Women In Literature

For anyone that doubts the lesser status of women in the highest echelons of English speaking literature, here’s a great article from last week to get a good reality check, courtesy of the NY Times. Today, ten years into the 21st Century, two of the most prestigious literary clubs in London and New York, are still debating if women should be freely allowed to join or not.

These are the clubs that hosted H. G. Wells, Dickens and William Thackeray, amongst others. That this issue is still up for debate and that there are men who oppose it, says enough about the networking opportunities they would like to afford their female peers and the intellectual respect they have for them. Not to mention the most glaring fact: their views on gender equality.

Today I came across the cold, hard figures that illustrate the real state of gender equality in literature. Vida, a Non Profit devoted to exploring critical and cultural perceptions of writing by women released The Count 2010, that is, the number of women vs. men in all major literary magazines and journals.

Some of the figures (although, the article at Vida is much more explanatory, as it includes the graphics that go with this data):

  • The New York Review of Books has 462 male bylines to 79 female, about a 6-to-1 ratio.
  • The New Republic has 32 women vs 160 men.
  • The Atlantic published 154 male authors vs 55 women.
  • The New Yorker reviewed 36 books by men and 9 by women.
  • Harper’s reviewed more than twice as many books by men as by women.
  • The New York Times Book Review had 1.5 men to 1 woman (438 compared to 295) and an authors-reviewed ratio of 1.9 to 1 (524 compared to 283).

I am convinced that last week’s story about women writers not allowed into men’s clubs and the publishing figures compiled by Vida are strongly interrelated. It’s a matter of both physical and printed spaces being kept restricted. As long as women’s voices are considered less than, I guess we will continue seeing gender issues downplayed in media. And we know who has the most to lose then.

Editor’s note – RedLightPolitics, international treasure, generously allows us to republish articles from her blog.  This piece is a mash-up of a two-part article she ran last week.  Read part one and part two in their original context.

8 replies on “Women In Literature”

I saw this as I’m in the middle of a Margaret Atwood novel, which has some of the most emotionally and politically stimulating prose I’ve ever encountered, and I have no idea how to go about believing that the world ignores female writers to such a large extent.

The only thing that surprises me about this depressing-as-hell-but-not-at-all-shocking article is that there is a group “devoted to exploring critical and cultural perceptions of writing by women.” That’s pretty awesome. I wonder if they do any work with the Guerilla Girls.

This is amazing to me, much like it was amazing to me that in my adult life time females are still being recognized to be “the first” in so many areas. It’s kind of crazy. And disturbing.

-Audrey, I don’t think you’ve betrayed our gender. I think you’ve just been living the exact same point made here. And you’ve made it work for you, which is the sometimes the name of the game. The question is, can you, at some point, reveal your gender and prove a point in a meaningful way? That’d be fantastic.

Would it trouble people to learn that I publish under a male pseudonym? I learned in college that my poems and short stories were far more likely to be accepted if I used a masculine pronoun, and I’ve cultivated this alter ego ever since. I worry that this makes me complicit in the numbers above, and even though I intend one day–once my adopted name is more known than it currently is–to out myself, I still feel as though I’ve betrayed my gender.

Ah. Yes. “James’s” story, when I first read it, sent me spinning into a bit of an existential crisis. My situation is slightly different, as my writing tends toward short stories / poetry and magazine articles, not copywriting for clients, but her experience was / is to similar to mine to ignore, and the responses of her critics and defenders alike uncomfortably applicable.

What did you think about the “James” story?

When she went public, I was self-employed as a freelance copyeditor/proofreader, and honestly, my first emotion was, “Damn! Why didn’t I think of that?” I don’t blame her–or you–a bit. It sucks that that’s what you have to do, but it’s understandable. I hope that James will get more press and help people realize how unfair the world still is, but I don’t have a lot of hope for that, given that a shocking number of our own government representatives are still trying to do things like change the legal term for rape victims to “accusers.” :sigh

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