely.
The post you're replying to didn't suggest it was down to chance. Here it is again:
No, I'm pretty sure that I was clear on my point that in this instance it is entirely conceivable that the books chosen were chosen on their own merit and that it had nothing at all to do with gender.

I'm not concluding that men or women are better writers, but simply that we should consider that the books chosen were chosen for other reasons than gender, and that, in this instance, the books chosen happened to be primarily written by men?
No mention of it being down to random chance or probability.

Perhaps there's something about men's writing that makes it stand out more than women's writing? That's not putting men above women, or saying that women don't write as well as men.

I recall the judge's comments from a short story competition a few years ago, and one of the observations about the entries was that many of the women had written stories about domestic issues. Many of them were similar in theme and scope. The men's writing was more diverse, more adventurous, and took more risks. I'm paraphrasing from memory and it's been a while, but it was along those lines. It's not a million miles from a point raised in Toothpaste's post:

I'll try to explain a bit why this is a far more complicated subject than just a numbers game. Let's say, for argument's sake, all women wrote the same kind of books and all men wrote the same kind of books. This is absurd and untrue, but it seems to be a premise people like to work from so why not play with it. The debate then becomes "why are male topics considered more literary and universal and female topics considered small and for girls only?" That is the heart of the issue. Why is it that a book about war considered more literary than one about raising a family? Why is it that a book about male ennui is considered more literary than one about a woman's midlife crisis?
Perhaps men choose more interesting things to write about, or more diverse topics. Well-written stories of a woman's mid-life crisis are worthy reading material, I'm sure. How many are going to stand out?

If it bothers a woman that much then they know what they need to do - write a better book.
I read plenty of fiction written by women and don't consider it inferior to the fiction I read that's written by men in any way at all. I don't generally read stuff about a woman's mid-life crisis or stories with a domestic theme (though I have read some).

Maybe men (not all men, but as a proportion, more so than women) write about subjects that are more varied or stand out more.

Maybe not. But it doesn't have to be about random chance.

Or maybe there is a gender bias. I don't know. But whenever the topic comes up, I think it's worth looking at the data supporting the argument. I recall a blog post about the balance between male and female winners of the Booker prize and the gender make-up of the Booker panel, based on an article in the Guardian newspaper. It seemed to suggest that the panel was dominated by male judges and that accounted for a bias towards male winners. I did my own analysis of the Booker results and found that despite having male-dominated panels judging, the number of female winners at 36.6% almost exactly matched the number of shortlisted female authors at 37.1%. Hardly evidence of a gender bias amongst the male-dominated judging panels.

(Blog thread here: http://fictionbitch.blogspot.com/2010/04/its-mans-world.html)
 
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Toothpaste

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I feel like I've just been running around to all the threads lately and going YEAH WHAT TOOTHPASTE SAID. But seriously. Yeah.

I will say, though, that this seems to be much less of an issue in YA, where books my female writers not only frequently sell well, but earn a ton of critical acclaim. Looking back over the past 4 years (which is all I can remember) I'm pretty sure that 3 of the 4 Printz winners were women. (E. Lockhart, John Green, Melina Marchetta, Libba Bray, right?)


:) Why thank you!

And yes, you are right about YA, probably because so many of the authors are women. But again, I've found that the few male authors who show up are lauded quite a lot, and I think if you looked proportionately at the number of male YA authors in general and the number of male YA authors who win awards, vs the number of female YA authors and the number of female YA authors who win awards, the men would have a higher percentage. Though, in this case, I can't say for sure.

Also there's this list of Amazon's top YA picks of last year: http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?ie=UTF8&plgroup=1&docId=1000628181

While it's a pretty even split, 6 - 4 men to women, considering how many more women write YA, it is interesting to see men dominate the list . . . also they chose friggin' I AM NUMBER FOUR and well, that's a whole other thing. You may also note very little to no paranormal romance included which dominates the YA section. And while personally not a fan myself, I think this speaks also to the usual romance as seen as lesser thing. And romance tends to be preferred and written by women.

Last but not least let's not forget YA isn't exactly the most well respected genre out there (despite being one of the most profitable), like with any work involving children usually dominated by women.
 
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Toothpaste

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Perhaps men choose more interesting things to write about, or more diverse topics. Well-written stories of a woman's mid-life crisis are worthy reading material, I'm sure. How many are going to stand out?

