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March 2, 2012 7:49 AM   Subscribe

The 2011 count of women in leading literary outlets.
posted by latkes (70 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
From the comments, Danielle Pafunda addresses the standard "we need to know submissions numbers" point in a detailed blog post from last summer:

The trouble with rationalizing the numbers trouble. A logic problem.


5. The suggestion that it’s only fair to publish work in the ratio that you receive work baffles me. Why? There aren’t any laws about this. The very editors who cry NO QUOTAS when we counters suggest that a 70/30 split is unfair and sucko turn around and insist that they’re tied to a quota system determined by their own slush piles. Yikes!

posted by mediareport at 7:59 AM on March 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


There seems to be a way of thinking here, some of these men seem to think that most women writers aren't worthy of reviewing/women who read, read lesser books. See Teddy Wayne (Salon) and Peter Stotthard (TLS).
posted by troika at 8:05 AM on March 2, 2012


There are several layers of ossification going on in the "literary" world, so this is all fairly unsurprising.

In all seriousness, I wonder what the numbers are like at publications in the mystery/sci-fi/fantasy genres. I honestly don't know if they'd be significantly more even.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:09 AM on March 2, 2012


Pretty awful.

I started reviewing at the spec fic mag Strange Horizons due to a call for female reviewers in response to a similar survey of speculative magazines there. SH is one of the better rags in terms of gender balance, and things are still skewed in favor of the mens.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:11 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sticherbeast, here you go.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:11 AM on March 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'd be curious to see how (or whether) these numbers have changed over the last 50 years or so. Are we progressing at anything like an appreciable rate?
posted by shakespeherian at 8:17 AM on March 2, 2012


Interesting, PhoBWanKenobi. Only just slightly less imbalanced, in general.

(Unrelated tangent: I didn't know that James Sallis reviewed books at F&SF.)
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:18 AM on March 2, 2012


I should note that I review young adult science fiction on a blog I run with a friend, and have ended up reviewing mostly works by women. Offers to review some of these works for SH have received a mixed response. During a discussion of gender breakdown in reviewing on some livejournal about a year ago, when I suggested greater gender parity could be reached by embracing works typically consumed by women (urban fantasy, romance crossover, young adult) it was suggested by an adult SF fan that I should try to "challenge" myself by reviewing works for adultss. I find this reflects the typical attitude in genre that works often written by and consumed by women are automatically of lesser literally quality (less 'challenging'), despite the fact that they often have a much wider readership.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:19 AM on March 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


Once again, very interesting, PhoBWanKenobi. Seems like a problem parallel to what we see in the "literary" publications. I bet if some of those publications began to review more urban fantasy on top of the usual Ramsey Campbell et al., they'd get snarky complaints from (mostly male) readers.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:22 AM on March 2, 2012


*head on desk*
posted by whimsicalnymph at 8:35 AM on March 2, 2012


…automatically of lesser literally quality (less 'challenging'), despite the fact that they often have a much wider readership.

That's a funny sentence: many things that appeal to a wider audience have to be of lesser quality. Why would you write "despite"?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 8:49 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are we progressing at anything like an appreciable rate?

Define "appreciable," but I think there is progress. It's pretty depressing, but actually a little better than I expected. As always, it helps to have low expectations. Good for Granta.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:54 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


... if it's any solace (it's not), the literary world is not nearly as bad as the political.

The US Congress is 83% men.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:57 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I personally think these superficial counts are meaningless. Clearly, you need to condition on the quality of the works, which is hard to assess without bias. I think popularity is a poor indicator of quality. Also, assuming that because women publish roughly as many books as men, they will also produce as many great novels is begging the question.

But, I don't think the truth of this issue matters. If you really think that sexism is at the the cause of unequal attention— that there is a neglected treasure-trove of great works by women — then why not start your own literature review? The internet has made it possible to reach a wide audience for no cost except your own time.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 8:58 AM on March 2, 2012


During a discussion of gender breakdown in reviewing on some livejournal about a year ago, when I suggested greater gender parity could be reached by embracing works typically consumed by women (urban fantasy, romance crossover, young adult) it was suggested by an adult SF fan that I should try to "challenge" myself by reviewing works for adultss. I find this reflects the typical attitude in genre that works often written by and consumed by women are automatically of lesser literally quality (less 'challenging'), despite the fact that they often have a much wider readership.

What an odd (but unsurprising) comment. As if YA books are automatically unchallenging; as if urban fantasy and romance are automatically unchallenging and also meant not for adults. It certainly says a lot. (I tend to dislike the choice of books SH reviews, though I like their reviews -- and fiction -- very much.)

I've found that although there are the odd gems in magazine/online magazine/bookstore suggested books, mostly finding blogs written by people who care about racism and sexism and heterosexism and classism etc (even if they don't agree with me about whether certain things are racist or sexist) that review books for love and more free books has been a much more productive way of finding an interesting balance of books to read.
posted by jeather at 8:58 AM on March 2, 2012


I don't understand what mediareport quoted above. How can you print articles that aren't submitted?

