Friday, November 13, 2009

women never write anything important or spectacular anyway

As you may or may not have heard, PW announced their best books of 2009 last week. All 10 of the 10 books were by men. I noticed it as soon as I started to read the list, and it made me cry a little in fury.

Let me be clear. I'm not saying the books that were selected didn't deserve to be, or that books by men aren't awesome. Some of my favorite writers are men (to borrow a famous cliche). And everyone knows about my secret boyfriend and our wildly passionate (if perhaps slightly one-sided) literary affair. But if NO BOOKS by women are making best-of round ups, this means two things:

1) Not enough books by women are being published relative to the total number being published
2) The books by women that are published are getting less marketing money relative to their counterparts by men, and are therefore catching fewer people's eyes

You can make whatever argument you want about gender blindness and pure merit. If you want (and you don't mind getting eviscerated by me and probably other people on this blog) you can even claim that women just don't write as well or importantly. But it is simply not true that there is not a publicity/sales/awards achievement gap due to allocation of marketing money. So... a little affirmative action is in order--and yes I mean this in all the traditional ways (there's another post to be made about authors of color here, but I'll save it for now).

I thought I was only outraged by this because I'm hypersensitive to the very specific issue of acquisition and marketing diversity in publishing, and although I get desperately upset about stuff like this, I thought I'd be the only one. Well, I was wrong. Twitter has been aflurry. Among the many bloggers and organizations who've made their points on this, SheWrites declared a day of action that got lots of individuals thinking and talking.

In the long run, no one has benefited from this list, not even the men who were selected. Their status will forever be tainted by "the year that thing happened with all those angry bloggers."

The Undomestic Goddess issued her challenge for us to protest by going out and drawing up our own list of books we think should have been contenders. So here's my list.

As everyone already knows, we make a goal of buying as many books as holiday gifts (and other gifts) as possible. So if you're feeling feisty (or just looking for a great read), maybe consider some of these overlooked books of 2009 by female writers.* (Also, consider this your official challenge to go make your own list.)

Carleen Brice/Children of the Waters--A story of half sisters thrown together in adulthood by circumstance, and who against all odds find friendship. I love that Brice creates conflicts and relationships so attentive to real, tiny life details.

Rachel DeWoskin/Repeat After Me--A twentysomething American girl with a complicated mental health history falls in love with a Chinese student who turns out to have an equally complicated psychology and relationship to his home country. I discovered DeWoskin when I read and loved her memoir, Foreign Babes in Beijing, and impossible although I would have thought it, I think I loved Repeat After Me even more.

Emily St. John Mandel/Last Night in Montreal--Lilia Albert is an enigma; when she abandons her boyfriend Eli and Brooklyn life without warning one morning, Eli isn't the only one obsessed with finding her and figuring out what happened. I love that Mandel is so ambitious with her characters, and that she's not afraid of real adventure in her plot.

Marie Mutsuki Mockett/Picking Bones from Ash--A fatherless girl being raised by her mother in rural Japan becomes a gifted pianist, and must discover whether piano is her true calling. Her decisions will have repercussions over more than twenty years, as her motherless daughter struggles to come to terms with her own talent. This book kicks some serious butt; I first met Marie, the author, when her book was on submission, and it has been so exciting to see attention snowball ever since.

Kate Walbert/A Short History of Women--a glancing but kaleidoscopic story of five generations of one family's women, from the 1890s to the 2000s, and the very different ways each generation fights in the name of feminism. I loved the many points Walbert makes so obliquely through a cast of deft and varied characters.

Sarah Waters/The Little Stranger--a bachelor country doctor in rural England takes up the role of family doctor to the once-wealthy but now deteriorating Ayres family. As he gets to know them, the secrets of their seemingly haunted house become darker and darker. I love Sarah Waters; she's an absolute wonder of psychological messing with you.

Hope you'll make a list, and leave me a link to it.

*I limited myself to adult literary fiction and nonfiction published for the first time in 2009, like the PW list. And actually, it appears I didn't even read any nonfiction that qualified. Sorry that there's not a lot of genre diversity.


Ann Victor said...
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Ann Victor said...

Moonrat, as always, I love your passion.

But I worry sometimes that the drive of feminism (and any other -ism you can think of) to overthrow any perceived oppressions can cause more damage than has already been done to the collective psyche, in this case, by patriarchy. What we must never forget is that patriarchy did as much damage to the male psyche as it did to the female psyche.

Gordon Allport in his marvellous book "The Nature of Prejudice" states that the victims of prejudice tend to fall into two categories: they become oppressors themselves, or they become fighters for the oppressed.

I worry so that in our passion to right the wrongs of the past we can become dangerously blind to our own capacity for oppression. The tyranny of the newly freed victims of prejudice can be as painful and dangerous as the tyranny of past oppressors.

Surely healing our collective wounds from the past is more important than proving others wrong by superimposing one gender loaded list for another?

A controversial view, I know, but I hope one that is not unsympathetic to your passion. You've listed some great books, and I've added them to my already too-long list of books to buy in the future.

Kiersten White said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kiersten White said...

See, and I just deleted a comment because I worry about any negative effects things I say might have on my career.


I'm fortunate in that my genre (YA Paranormal) is pretty heavily dominated by women, so my gender was never an issue.

Still, I don't think that calling attention to stuff like this is ever wrong. Unconscious or not, it still happened, and that shouldn't be ignored.

Christy Pinheiro, EA ABA said...

Well, one of the winners was a graphic novel, which is a genre dominated by men just like romance is dominated by women.

