Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Numbers Don't Lie
There's been a ruckus in the literary world over recent VIDA statistics, showing the disparity between how many women are published or reviewed in publications versus men. The numbers are quite shocking, and sure enough, do not lie.
I know there are many factors to consider, and it's not all point-blank sexism on the part of the editors. But all the same, it's hard to imagine that these numbers accurately reflect the number of female authors vs male authors that are submitting their work... or just plain exist. Or for that matter, the bias of the publications' readers to read the work of one gender over another.
I was curious to see if I tended to read women authors over men (or vice-versa), so I did a tally of what books I've read 2009 to present. Expecting a fair, 50/50 split, I was not disappointed. Out of 55 books, 26 were by female authors, and 29 by men. So it was a 47/53 split. Not too bad. (Although, since I'm simultaneously reading Bret Easton Ellis, Vonnegut and Palahniuk at the moment, I'm about to butch things up considerably).
The author's gender is just something I never really consider when picking out a book. Although it can have some effect on my interpretation while reading. Ever get all the way through a novel and find out the author isn't the gender you were expecting? For the longest time I thought Evelyn Waugh was a woman. Whoops! For shame. And I'm sure there have been some confused George Eliot readers out there.
But George Eliot's name brings up a good point -- that was her pen name. It still sticks today, even though the Brontes are no longer known as Currer, Acton, and Ellis Bell. And J.K. Rowling? Her publisher decided to use the gender-neutral pen name for fear boys wouldn't read a female author. And that fear isn't anything new. I remember in middle and high school (granted the schools I went to were shitty), every single piece of literature assigned to us was by a male author. Call of the Wild, Huckleberry Finn, Fahrenheit 451, Oedipus Rex, Othello... All of which, I'm guessing, were part of some last ditch attempt to get boys interested in reading. Which is all well and good, but who is to say they wouldn't have equally loved To Kill a Mockingbird? The Haunting of Hill House? The Earthsea Series? Meanwhile, us girls were just expected to accept and deal with the constant sausage party of Melville, Hemingway, and Twain. Thank god for my library card.
The point is, I don't believe in the age-old notion that men can't/won't/don't read work by women authors. And even if it's partially, or immediately true, not publishing female authors or hiding their gender isn't helping anything. It perpetuates the problem. After all, if there are only male or apparently gender-neutral authors being published, then that's all your readership CAN read. It will be what they're USED to reading. And then that will be all they WILL read.
Help yourselves out, publishers. You're out to make a quick buck now, but it will backfire. Look towards the future and you can make a fortune. (There's a whole other half of the population out there! Who knew!?)