If 30% of submissions are from women, and what gets selected is a random (fair) sample of submissions, you'd expect 30% of selections to be by women. So it seems like it is important to know what the authorial gender breakdown of submissions looks like.
posted by phrontist at 8:59 AM on March 2, 2012


phrontist, she makes the point more clear in the next paragraph:

6. Whether you work for a ginormous journal that receives 15,000 submissions a year or a small one that receives 2,000, you are likely receiving more good work than you can publish. Just a hunch: in the women’s pile alone, there’s enough good work for a fabulous issue. Between your cold submissions and your solicitations, you’re likely rolling in riches. Unless you feel bizarrely beholden to run a conceptual journal whose primary mission is reflecting the demographics of its submission pile, this slush-pile-ratio point is moot. And boring. A strawman, a distraction.

I don't completely agree with all of her statements in that piece, but I do find that one to be fairly strong.
posted by mediareport at 9:03 AM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Just to be even more clear, I totally agree with the idea that in the above situation, editors should feel obligated to choose more heavily from the women's pile.
posted by mediareport at 9:04 AM on March 2, 2012


phrontist: "I don't understand what mediareport quoted above. How can you print articles that aren't submitted?

If 30% of submissions are from women, and what gets selected is a random (fair) sample of submissions, you'd expect 30% of selections to be by women. So it seems like it is important to know what the authorial gender breakdown of submissions looks like.
"
Because, as the article from which mediareport quoted (and linked) states, "This suggests that an editor is a fairly passive machine, an inbox that receives and selects writing, but doesn’t engender that writing or seek writing on its own accord. I’ve worked for/near/with a lot of literary journals over the past decade. I've never worked for one that published solely from its submission pool. (emphasis added)"
posted by FlyingMonkey at 9:04 AM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ooh, yeah, that point's better.
posted by mediareport at 9:07 AM on March 2, 2012


I find this reflects the typical attitude in genre that works often written by and consumed by women are automatically of lesser literally quality (less 'challenging'), despite the fact that they often have a much wider readership.
Right on the head, PhoBWanKenobi. The history of English literature, especially with the rise of the novel in the 18th and 19th centuries, is a testament to gender imbalance. The most widely read writers and readers of the day were women. The graphs linked in this FPP are ongoing evidence of not only the sexism of contemporary literature, but also the way in which our minds have been co-opted and contained by masculinist literary prerogative.

The rising Literary Establishment (ca. 1920, before which college educated men studied Classics) buried women writers with such systematic efficiency that the works of many women writers were lost until the work of pioneering feminist critics such as Annette Kolodny, Elaine Showalter, and Judith Fetterley (among many others).

Sad to see that the work of so many accomplished women ignored by those who should know much much better.
posted by mistersquid at 9:10 AM on March 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Just to be even more clear, I totally agree with the idea that in the above situation, editors should feel obligated to choose more heavily from the women's pile.

Why? I think they should feel supremely obligated to choose the very best — irrespective of gender, race, sexuality, … everything. If it were possible to submit anonymously, that would be even better. Why should the editor pander to a handful of authors instead of sharing the pinnacle of human expression with his or her many readers?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 9:13 AM on March 2, 2012


If editors were forced to choose pieces without seeing the names of the submitters the numbers might turn out much more equal. See the case of symphony auditions.
posted by latkes at 9:18 AM on March 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


If editors were forced to choose pieces without seeing the names of the submitters the numbers might turn out much more equal. See the case of symphony auditions.

Joke's on you, pal! V. S. Naipaul can diagnose author-gender within paragraphs!
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:22 AM on March 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


If 30% of submissions are from women, and what gets selected is a random (fair) sample of submissions, you'd expect 30% of selections to be by women.

A random sample is neither desirable or fair. As editor you want to pick the best pieces and there is no reason to assume they are distributed 30%/70% just because the submissions are. In fact, there are very good reasons to think they won't be.

Men are much more likely to be confident in their own abilities, whether or not this has any basis in reality, than women. This one of the reasons that submit more in the first place (see also applying for jobs or promotion). So it is entirely possible that 60% of submissions by men and women with a broadly similar distribution of quality plus a whole extra 40% of mediocre submissions from men.

And that is before even getting into the issue of the role of the editors themselves.
posted by ninebelow at 9:24 AM on March 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Part of the problem, esprit de l'escalier, with "choos[ing] the very best" is that literary and cultural history have inculcated a way of seeing that is masculinist.

One corrective is to follow the path indicated by Judith Fetterley, who calls for a
resisting rather than an assenting reader, to begin the process of exorcising the male mind that has been implanted in us.
The themes, tropes, and methods of what might be termed a "female" or "feminist" way of seeing are largely invisible to readers trained in the context of Western Literary education because such an education is masculinist. Until the 1980s, students did not encounter feminist literary perspectives until advanced undergraduate studies.

Even today, many undergraduates are denied much needed contact with feminist literary history simply because the literary tradition of excluding women is built into the structure of literary studies.
posted by mistersquid at 9:24 AM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's a funny sentence: many things that appeal to a wider audience have to be of lesser quality. Why would you write "despite"?

"Have to be"?

