Men promoting men promoting men…..
Posted on February 21, 2011
A couple of things caught my eye while I was busy catching up on all things Internet earlier today, in particular this piece at Suzy Feay’s Book Bag – Where are all the female reviewers (hat-tip to the F Word), and this piece by Jane Bradley at For Books’ Sake – Novel Women at the ICA.
In the first article, Suzi Feay comments on the dearth of female book reviewers, an issue that’s become the focus of much discussion following the publication of VIDA’s 2010 survey into the (under)representation of women in literary magazines. Indeed, as Feay points out: “The figures are hard to refute: a survey analysing the LRB, TLS, NYRB and newspaper books pages found startling imbalances. In some cases, 75% of the books reviewed in a publication were written by men, with a preponderance of male reviewers also.”
In the second link Jane Bradley talks about an event she attended last week at the ICA “about the dominance of male authors in the media and in major prizes, despite women authors eclipsing them in terms of writers, sales and readers.”
These two articles then reminded me of Bidisha’s recent piece – On Despair, which I’ve been meaning to plug here since I first read it a couple of weeks ago:
“at the Waterstones on New Row in Covent Garden are two tables labelled Books We Can’t Put Down. A fortnight ago one table had 42 authors, of whom 4 were women. The other had 45 authors, of whom 4 were women. There was a wall display of Philosophical Fiction featuring novels by 21 different men and 0 women. The big Waterstones on Piccadilly’s even worse.
Let’s scroll back. Since the beginning of 2008 I’ve conducted author interviews with 49 men and only 23 women. In the Evening Standard’s summer reading round-up on 2nd July David Sexton recommended 16 books by men and only 5 by women. In June, the World Literature Weekend organised by the London Review Bookshop: 26 writers, of which only 4 were women. Of those, 2 were faithful translators of men’s work and one was talking about her late, ‘great’ writer father. This year’s Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction – a genre utterly dominated by brilliant women – shortlisted two women and five men. The Dolman prize for travel writing shortlisted one woman.
I have been working for nearly twenty years and have made no difference to anything. It is difficult to describe the sheer alienation one feels to participate in – even to chair and moderate – a discussion about arts, politics, culture, the world, in which no woman or her achievements is mentioned once, by anyone, at any time. I can’t keep sitting in a studio feeding flattering questions to a guy who’s written an average book and is busy namechecking 20 other ‘great’ men, while a female producer and female PR gape like groupies and ten works of actual genius by women fester in the bin.”
Seriously, go to the link and read the whole thing; it really is an awesome piece of writing.
So anyway, there I was this morning pondering these questions of why it is that women’s writing gets so ignored by (mainly male) book reviewers, and why female writers rarely even make it onto the shortlists of the major book prizes let alone go on to win them, when up popped Robert McCrum’s latest Guardian book blog in my Google Reader – A Lesson in Teaching Writing.
And guess what? Robert McCrum isn’t a creative writing tutor, but if he was, judging by the passages he references in this piece, his major lesson would appear to be: don’t ever read books written by women!!
“If I was teaching a writing class, which mercifully I don’t have to do, here are some passages I’d refer to by way of illustrating some technical lessons.”
He then goes on to list the passages he’d refer to – 19 of them all in all. See if you can spot the women:
The first chapter of Hardy’s The Return of the Native
The opening of EM Forster’s A Passage To India
The opening chapter of Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon
The opening pages of DH Lawrence’s Women in Love
The first two pages of Hunter S Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Almost any passage from Beckett’s Waiting for Godot
Elizabeth Taylor’s Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont
Lorrie Moore’s story “Vissi D’arte”
JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye
Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener”
Act I of Macbeth
Virginia Woolf’s Orlando
Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island
Graham Greene’s “The Destructors”
Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song
Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses
Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy
Melville’s Moby Dick
Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa.
I make it three: three women writers referenced out of a grand total of 19!
Well done McCrum for proving the point a host of women writers have been trying to make, and for illustrating how literary men promoting other literary men is a significant part of the problem.
I can think of many female authors who write divine books that get slammed by review outlets, and I think much of it has to do with the fact that the reviewers are male. One friend of mine published a historical novel intended for a female audience, however, the PW reviewer was male and was a total asshat. That review is still the first thing people see on the book’s Amazon.com page.
Snap – I resorted to angry emails to the editor this morning after reviewing the last 6 months’ schedule of Andrew Marr’s “Start The Week”. Got email from – predictably – female staffer defending lineup on the basis that fewer women wrote nonficiton books than men. O RLY.