First of all, women don't only write mid-life crisis stories and I bet the proportion of those kinds of books are on par with male ennui stories.

Second your first point illustrates mine beautifully. Who's to say what is "more interesting"? Why are domestic issues seen as less interesting than say broader world ones? Romance is the most popular genre out there and there seems to be an ability to interest and hold that audience despite the books having similar subject matter. The question is, prove to me that war is more interesting than domestic drama. You can't. Because it comes down to taste. What has happened, however, is that taste has been redefined as a subconscious universal truth. Why is risk taking better than a compelling small novel?

(At this point I really have to point out that I don't believe that men write one way and women another, I see more men in certain genres true, and women the same, but there are women do write like Grisham and men who write like Meyer out there too)
 

Anne Lyle

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I think you've hit the nail on the head Anne. You aren't alone in seeing yourself as "not a typical woman". I think a lot of women feel that way about themselves, and yet all the images we see suggests that what's "typical" isn't us and so therefore we must not be the norm.

On the other hand, some of us really are untypical of our gender, just as some men are. Even allowing for the distorting lens of the media, we can't all be untypical!

We want to be seen a people first, women second. And that's what we want in our writing. We want when our name is on a cover of a book for it to be gender neutral not "Oh that's a book for women" because the person wrote it happened to be female.

Absolutely. My book is definitely not "a book for women" in the sense of "not for men" - my male beta-reader loved it and the male editors and agents who have read it have been universally positive (coincidentally the only form rejection I've had so far was from a woman!). OTOH it definitely has more female-appeal than a lot of fantasy, because it's not a testosterone-fuelled sword-fest starring Real Men plus flimsy female characters who are little more than adolescent wish-fulfillment :)

Somehow the male experience is seen as universal, the female experience unique to women only. When do we get to be seen as human beings first and foremost?

When our society changes its attitude that femininity in a man is far more egregious than masculinity in a woman?

Until boys no longer think "girls are cissy" and that they must therefore avoid all association with them, you're not going to see boys reading many books with female protagonists and/or by recognisably female authors. Would the Just William books have been such a success if readers had known Richmal Crompton (not a pseudonym) was a woman?
 

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Oh, please. I never suggested they did.

I apologise. That's what I thought you were getting at with this: "Well-written stories of a woman's mid-life crisis are worthy reading material, I'm sure. How many are going to stand out?"


Fine. You have some evidence for that, presumably.

Do you have evidence to the contrary? My evidence isn't the best, but I read enough agent blogs to know that male ennui is submitted to them on such a regular basis they are getting bored with it. Or shall I say ennui-ed with it :) .
 

willietheshakes

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Please consider the lack of gender in the following three names:

JK Rowling
CS Lewis
IM Genderless


And after that, please answer me the following.

1) How many male authors use either a gender-switching or gender-obscuring pen name?

2) How many female authors do it?

3) Why does ANYONE do it?

Oooh ooooh, let me!
I did it.
Despite the pants-package, Before I Wake came out in pb in the UK as by RJ Wiersema. Apparently I'm the sort of man who writes books that appeal to the ladies.
 

SPMiller

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Do they? I thought there were a lot more women readers around. Romance routinely outsells all the other genres put together.
Romance is as ignored by critics as many other popular genres regardless of its sales. We know critics generally disdain genre stories.

But I question the truth of your implication that romance isn't masculine or male-centric. I therefore ask you this: what is romance-genre fiction most often about?

Personally, I don't read "women's fiction" whatever the label, but then a) I don't read mainstream fiction and b) I'm not exactly your typical woman (apart from the regulation pair of X chromosomes). I could easily have chosen a gender-neutral pen name (to go with my androgynous avatar), which would have been closer to my internal self-image, but I didn't want to be seen as just another woman writer "pretending to be male" for commercial reasons. If that makes sense.
This is, IMO, precisely the problem. If you have to petition to be seen as a person and not as a member some subpersoned group, then there's something very wrong. What, for example, is a "typical woman"?

Still, good to work toward change.
 

Anne Lyle

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Why are domestic issues seen as less interesting than say broader world ones?