Well, in my experience, young adult science fiction, for example is not, across-the-board, of a lesser "literary" quality than science fiction written by adults. It is, however, viewed that way by people who read adult science fiction (with rare exceptions, those exceptions usually being penned by writers of adult SF--often men--like Ian MacDonald, who dip their toes into writing YA). These opinions are often not informed by a broad enough sample size of current YA for the speaker to really have any sort of authority on the subject. It's assumed that all YA SFF is "like Twilight," when it's not.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:32 AM on March 2, 2012


But really, when it comes down to it, YA is a genre that has a shit ton of readers, and there's a ton of money in it (like romance), and many of the works in the genre are actually very good and merit thoughtful discussion. It doesn't make sense that editors refuse to review these genres unless they're doing so out of a desire to uphold some sort of literary standard which, by default, must exclude those works ("serious literature" which doesn't include silly lady books)--because inclusion would create a broader, engaged readership.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:35 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


mistersquid: That's fascinating. But, if you really believe that "Western Literary education" is "masculinist," then surely the editors are blameless. It sounds challenging to "exorcise the male mind that has been implanted in us," and when one day there arrives an editor who has freed him or herself from the male mind, surely the untainted readers will respond to his or her selections that were omitted by every other reviewer.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 9:43 AM on March 2, 2012


A random sample is neither desirable or fair. As editor you want to pick the best pieces and there is no reason to assume they are distributed 30%/70% just because the submissions are. In fact, there are very good reasons to think they won't be.

Are there any reputable literary magazines that do blind assessment of submissions? In other words, where work is submitted to editors anonymously?

I imagine it would be difficult to do that. How do you assess a story if you're reading it and thinking "wow, this MUST be by Alice Munro!"? I mean, if it IS Alice Munro, then that's one thing. If it's not Alice Munro, would you be inclined to reject it for being derivative?

Still, I suppose you could have a "new fiction" journal for relatively unknown authors that worked this way. I wonder what the gender breakdown would be relative to the submissions? If there is such a thing as some kind of non-relative (or, at least, not arbitrary) "excellence" in writing and if it is the case that men are simply more likely to fool themselves into believing that they've attained this "excellence" whereas women are more likely to actually attain it before submitting their work, one would presumably find that such a magazine would publish a higher proportion of the submissions received from women than the submissions received from men.

Of course, in this thread (as wherever this argument crops up) we find two radically different (and incompatible) accounts of what is going on in these kinds of imbalances. We have the above version, which we might call the "Enlightenment" version, which says that there is some such thing as a gender-neutral "excellence" in writing and that the raw ability to attain that kind of "excellence" is distributed roughly evenly across gender, race, class etc.

On the other hand we have the notion that there are specifically gendered kinds of excellence. That there is a "women's writing" that is inherently different from "men's writing." (A point where the V.S. Naipaul's of this world find themselves oddly in agreement with certain kinds of feminist theorists). This approach would be inclined to believe that the experiment above (anonymous submissions) would be inclined to fail because the editors would still privilege a male sensibility in the submissions--that they would favor "male excellence" over "female excellence." I'm not sure how one could usefully set about trying to resolve these radically competing perspectives. I do find it interesting, though, that both of them get labeled as "feminist" perspectives and that critics will often switch from one to the other without apparently recognizing how radically opposed the two perspectives are.
posted by yoink at 9:53 AM on March 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


Holy shit. I don't even know where to start.
"I'm not too appalled by our figure, as I'd be very surprised if the authorship of published books was 50/50. And while women are heavy readers, we know they are heavy readers of the kind of fiction that is not likely to be reviewed in the pages of the TLS." Peter Stothard, editor of the Times Literary Supplement, in the Guardian
posted by jokeefe at 10:45 AM on March 2, 2012


I scrolled down halfway before giving up. This could have presented much more efficiently with the pie charts shrunken and aligned in rows instead of huge ones that I can only see 3 at a time.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 10:45 AM on March 2, 2012


That there is a "women's writing" that is inherently different from "men's writing."

No, there fucking isn't.

I'll come back later when I've calmed down.
posted by jokeefe at 10:45 AM on March 2, 2012


Are there any reputable literary magazines that do blind assessment of submissions? In other words, where work is submitted to editors anonymously?

I imagine it would be difficult to do that.


I thought a lot of new writer awards were done blind. Or have I been influenced too much by 1Q84?

How do you assess a story if you're reading it and thinking "wow, this MUST be by Alice Munro!"? ...

Um, I think at that point (unless you're at maybe 1 or 2 publications), you just say "publish it!"

I find this reflects the typical attitude in genre that works often written by and consumed by women are automatically of lesser literally quality (less 'challenging'), despite the fact that they often have a much wider readership.

Are you trying to defend Twilight?

... and to turn this noxious practice around, who are the female authors who should be covered/published by Harper's and The Nation?
posted by mrgrimm at 10:46 AM on March 2, 2012



I find this reflects the typical attitude in genre that works often written by and consumed by women are automatically of lesser literally quality (less 'challenging'), despite the fact that they often have a much wider readership.

Are you trying to defend Twilight?


...
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:51 AM on March 2, 2012


esprit de l'escalier, I don't think it's necessary to find readers who are tabulae rasae. It only must needs that readers and editors be aware of bias and to be educated on how to read literature that is outside their ken.
posted by mistersquid at 11:06 AM on March 2, 2012


I suggested that the readers were untainted because most of them haven't been indoctrinated by a "Western Literary education."
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 11:12 AM on March 2, 2012


... and to turn this noxious practice around, who are the female authors who should be covered/published by Harper's and The Nation?

wut
posted by shakespeherian at 11:20 AM on March 2, 2012


No, there fucking isn't.

You may well be right (note that I'm merely commenting upon the widespread acceptance of this claim, not endorsing it), although I cannot think of any way of establishing this systematically to anyone's satisfaction.