Thanks for the link, and for yet another example of the problem! Thanks for the link to the Bidisha article too – she was actually in the audience at the Novel Women event so it’s clearly an issue perplexing a few people of late…
Thanks for the statistics. If we had a statistical year end breakdown for every male author, female author in a newspaper… every story with female experts quoted vs. male experts quoted, total stories about men vs. women, total number of movie characters for the year –male and female etc. we’d have the real story.
It is a deliberate attempt by the boys club to shut women out, and the only way women can start to combat this, is to stop supporting male books… and for women worldwide, to buy review etc. No more male books at Oprah book club, no more male books in classes women teach… a boycotte! Intellectual boycott, with only women’s view used as an example of literature, non-fiction etc. Men refer men, so I would suggest women start referring women.
So true, and so unfortunately true in most other areas of life. I don’t know what we do to change it, but it’s really bugging me.
I went to quite a big political-lefty book event recently – probably 100 people in the room, with a fair few ‘name’ lefty bloggers and writers – and I think about five of us were women. Ten at the most, although I don’t think I counted quite that many.
It was hardly the fault of the organisers and I certainly don’t want to be pointing fingers in that direction, because the invites went out to many, but it did get me thinking again – why aren’t women turning up in politics? I think the ‘women referring women’ idea is a very good one, but I also think we need to step on men again to refer to us as well. I’m also quite interested to know – is it that men genuinely feel uncomfortable with women in the picture? I want to know.
There are four female comments on this article and only one from a man ..me!
Its typical how groups stick to their own type. Now I hardy ever read fiction. I’m into historical biographies .. usually men because they are the ones that have been mostly written about! Sometimes women, ‘Sylvia Queen of the HeadHunters’ was a good one. And now I’m reading ‘Shakespear’s Wife’ by GG.
For a long time now I have chosen the books I read by the author, I only very rarely read anything written by male authors (I think the last one being the Stieg Larson trilogy in 2009).
This is me positively supporting women, my own personal positive action strategy – and yet when I commend this approach to other women I get condemned and criticised.
Again I propose that women support women in their endeavours, its not going to solve the whole problem, but it is a step in the right direction.
And Mr. Divine (an oxymoron of a name) I really don’t care what you are reading.
I’m also reading the comments that people post on blogs. I think it is sexist to choose a book on the basis of the gender of an author. You are guilty of sexual discrimination. I choose a book on whether I want to read the subject of the book. I don’t care who has written it because I don’t discriminate on the basis of sex.
And are you sure you understand the meaning of oxymoron?
So are you saying Mr D, that the huge majority of people who write books are male?
If not, don’t you think there could be some sexism at play in Waterstone’s choice of books to promote?
Saying that promoting women over men is “sexist” “discriminatory” or “unfair” is like saying that donating money to poor people unfairly discriminates against the rich.
We already have a system of tranferring money from the poor to the rich: it’s called the City of London. And we already have a system of privileging men’s contributions over those of women: it’s called the patriarchy. A teeny tiny correction here and there is to sexism as sweeping the floor is to a desert sand storm.
I unashamedly try to include a larger number of female authors than male in my reading, and I pause and have a think before giving examples from prominent thinkers, scientists, writers, statespeople and so on in, conversation or in writing, and whenver possible I give a woman as an example over a man. It’s a tiny drop in the ocean, but it’s something anyone can do.
a bit of self promotion but we’ll be discussing this issue of absence of women in popular culture at the Where are the Women event at the Bristol Watershed on the 6th March.
Bidisha is one of our speakers.
The thing that has really been getting my goat was the absence of women on Faulkes on Fiction. I saw the 1st episode and no women authors were discussed. At all. Apparently women can’t write heroic characters? and the only woman hero was Becky Sharp, so whilst men could be heroic by being rebels, rogues, philosophers, dreamers etc, women could only be heroes by being cunning, conniving and potential murderers. Becky Sharp is a fascinating character, don’t get me wrong. but where was Orlando? Where was Offred? Where was Dorothea Casaubon? Jane Eyre? Dona St Columb?
As my friend Debi once said ‘bored of male culture’
@polly; I’m not sure whether it is men or women who write the majority of books. I hardly pay attention to the name of the author never mind their sex. Like I said I don’t discriminate according to the sex of the author; seems pointless. I’m just interested in biographies, the majority of which I think are of men. I’m mostly interested in 18/19 century travel/explorer people because of the ‘alternative’ lifestyle in comparison to today. Have you read a biography of Bartholew Roberts? He was a pirate in the 1730s. One group of about 90 pirates landed in northern Scotland in the 1730s and boozed their way down to Edinburgh. Pirate life was so interesting; they drank punch and swore all the time … really. Imagine that! They could earn in one capture all the money they could in a lifetime of normal service. But the risks.