Because the domestic is familiar and can therefore be perceived as banal, whereas broader issues are ones that we have limited opportunities to engage with directly, and therefore provoke greater curiosity and reader interest? We all have parents (at least to begin with) and most have spouses and children - but how many of us have been lawyers or ship's captains or astronauts?

I'm not saying domestic books can't be wonderful - Jane Austen is about as unconcerned with masculine interests as it's possible to be, and yet Persuasion is one of my all-time favourite books - but the domestic sphere is only one possible setting out of the many open to the author.
 

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Who's to say what is "more interesting"? Why are domestic issues seen as less interesting than say broader world ones?
This is a question of what we call "stakes". As a rule, stories with larger stakes tend to be considered more interesting or more true or more applicable to Zeitgeist or simply more entertaining than stories with smaller stakes. I don't agree with that perception, mind you.
 
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The post you're replying to didn't suggest it was down to chance. Here it is again:

No mention of it being down to random chance or probability.
When I said "by chance" I was referring to the statistics the OP provided, not the method the reviewers used to choose books.

The statistics illustrated a trend that favored male writers, and either you believe that trend was caused by the fact that the writers were male (directly or indirectly), or you believe the numbers ended up that way randomly, and there's no causal relationship between an author's gender and his/her book's probability of getting reviewed. Either your gender affects that probability, or it doesn't. There's no third option.

Shaldna stated that the percentage of male-written books was larger because those books just *happen* to have been the better books that year. As in, they weren't chosen because they were male-written, they were chosen because they were better. Therefore, she argued, the fact that a larger percentage of the best books just *happened* to be written by men, was a statistical fluke. I understand that she wasn't saying the books were chosen at random, obviously, but my point still stands. It's statistically unlikely that this trend would continue--year after year--if there wasn't a causal relationship between an author's gender and the probability of his/her book being reviewed.

Perhaps there's something about men's writing that makes it stand out more than women's writing? That's not putting men above women, or saying that women don't write as well as men.

The fact that you think this is exactly the point we're trying to make. The idea that men's writing is inherently more interesting to readers is exactly the gender bias we're discussing. Do you see the underlying issue there? Why do you think male writing inherently interests you more?

I recall the judge's comments from a short story competition a few years ago, and one of the observations about the entries was that many of the women had written stories about domestic issues. Many of them were similar in theme and scope. The men's writing was more diverse, more adventurous, and took more risks. I'm paraphrasing from memory and it's been a while, but it was along those lines. It's not a million miles from a point raised in Toothpaste's post:

Is it not possible that those factors--factors which are considered "masculine" by the way--are considered inherently superior to you because they're masculine, and not because they're actually objectively better?
 
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Oooh ooooh, let me!
I did it.
Despite the pants-package, Before I Wake came out in pb in the UK as by RJ Wiersema. Apparently I'm the sort of man who writes books that appeal to the ladies.

Interesting! Were you encouraged to do so by your agent or publisher? Or did you just prefer to stay genderless?
 

JoNightshade

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This is a question of what we call "stakes". As a rule, stories with larger stakes tend to be considered more interesting or more true or more applicable to Zeitgeist or simply more entertaining than stories with smaller stakes. I don't agree with that perception, mind you.

And yet for many people, the so-called "smaller stakes" are far more life-changing and important than the "larger stakes." Let's say, for comparison, we have two literary novels. Book one is about a man investigating some new possible cure for cancer in the Congo, where he faces all sorts of life-threatening danger, etc. Yay, exciting. Then we have book two, about a woman attempting to keep her family together in the face of her youngest child's aggressive cancer.

The second book would without question be labeled the book of "smaller scope" and not as "ambitious." But WHY? Good god, anyone I know, male or female, would be absolutely devastated by the situation in the second book, far more so than the one in the first. I would rather lose my life to any danger in the jungle than lose my child to the horrors of cancer. I can't even imagine how anyone would cope with such a thing.

So why is this considered "small" and "domestic?" Why is it unimportant?

Also, to everything else: What Toothpaste said.
 

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The fact that you think this is exactly the point we're trying to make. The idea that men's writing is inherently more interesting to readers is exactly the gender bias we're discussing. Do you see the underlying issue there? Why do you think male writing inherently interests you more?
I never claimed male writing interests me more. I clearly stated that I read plenty of fiction by men and women and don't consider that written by women to be inferior in any way. The quote you replied to should be read in the context of the paragraph about the judge's comments.