But when you do come back to expand upon your point, do remember that there are two versions of the claim: on the one hand there's the sexist V.S. Naipaul version ("women writers suck, and so do all writers of color except me") and there's the subtler, but no less insistent, feminist versions: women writers have a different sensibility from male writers--they're more open to the Other, they write from a subaltern perspective etc. etc. etc. The male voice is privileged, phallogocentric, unitary; the female voice is subversive, deconstructive, multivocal etc. etc.

I do think it is an unresolved problem in feminist criticism that there is, in the end, no clear way of distinguishing between the Naipaul version of the "women writers differ from men writers" and the feminist one. After all, Naipaul can just say "I prefer all the traits you ascribe to men writers to those you ascribe to women writers" and where does that leave you? With de gustibus non est disputandem. The argument that women writers are unjustly neglected relative to male writers really has to hinge, logically, on the claim that women's writing is excellent in the same way that men's writing is excellent. Because then you can claim that the women writers have clearly "outperformed" male colleagues and are unjustly being denied the rewards that their male colleagues are receiving.
posted by yoink at 11:22 AM on March 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


This approach would be inclined to believe that the experiment above (anonymous submissions) would be inclined to fail because the editors would still privilege a male sensibility in the submissions--that they would favor "male excellence" over "female excellence.

Again, I can mostly only speak from an SF/F perspective (because that's what I know), but I've always found this discussion from 2007 about the editor of Fantasy & Science Fiction's apparent predilection for stories by men (the fiction he publishes tends to be largely written by men, and this hasn't changed much from 2007). CTRL+F for "penis stories" for the best bits:
By the descriptions you've offered, I would definitely agree that my tastes lean towards "penis stories." (I'm going to throw out your terms and just go with "boy stories" and "girl stories", because that captures the immature silliness better. People mature from being boys or girls, but most people don't get rid of their penises or their vaginas when they mature.)

While my tastes lean towards boy stories, so do the conventions of the science fiction genre. As one of your quotes says, girl stories privilege emotional logic over plot or idea logic. But science fiction is often called "the literature of ideas." By literalizing the impossible, it does things no other form of literature can do. So if a writer is going to take one of the genre's greatest strengths---its ideas---and then subvert that power, the results aren't likely to be as good as something that plays to the genre's strengths. They might be, but they aren't likely to be.

[...]

So to get back to the original point, if you want to accuse me of publishing more boy stories than girl stories, I plead guilty, no contest. And if you prefer reading girl stories---as you've said that you do---I take no offense at your saying you enjoy reading other publications more than you like F&SF. All clear. I just ask that you don't encourage people to make the jump from "Van Gelder favors 'boy stories' " to "Van Gelder never publishes 'girl stories' " or then on to "Van Gelder never publishes stories by women."
It's an interesting move, in that he defines science fiction and then good science fiction as being the sort of thing which, supposedly, women don't write--a fiction of "ideas" rather than, I don't know, characters or relationships. The argument eventually becomes "well, this just isn't good" rather than "well, this is just something different from what I like." I suspect similar redefining occurs in the literary genre as well, so that female voices often get pushed out through a dismissal of what women (supposedly) write like or about.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:32 AM on March 2, 2012


The argument that women writers are unjustly neglected relative to male writers really has to hinge, logically, on the claim that women's writing is excellent in the same way that men's writing is excellent.

I agree, but I think you need even more than that. You need to account for so many other confounders. Even if women's writing is excellent in the same way as men's, that still leaves the possibility women who could write excellent novels don't do it for any number of social reasons. And, there's the possibility that there is a smaller proportion of great woman writers in the population. Why not? It's silly to use such a tiny amount of evidence to justify such a bold causal implication.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 11:39 AM on March 2, 2012


It's an interesting move, in that he defines science fiction and then good science fiction as being the sort of thing which, supposedly, women don't write--a fiction of "ideas" rather than, I don't know, characters or relationships. The argument eventually becomes "well, this just isn't good" rather than "well, this is just something different from what I like." I suspect similar redefining occurs in the literary genre as well, so that female voices often get pushed out through a dismissal of what women (supposedly) write like or about.

Yes--but this is exactly what I'm pointing to in the V.S. Naipaul case. After all, there are lots of feminist critics of SF (and other genre fictions) who celebrate precisely the difference that he's pointing to: who will say "women SF writers eschew the boys-with-toys crap and instead focus on relationships/interiority/otherness etc. etc." A lot of the feminist criticism around Le Guin's novels, for example, hits those "this isn't what a male writer would ever write" notes again and again. And I do think the danger of that argument is that there's really no logical reason someone shouldn't turn around and say "I agree--and I happen to like boys-with-toys fiction and happen not to like the touchy-feely stuff. So by my own definition of what counts as "excellent" SF, I should expect male writers to be far more likely to be excellent than female ones."
posted by yoink at 11:46 AM on March 2, 2012


The argument that women writers are unjustly neglected relative to male writers really has to hinge, logically, on the claim that women's writing is excellent in the same way that men's writing is excellent.