And fiction work. I used to think they were pretty good until I got into biographies; now I never bother with fiction.. they’re sort of empty in comparison. But I did enjoy Doris Lessing and Zadie Smith’s stuff.
Have I answered your question? What do you read? Can you recommend a biography of an interesting woman? I read quite a few on Chinese women.
@Mr Divine: Here’s some biographies of fascinating women that you might be interested in: http://forbookssake.net/tag/grrl-power/
I think it’s probably true that men and women, on average, have differing tastes in books, (The Sigma, Alpha, Omega Conspiracy of Doom and Explosions vs Lady in Beekeeper Hat Does Not a Lot in a Very Meaningful Way) .
On the whole though talent will out, the most successful author of the last decade is a woman for instance. Also, most people find new authors by recommendation from / being lent / presents from friends, so support the authors you like, (whatever their sex), by doing this.
A biography of an interesting woman? Well I found Andrew Wilson’s biography of Patricia Highsmith “Beautiful shadow” fascinating.
I agree I wouldn’t read a book just because it’s written by a woman. But I don’t see how a list of great writers could exclude Muriel Spark or Margaret Atwood. And the catcher in the Rye surely has to be one of the most overrated books ever.
Not that I’ve read it, I gave up after the first chapter. Ditto anything by Thomas Hardy. Don’t get me started on DH Lawrence.
Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work: there is now no smooth road into the future: but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles. We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.
Whoops, sorry Polly.
@ Polly: DH Lawrence .. yuck. Hardy is pretty good ; his descriptions are super. Have you read Mervyn Peake? Try ‘Mr. Pie’ for starters. Paul Theroux is also good at times ( ‘Milroy the Magician’ is very funny).
My all time favourite work of fiction has to be “cold comfort farm”. After which you will never be able to read DH Lawrence again without laughing even if you could before. Hilarious. Not necessarily great writing, or PC, but hilarious.
Never read Mervyn Peake I must say. I do prefer funny books, or at least serious novels with some humour. Atwood and Spark both fall into that category. Taking yourself too seriously is a prime novelistic sin, of which Lawrence was an exemplar. You always feel like telling his characters to cheer up.
Atwood’s “the edible woman” is another must read. Very funny, very clever.
Thanks for the suggestions polly. Look them up.
You’re a long way from London, but where exactly? Lancashire, Midland, Yorkshire etc. I sort of adjust my wavelengths to places.
You know I’m in the Riverina, NSW. I’m manic at the moment (I’m bi-polar ‘aware’): painting the house (it’s big) fast , drinking loads of coffee (speedy!), WedFri/Sat alco (maybe some blow at times), bloggin .. am I allowed to say this?… flirting with you polly! I reckon we could make a million! The blog flirt of all time!
A Jock, 50 year old married man, seduces radical feminist on ‘Ultra-Feminist Blog Site’.
Read all about it.
Mr Divine. That’s the second time you’ve come on to this blog and sought out personal information about female posters.
Don’t bother trying to comment here again, because your comments will not get through. You’re banned.
I didn’t know it was a rule. i’d like to apologise and I wont ask again.
I realise I’m a different style of blogger than you usually get. Are you not open minded? I am also recovering from a skint in a mental ward as you are aware. Really it appears to me that this may be the reason why I’m banned.
I’m very open minded, and this has nothing to do with you being in recovery from a stint in a mental health ward, it’s to do with wanting people to feel they can post here freely without being asked intrusive questions about their whereabouts and so on.
Anyway, as you’ve apologised and said you won’t do it again I’ve unbanned you.
I realise I’m a different style of blogger than you usually get. Are you not open minded?
Mr. Divine, you came onto a post about men promoting the writing of other men, and in your comment from February 23, 2011 at 1:49 am did exactly that.
I hate to burst your bubble, but you’re exactly like other mansplaining JAQers who comment on feminist blogs.
Thank you Cath for unbanning me. I appreciate your kindness. I will not ask for any personal information again.
@MarinaS; you’re absolutely right. I feel such an idiot at times. This is definitely not the place to promote myself. Whatever was I thinking? Maybe I wasn’t as usual. In effect I was not promoting but crucifying myself.
Why Cath why?
Surely the anti-feminist perspective should have been enough to consign him to oblivion? Or the spamming of threads? The baiting?
His first comment, on a topic addressing male discrimination against female authors is:
I think it is sexist to choose a book on the basis of the gender of an author. You are guilty of sexual discrimination.
Typical MRA shite.
Have you noticed that the comments females are less? Particularly after he runs riot over a thread.
In a job interview a man is chosen purely on the basis of his gender over a more qualified woman. This is a form of discriminating against someone on the basis of their sex. Is it not? It is sexual discrimination.