Is it not possible that those factors--factors which are considered "masculine" by the way--are considered inherently superior to you because they're masculine, and not because they're actually objectively better?
Why don't you go back and read my post again, and learn to read things in context so that you don't misrepresent my views. I never claimed those things were superior at all. I paraphrased a judge's comments from a short story competition.
 

lucidzfl

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Everyone always has a reason or an excuse. 'it's because i'm male/female/irish/black/gay'


I'm a black, irish, gay shemale, and am unpublished. Are you telling me that is the reason? FARKING HELL it makes so much more sense now!!!!


On a side note: You do realize, that if a Black Irish Gay Shemale submitted a book for publication it'd be picked up instantly right?

I should write that under a pseudonym actually.

B.I.G.S : Basketball, shamrocks and clothes that don't fit right. The memoirs of a Black Irish Gay Shemale.

I'll see you guys on the NYT best seller list!
 

lucidzfl

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I think you've hit the nail on the head Anne. You aren't alone in seeing yourself as "not a typical woman". I think a lot of women feel that way about themselves, and yet all the images we see suggests that what's "typical" isn't us and so therefore we must not be the norm. We want to be seen a people first, women second. And that's what we want in our writing. We want when our name is on a cover of a book for it to be gender neutral not "Oh that's a book for women" because the person wrote it happened to be female.

I have never, ever met a woman who described themselves as a "typical woman".

In fact, if I hear one MORE woman attempt to brag by saying "I'm not your average girl" or "I'm really just one of the boys" I'm going to pull a two girls one cup on myself.

In the masterful words of Everclear: "I want a girlfriend who does not drink beer"

(My wife drinks beer. You get the point.)
 

willietheshakes

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Interesting! Were you encouraged to do so by your agent or publisher? Or did you just prefer to stay genderless?

The largest buy-in of a Canadian title in history by Tesco tipped the scales almost immediately...

You can call me Bobby, you can call me Roberta, with numbers like that.
 

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Hey Rob,

I certainly didn't intend to misrepresent your views or present them out of context, but I still stand by what I wrote. I wasn't saying your personal taste reflects that men's writing is inherently superior to women's, but the fact that you think it's a possible explanation for the trend illustrated in the OP is a good illustration of the bias we're talking about. Again, I'm talking in general terms here--not about you. The idea that anyone would ever think, "Well, maybe men are just better writers?" is evidence of a subconscious cultural bias. Again, not you--hypothetical people out there reading books.

My comment in response to your judging anecdote was meant to be taken the same way. I wasn't attributing the judge's statement to you, I was discussing your analysis of those statements. You proposed the possibility that the judge liked the male-written entries better than the female-written entries because the topics were inherently more interesting.

We're all on the same team here, and I'm not looking for an argument. Please don't condescend to me--I understood everything you wrote and responded with my thoughts. If you don't agree with those thoughts, that's your right--but it doesn't mean I can't read. Let's keep it civil, agreed?
 

Anne Lyle

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Romance is as ignored by critics as many other popular genres regardless of its sales. We know critics generally disdain genre stories.

Tell me about it - my genre might as well not exist as far as literary critics are concerned.

But I question the truth of your implication that romance isn't masculine or male-centric. I therefore ask you this: what is romance-genre fiction most often about?

I wasn't aware that I was implying that romance isn't masculine or male-centric - some would argue that men are more romantic that women - but you can't deny that the majority of romance readers are female.

ETA - OK, I re-read your post. So you're saying that men buy books about men, and women buy romance because it's about men - and both phenomena are because men are dominant in our culture?

I'm at a loss as to what non-lesbian women readers are supposed to be interested in, if both "wider world issues" and heterosexual romance are denigrated as evidence of male domination of literature...

What, for example, is a "typical woman"?

Statistically, women are on average better at judging facial expressions than men, but less good at visuo-spatial tasks. They tend to be more interested in people, and less interested in "things" (the majority of autism sufferers are boys). And so on - I won't enumerate them all. Some of these are cultural, but others are more to do with brain structure and hormones.

These are just trends, and of course there's huge variance and considerable overlap. Still, I think it's fair to say that a typical woman is one who resembles the majority of her sex in these respects - and when tested on these skills and attitudes, I score much more like a typical man.
 
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