I guess thinking further about it, I don't necessarily think this is the case. Personally, I feel like restrictive definitions for "excellence" are typically what keeps women's works out of culturally important review venues. Moreover, while I don't believe that, say, women are incapable of writing in what's considered a typically male mode--some women certain succeed at doing so--I still believe that there are social forces which influence both women's and men's interests. Women are socialized, from an early age, to focus on interpersonal relationships and romance, for example. These are lauded things for little girls to value, while boys are encouraged in other forms of play and discourse. And so, yes, we have more women writing romance than men (and more men writing military fiction than women). Similarly, women are encouraged socially to be nurturing and focused on children, which likely has something to do with the number of women in children's book writing versus men.

But privileging one mode over the other denies the fact that it is, in fact, just as difficult to write "women's" literature well, and there are many writers of it who craft absolutely transcendent and/or challenging prose. But if we define "works of literary merit" as something which women don't normally do (and sometimes this is as limited as favoring stories about boys and fathers over stories about girls and mothers), female writers will continue to be kept out of the canon and the discourse.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:53 AM on March 2, 2012


"I agree--and I happen to like boys-with-toys fiction and happen not to like the touchy-feely stuff. So by my own definition of what counts as "excellent" SF, I should expect male writers to be far more likely to be excellent than female ones."

The argument that "boy stuff is just better" is one that, to me, suggests the continued necessity of feminism.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:54 AM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


But privileging one mode over the other denies the fact that it is, in fact, just as difficult to write "women's" literature well, and there are many writers of it who craft absolutely transcendent and/or challenging prose.

Well and like even if 'women's literature' and 'men's literature' are entirely separate entities and bizarrely distinct, it doesn't follow that literary journals should see men's literature as normative and women's literature as other.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:56 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


The argument that "boy stuff is just better" is one that, to me, suggests the continued necessity of feminism.

But that all depends on which feminism you think is required, doesn't it? Because there's a feminism that says "it's nonsensically laughable for V.S. Naipaul to even make the claim that he can spot women's writing and men's writing at a glance" and there's a feminism that says "of course you can tell the difference between men's writing and women's writing at a glance--you just should like both of them equally." And I think it's important to recognize that these two feminisms are not easily squared with each other.

And, to be honest, the latter form of feminism usually comes across as valuing the women's perspective rather higher than the men's--it's not usually the case that you hear "phallogocentrism is a perfectly valid point of view, as is the heterologic antithesis found in women's writing." But that's a side-bar.

The real point is that the claim "boy's stuff is just better" strikes me as self-evidently wrong if the question is "do men write better than women?" Jane Austen, George Eliot, Alice Munro, Anita Desai, Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, Elizabeth Bishop etc. etc. all rise up and render the claim, to me, laughable.

But if the claim is "the kinds of things boys tend to write will, overall, appeal to me more than the kind of things women tend to write" then it's hard to see how to argue against that (any more than one could argue against the opposite claim: "I just prefer the kinds of thing women writers write about"). I mean, we don't think that there's some culpable moral failing in someone who prefers, say, crime fiction to science fiction or prefers fantasy novels to romance novels. That's just genre preferences. If it's true (and you seem to believe it is) that boys "naturally" prefer to write techy sci-fi and girls "naturally" prefer to write touchy-feely sci-fi (I'm deliberately keeping the terms fairly cartoonish here) then the only real complaint one would have against a sci-fi magazine that published more boys than girls would be that it didn't have an adequately descriptive title: i.e., it should call itself "Techy Sci-Fi" or "Space Adventure Stories" or something rather than calling itself a more misleadingly embracing "Science Fiction Magazine." Then there could be a "Touchy Feely Sci-Fi" mag published alongside it that would, presumably uncontroversially, feature more stories by women than by men. In other words, which one of these two versions of a "feminist" argument is right matters enormously in trying to decide what a "remedy" to the situation should look like. If the "Enlightenment" version is right, then a remedy will look like all of those pie charts being half-blue and half-red. If the "women write like this and men write like this" version is right, then a solution will be literary magazines largely by and for men being published alongside other literary magazines written largely by and for women.
posted by yoink at 12:14 PM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well and like even if 'women's literature' and 'men's literature' are entirely separate entities and bizarrely distinct, it doesn't follow that literary journals should see men's literature as normative and women's literature as other.

No, but nor does it follow that any one literary journal should embrace both of these "distinct" genres--if that is, indeed, what they are. We don't consider it a failing of "Science Fiction" magazine that it doesn't publish romance stories, or vice versa.
posted by yoink at 12:15 PM on March 2, 2012


That's a little question-begging, I think-- I wouldn't think that if such a distinction existed it would do so along lines that could be described as 'genre.' Unless you're talking about women-penned romance writing vs. men-penned adventure stories or something, the stuff that tends to appear in The Atlantic and The New Yorker and the rest of the publications in the FPP is of the Carver-esque 'real stories about real people' vein, which would pretty obviously be just as approachable from either side of the hypothetically divided sexual split.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:26 PM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


No, but nor does it follow that any one literary journal should embrace both of these "distinct" genres--if that is, indeed, what they are. We don't consider it a failing of "Science Fiction" magazine that it doesn't publish romance stories, or vice versa.

Except many science fiction magazines DO actively ignore books which fit every single standard criteria of science fiction because they consider these books not-sci-fi but rather romance or YA. I can't tell you how many arguments I've had, for example, about how "dystopian" YA novels aren't sci-fi. When they are. Clearly. By every sensible definition. I consider the lack of coverage of these novels to be an epic failure, honestly.