If you’re in a book shop and choose a book on the basis of an author’s gender then this is also a form of sexual discrimination. Another book may be more qualified to met your needs but you have rejected it because it is written by someone you consider to be of a less worthy gender. You are deciding on something on the basis of gender: it is sexual discrimination.
This was in response to Msvirago who wrote
‘For a long time now I have chosen the books I read by the author, I only very rarely read anything written by male authors… yet when I commend this approach to other women I get condemned and criticised.’
So when FabL says this is typical of MRA shite it is important to note that women have condemned and criticised this form of discrimination. It isn’t just a male perspective.
Because I really struggle with this FAB Libber. I hate banning people.
But trust me, I’m monitoring the situation closely.
He can’t help himself (see above, yet again), so just a matter of time…
FabL: You could be right, it might just be a matter of time. I’ve been banned from a number of blogs. I’ve noticed that British bloggers are a lot more tolerant than those of other countries especially the US who pull the trigger if there is the slightest deviation to ‘what should be’.
I was surprised that Cath banned me so quickly as I didn’t have the usual warning, and I’ve read a lot Cath’s articles in the Guardian which indicated to me that she was much more open minded than the norm. The pit bull story being a classic example … I too lived in Deptford at one time! Hence I wasn’t surprised that she resurrected me after my crucifixion.
I’ve been bloggin on Laurie Penny’s sites for over a year without the slightest hint of a ban but she’s a very open minded person. And being an Oxford Uni graduate used to a high level of semantic scrutiny which can annoy the hell out of people who have fixed narrow views of the world and stick by them hell or high water: the ability to change your mind is in my opinion a great attribute not attributable to those whose pride blanks out the truth.
And the ability to allow someone to speak even if they oppose what you stand for is also a great attribute.
Ms Penny is 24, which says it all.
Are you saying that Laurie is stupid because she is young?
No, we’re saying, and I’m really trying to be as nice as possible about this, PLEASE SHUT UP. This is a thread on a blog post about women’s literary strengths and the challenges they face in unresponsive media; not about who you are, what your heath status is, what you think about the books of 19th centruy men, which blogs you like to comment on, and what you think of Cath’s banning/unbanning decisions.
Your flood of contributions have comepletely highjacked what might have been an interesting conversation for women to have about other women – and instead it now all about men, and specifically, one man -you. That’s not what this blog is here for.
If you want to show that you have understood what I’m saying, do not apologise; do not explain; in fact do not respond in any written form whatsoever. Just please, keep quiet and let anyone still not exhausted by you derailing the conversation have a chat abut women writers.
To which end: I’ve been compiling a list of interesting non fiction books by women as part of my correspondence with the Andrew Marr show on Radio 4. Anyone got any good ideas/suggestons/knows someone who’s got a book coming out soon?
Agnes Smedley – ‘Battle Hymn of China’. Later republished under the title ‘China Correspondent’.
I read it years ago, in fact I think I was a teenager, and it made a huge impression on me. It’s one I keep meaning to re-read, along with her autobiographical novel ‘Daughter of the Earth’.
MarinaS – anything by Alison Weir, she’s a historian who writes fascinating books about the tudors and plantagenents (sp?) that read like you are right there in the thick of the action, bringing the people to life right in front of you, whilst always being immaculately researched.
then of course there are all my favourite feminist books, living dolls, female chauvinist pigs, reclaiming the f word, the equality illusion.
i have loads more on the tip of my tongue but have gone blank, will have a think x
Sorry I should have been more specific: STW is a show for writers to discuss books that have been recently published or are about to be published, so all the classics are out (unless someone’s doing an annotated re-translation or something like that). 🙂
“Are you saying that Laurie is stupid because she is young?”
Straw men are a fire hazard.
Must try harder.
No one has said Laurie Penny is stupid, indeed she’s on Cath’s blogroll. How she runs her blog is up to her.
Women writers are at a disadvantage because educated women with leisure are a relatively recent development, meaning we don’t have many ahead of us to help us along. Men have proteges, mostly men, and they also have the teaching jobs and editorial positions. This is changing, but not nearly fast enough. Read Francine Prose’s piece from the late ’90s, “Scent of a Woman’s Ink”—that says it all.
And if you look at the NEA’s survey of artists from a few years ago, you’ll see that women artists are a minority within the minority of Americans who say they are artists. They make less money, they win fewer fellowships, they get less training, they have fewer colleagues. In the literary world, this translates to less access to the influential people, often men, who can advocate for their work and get them published and, especially, marketed.
The published get the teaching jobs, and the published are mostly men. In addition, the segregation of the arts is not only by gender, but even more harshly by age. Although women over thirty read, and buy, most of the literary fiction published, women over thirty see vanishingly few debut novels or story collections into print.