I have no problem with preferences for one or the other as issues of taste, but I hold editors to higher standards than I do most readers and expect them to see past their own biases in selecting works to publish or review in order to gain the widest audience and to cultivate fresh, diverse, and interesting voices. It seems commercially foolish to define genre or literature so reductively, as you risk losing a significant audience. I can tell you that I've all but quit reading short fiction mostly because my tastes aren't reflected in the work that's published, and I know quite a few female readers who have done the same.

If it's true (and you seem to believe it is) that boys "naturally" prefer to write techy sci-fi and girls "naturally" prefer to write touchy-feely sci-fi (I'm deliberately keeping the terms fairly cartoonish here)

I don't think nature has anything to do with it. Little boys are raised to actively disdain and reject girly stuff. I think that is more the issue here, and I don't think that starting a women's writing ghetto (as you seem to suggest, and is suggested upthread) is really the answer when the venues that get all the respect culturally are those where only men's (or mannish) writing is celebrated.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:29 PM on March 2, 2012


Bypassing the whole "just start your own literary review" (because lord knows, that's an original thought, and yet here we are, decades later, with this set of publications continuing to be the most prestigious, the sites for networking, having relatively larger readerships/potentials for changing ways of thinking about equity, excellence, etc.), and the issue of Twilight (which doesn't need any defending), here are some female authors who should be covered/published by Harper's and The Nation.
posted by kickingthecrap at 12:32 PM on March 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


starting a women's writing ghetto (as you seem to suggest, and is suggested upthread)

I'm suggesting no such thing. I'm, personally, on the "Enlightenment" side of the equation. In my perfect world, we'd see those pie charts as equally red and blue. I'm talking about the logical consequences of an argument which I think is often embraced without being fully thought-through.

the stuff that tends to appear in The Atlantic and The New Yorker and the rest of the publications in the FPP is of the Carver-esque 'real stories about real people' vein, which would pretty obviously be just as approachable from either side of the hypothetically divided sexual split.

Sure, but that's just side-stepping the question. If you start from the premise "this writing is not gender-coded" you're just assuming the "V.S. Naipaul is laughably wrong" side of the question (one which I, personally, happen to agree with). But if you assume that side of the question then, as I say, the obvious corollary is that the magazines ought (mutatis mutandis) to have roughly equal representation of genders.

We could go back up to the blind auditions for orchestras example cited above. If you believe that there's no such thing as a "women's" way or playing, say, the violin vs. a "men's" way of playing the violin, then you will assume that blind auditions will be a good way of weeding out gender prejudice in the process of recruiting players for an orchestra. If you assume, on the other hand, that "women play like this while men play like this" then you will also assume (and, as it happens, the event will prove you wrong) that a blind audition really won't make any difference to the selection process. In the former case, if your orchestra always hired men rather than women, then the selection process was clearly gender-biased. In the latter case (assuming it to actually be true for a moment) hiring only men would not, in fact, be in any simple sense a "gender bias"--it would be a bias towards a particular way of playing; which seems to me a much harder thing to complain about. We don't, for example, complain that sopranos are mostly women and basses are mostly men. If men really did play differently from women, it would be entirely reasonable to compose "men's orchestras" and "women's orchestras" in order to enjoy those different qualities of sound.
posted by yoink at 12:43 PM on March 2, 2012


it would be a bias towards a particular way of playing; which seems to me a much harder thing to complain about. We don't, for example, complain that sopranos are mostly women and basses are mostly men. If men really did play differently from women, it would be entirely reasonable to compose "men's orchestras" and "women's orchestras" in order to enjoy those different qualities of sound.

But the publications in question aren't billed as 'men's magazines' or '75% for men!' If, again, we go along with the assumption that women write differently from men, why is the New Yorker printing women 27% of the time and suggesting themselves as a general-interest (or at least not-sexually-coded-interest) magazine? My argument is that a publication which pretends toward a readership of a diversity of sexes and genders as well as a writers' stable of a diversity of same is pretty evidently showing sexual bias when their charts look like they do in the linked article, regardless of whether men's and women's writing differs in a detectable way.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:50 PM on March 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


In school, female readers quickly learn -- are taught -- that literature with male protagonists is for everyone. That's the bulk of classic lit, after all. And so girls -- lucky for us! -- develop the capacity to imaginatively travel across gender lines and place ourselves in the shoes of male protagonists. We learn to identify, in our imaginations, as male, even if only in fictionland.

Most boys never have to learn this. So they grow up into men who avoid "girl books" because they never learned how to take that imaginative leap and identify, even virtually, as a woman.

I could speculate wildly here about what an amazingly progressive political sea change would be effected (in terms of gender relations, violence, etc.) if only boys grew up reading books written from the POV of girl protagonists. But it would be mere speculation.

Instead, I'll just conclude with this: JK Rowling was damned smart to write about Harry instead of Harriet.
posted by artemisia at 1:13 PM on March 2, 2012 [9 favorites]


But the publications in question aren't billed as 'men's magazines' or '75% for men!' If, again, we go along with the assumption that women write differently from men, why is the New Yorker printing women 27% of the time and suggesting themselves as a general-interest (or at least not-sexually-coded-interest) magazine? My argument is that a publication which pretends toward a readership of a diversity of sexes and genders as well as a writers' stable of a diversity of same is pretty evidently showing sexual bias when their charts look like they do in the linked article, regardless of whether men's and women's writing differs in a detectable way.

That doesn't actually follow. Let's go, again, to the music example. Let's say I run an opera company that focuses entirely on C17th and C18th opera and I strongly believe in preserving as much as possible the original ranges of the voices. Sure, I'll hire as many countertenors as I can, but I'm going to have a distinct bias towards women in my hiring. That doesn't mean I don't fully expect to have a mixed-gender audience or that I see my institution as designed to serve women in preference to men.

The New Yorker is certainly a "general interest" magazine, but no one would say that it's short story pages are intended to provide us with an absolutely representative cross-section of all the types of fiction being written in the world. You're not going to find a lot of SF (by men or by women) in the New Yorker, you're not going to find much crime fiction etc. etc. New Yorker short stories are, as you described above, of a pretty recognizable genre. Now, you began with the claim that it's a genre that's not particularly gender-coded. I agree. But if we imagine a world in which it is strongly gender coded. If we imagine a world in which it is a type of writing that men are vastly more adept at producing than women, why is that a world in which the New Yorker has to publish a radically different style of short story?
posted by yoink at 1:19 PM on March 2, 2012


Now, you began with the claim that it's a genre that's not particularly gender-coded. I agree. But if we imagine a world in which it is strongly gender coded. If we imagine a world in which it is a type of writing that men are vastly more adept at producing than women, why is that a world in which the New Yorker has to publish a radically different style of short story?

This hypothetical is so far removed from anything that we're discussing I'm not sure what the point of it is. I don't think that a collection of Best First-Person Accounts of The NFL of 2009 needs to have a diverse cross-section of writers represented. But that isn't what we're talking about.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:23 PM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


... and to turn this noxious practice around, who are the female authors who should be covered/published by Harper's and The Nation?

wut


More clearly, perhaps--which important female writers am I missing out on when I read Harper's and The Nation?

Honest, not trolling. Instead of yet another story from Stephen Millhauser or Jess Walter, who should be in Harper's?

Ludmilla Petrushevskaya is one of my most favorite finds from Harper's and I honestly wish there were more female authors featured/covered, because I'm not that good at finding the ones I like myself, and to be honest, most of the readers and authors I know are also men. (On the other hand, the only regular Harper's reviewer I know by name is Zadie Smith ...)

On preview: thanks for the link, ktc ...

Charlie Jane Anders: The only writer on this list who could write for the fiction section of your magazine as well as turn in reviews...

More fiction writers, please? ;) I'll try "Six Months, Three Days" since it seems to be free for Kindle.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:24 PM on March 2, 2012


Most boys never have to learn this. So they grow up into men who avoid "girl books" because they never learned how to take that imaginative leap and identify, even virtually, as a woman.

This, I believe, is a true sociological fact, but it's one I've never understood. I grew up with two older sisters. Half of my favorite books growing up were "girls" books (I loved Beverly Cleary's Fifteen when I was 11 or 12, for example)--a category distinction of which I only became retrospectively aware. Perhaps that's part of why I've always been inherently unsympathetic to the notion that there is or should be a "women's writing" and a "men's writing."
posted by yoink at 1:25 PM on March 2, 2012


This hypothetical is so far removed from anything that we're discussing I'm not sure what the point of it is. I don't think that a collection of Best First-Person Accounts of The NFL of 2009 needs to have a diverse cross-section of writers represented. But that isn't what we're talking about.

You misunderstand the hypothetical. I'm not asking you to imagine a world in which the New Yorker publishes a different kind of story, I'm asking you to imagine a world in which the kind of story the New Yorker publishes is vastly more likely to be produced by men than by women.

Because, once again, the New Yorker's not a useful example if we both agree (as we appear to do) that there's nothing very strongly gender coded about the writing they publish.
posted by yoink at 1:27 PM on March 2, 2012


Perhaps that's part of why I've always been inherently unsympathetic to the notion that there is or should be a "women's writing" and a "men's writing."

You're making a mistake in thinking that people speaking in generalities about this are doing so prescriptively rather than descriptively.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:28 PM on March 2, 2012


Because, once again, the New Yorker's not a useful example if we both agree (as we appear to do) that there's nothing very strongly gender coded about the writing they publish.

Then maybe it's just me, because I was under the impression that we were discussing the topic of the linked article, 'leading literary outlets,' which include publications like The New Yorker and The Atlantic and other magazines which publish exactly the kind of story I mentioned.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:33 PM on March 2, 2012


In school, female readers quickly learn -- are taught -- that literature with male protagonists is for everyone. That's the bulk of classic lit, after all.

My experience is also ditto yoink's (i.e. Ramona, Harriet the Spy, The Westing Game (!!)) even without any sisters, but ...

Take a look at today's movies, TV shows, mainstream popular books, etc., and the main protagonists are almost always men. It is getting better, but it is still pretty overwhelming.

How many female actors aside from Meryl Streep will get leading roles where they carry the film? How many of the Academy Award Best Picture nominees had women as the main protagonists? 1/10?

The domination is overwhelming.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:34 PM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


You're making a mistake in thinking that people speaking in generalities about this are doing so prescriptively rather than descriptively.

Well, my disagreement is more profound with what you call "prescriptivists" (although "essentialists" might be a better term)--and there are definitely lots of essentialists out there (my comment wasn't particularly referring to anyone in this thread but to an argument that we all encounter frequently enough out in the world). But I also disagree with what you're calling "descriptivists." I think that a lot of the "women write like this" and "men write like this" comments tend to be rather similar in form to that famous experiment where they asked groups of people to describe a group of mixed-gender babies, dressing them sometimes in pink and sometimes in blue. I think there's a very strong admixture of projection involved.
posted by yoink at 1:37 PM on March 2, 2012


Then maybe it's just me, because I was under the impression that we were discussing the topic of the linked article, 'leading literary outlets,' which include publications like The New Yorker and The Atlantic and other magazines which publish exactly the kind of story I mentioned.

I suggest re-reading my posts; I think it's pretty clear that they relate very directly to the "topic of the linked article." If you think otherwise, then either you've badly misunderstood them or I've expressed myself very unclearly somewhere. If you find a point that needs clarification, let me know.
posted by yoink at 1:41 PM on March 2, 2012


I think there's a very strong admixture of projection involved.

I would agree, as would most women who write literary fiction but are believed to write chick-fic. However, as someone who also writes in a genre largely consumed and created by women, I think it would be laughably short-sighted to pretend that there aren't certain genres that are male- or female-dominated, for various reasons. Likewise, I think it would be short-sighted if we didn't acknowledge that male-dominated modes of writing don't get a disproportionate amount of praise, celebration, analysis, and press, regardless of other markers of quality.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:47 PM on March 2, 2012


The male voice is privileged, phallogocentric, unitary; the female voice is subversive, deconstructive, multivocal etc. etc.

I do think it is an unresolved problem in feminist criticism that there is, in the end, no clear way of distinguishing between the Naipaul version of the "women writers differ from men writers" and the feminist one.


Yeah, this argument is behind the times. L’ecriture Feminine had its day in the 80s, really. While the existence of sexism in the academy and society remains inarguable, it's not much of a serious and growing field of criticism at the moment. It's studied, but as part of the history of literary criticism; essentialism, if it ever was in style, is no longer, so I'd say that it's a stretch to say that it's an unresolved problem in feminist criticism. As far as feminism itself goes, you might be able to make that argument, though I doubt it; it was always a minority opinion.
posted by jokeefe at 4:57 PM on March 2, 2012


It's studied, but as part of the history of literary criticism; essentialism, if it ever was in style, is no longer, so I'd say that it's a stretch to say that it's an unresolved problem in feminist criticism. As far as feminism itself goes, you might be able to make that argument, though I doubt it; it was always a minority opinion.

It's true that it's no longer anyone's hot topic of conversation, but that doesn't mean the problem was resolved. It was just swept under the rug because no one could resolve it. It remains the fact that current feminist criticism continues to try to straddle this divide and continues to do so unsuccessfully.

Likewise, I think it would be short-sighted if we didn't acknowledge that male-dominated modes of writing don't get a disproportionate amount of praise, celebration, analysis, and press, regardless of other markers of quality.

Who said they don't? I get the feeling that throughout this whole discussion you and shakespeherian have been assuming I'm trying to make some kind of case for "we don't really live in a sexist world" or something. We do. Obviously. The graphs in the FPP are pretty strong evidence to that effect. My argument was about the relative usefulness of different frames of analysis we might use to account for and respond to these facts. I'm not trying to explain them away.
posted by yoink at 6:33 PM on March 2, 2012


We don't, for example, complain that sopranos are mostly women and basses are mostly men.

Doesn't this example undermine the tenor of your argument?

There are examples of distinct male and female voiced choral traditions but a choir composed of only men or only women is going to limit it's range and we certainly would find plenty to complain about a choir whose balance between higher and lower registers was off. It's certainly been my experience that amateur choirs I have sung in often struggle to maintain a reasonable gender balance in order not to sound lopsided (generally its men that are in short supply here).

We can make a similar argument that men and women's differing experiences will produce differing literatures without falling prey to essentialism, and that an imbalance of one over the other is not an adequate representation of literature or the world.
posted by tallus at 7:26 PM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


More clearly, perhaps--which important female writers am I missing out on when I read Harper's and The Nation?

I don't know, because they're not being published.

It sounds like you're saying "Well, if there are so many women writers out there, give me a list of the good ones." I hope I'm misinterpreting you.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:21 PM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Elif Shafak has a good TED talk about her experiences as a Turkish fiction author about the responses she's gotten for being female and Turkish while writing fiction, and how people have judged her.

I've never been male, I have no idea what it's like to live in a world where most of the fiction and non-fiction is produced by people of my gender. I know my brother was very shocked when he read The Dance of Intimacy because all of the pronouns were female, and I know I've gotten some negative pushback because when I use non-specific pronouns I've chosen to default to female pronouns. Ironically, I've been told several times that I should default to the male because "it doesn't really matter", however it mattered enough to the person trying to control my speech to be disconcerted and disturbed by my defaulting to female. My perspective is that if it doesn't matter, then why shouldn't I assume a generic person is female, and if it does matter, we need some balance in what pronouns we use and so this is my tiny shovel sending sand into the "female" side.
posted by Deoridhe at 5:13 PM on March 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


Coverage of female writers by speculative fiction blogs.
posted by ninebelow at 2:26 AM on March 7, 2012


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