Maybe women should stop writing so much romance and YA-- they don't seem to win many awards, at least this year. I write books on income taxation, and guess what-- buyers who contact me ALWAYS assume I'm a man. ALWAYS. Even the women do. Actually, the women usually assume I'm a man more often.

I always assume that romance authors are women. Even though I know that there are male romance authors.

The stereotypes in this business run pretty deep-- I have to admit that I've been guilty of them myself.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Hm. My TBR pile is full of YA and MG. Don't think I can add to your list within the confines of adult anything. The only adult book in my desk TBR stack is Freudian Slip by Erica Orloff.

Of the 8 books on my desk:
1 has been read (MG, female author)
2 are adult (1 female, 1 male)
5 are YA (3 female, 1 male - 2 books are by Esther Friesner)

It looks like I lean more towards women authors. However, my list of favorite SF authors is about 50/50.

Are there more female authors for MG and YA and more male authors for adult?

Anne said...

i think this is great, moonrat. and while a part of me agrees with other people's concerns about the one-sidedness of your argument (or any feminist argument, for that matter), i happen to be a firm believer in saying what you have to say in the moment. ranting is the only way to make it clear how something makes you feel. and if the PW book list made you feel this passionately, the world should know!

i only wish i could write my own list, but sadly i've spent the year catching up on books ranging from 1956-2005. many of them by women, though, and many of them fabulous.

M. said...

Have you read How to Suppress Women's Writing by Joanna Russ? It's a great rundown of all the various ways in which works by women have traditionally been marginalized and denied critical vindication.

Other Lisa said...

While I agree that patriarchy has damaged men as well, it is still a system that supports and promotes male power. And people in power generally do not willingly give it up.

So, I think it's essential that issues like this be addressed, and yeah, I think it's outrageous as well -- especially considering that women read far more fiction than men do.

Natasha Fondren said...

It is clear that something is up. Even Oprah has selected a majority of men in the last six or seven years. In fact, she hasn't selected a single woman since 2005--five years ago!

And that's Oprah.

I don't know what, how, or why this is, but it's far beyond coincidence.

Natasha Fondren said...

(Here are the numbers, in case you're interested: O O Oprah Redux.)

moonrat said...

Ann--thank you for your sensitive contrarianism. I agree that men suffer very much from our patriarchical system, if in different ways. I don't have room to fry all my fish in this one kettle, but as I mentioned in the post, I do feel really bad for the guys who were chosen in the PW Best Of list this year--their win, which I'm sure they each deserved, has been irreparably tainted simply by the company they were put in.

Randy Susan Meyers said...

I've begun tracking women vs men reviewed in the NYT Book Review. Not pretty.

moonrat said...

Randy--oo, that's VERY interesting. Do you have a post somewhere of data? If you have one now or ever make one in the future, please be sure to draw my attention to it.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Moonie, I don't know if you've seen my Win a Book blog. I post links to a lot of giveaways -- many of them sponsored by publishers. And now that I think about it, you're right.

The contests from the publisher (giving five copies of this, that, or the other book -- and increasingly, these gives feature books by best-selling authors) do tend to favor the men.

Interestingly, it seems to be the lesser-known women hustling to set up their own blog tours and gives.

I'd love to be in touch with more of the women writers. Not just because they're underrepresented, but because part of my goal with Win a Book is to help bring the debut, mid-list, and emerging authors to the forefront.

Besides, these do-it-yourselfers tend to be more involved with their readers, even if it's only to write a guest blog, or to drop into a give to say thanks for the interest.

As a reader, I prefer that human touch.

moonrat said...

Susan--if you make a 2009 list, I'll go buy some ;)

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

WAY to throw down the gauntlet, Moonie! I'm on it; I'll be back with the link.

WendyCinNYC said...

Ooh, I love the idea of making a list. Let me give that some thought. I read a ton of fiction by women authors, so it's going to be difficult to choose.

I'm reading PICKING BONES FROM ASH right now and loving it--there are so many passages I read several times over to savor a while before I move on.

Carleen Brice said...

Oh Moonie! Thanks so much!!! Check out my blog Tuesday. Launching the big holiday month, and will be suggesting many good books to buy!

The Rejectionist said...

Wishing publishing reflected the actual diversity of the world we live in isn't being "hypersensitive," it's being RIGHT. Part of why we love this blog is because it makes us feel a little less crazy and a little less alone.

Your secret boyfriend hugged us one time after we introduced him at a reading. Oh yeah, and told us we were "wonderful." Maybe you should've gone into the bookselling end of the business. Hee hee.

Ink said...

Le R.,

Wasn't he scared of the skull mask?

Malanie Wolfe said...

Moon -

I have been following your blog almost nine months now. And I have taken several issues you have spoken about (the lack of character diversity, the weak females, etc...) into consideration and now I have one kick ass college girl determined to finish her education despite the danger to her life, a diverse cast and a forbidden love where the male has to make the sacrifice!

And at the end of the series the career she chooses... Librarian!Ha!Who would have thought?

I feel just as strong about these issues and I am glad you’re bringing these things to light for writers like myself to consider when writing.


Emily Cross said...

Great Post!! didn't PW do an anthology of fiction and didn't include any women writers as well?

Maybe a campaign should be started - women buy women!!

Theres a very interesting article in the guardian about women's fiction being looked down upon and how although women buy the most books - this isn't reflected in the publishing world.

Charles Gramlich said...

So unfortunate that more care and consideration didn't go into the creation of that list.

Kate said...

Thanks for this post, Moonie. I am also, to put it mildly, passionate about women's equality.

Ann Victor's comment put feminism in terms of overthrowing oppression. In my opinion and experience, the struggle of modern American feminism is to learn to exploit the freedoms we already have.

An example: When I was growing up, my mother was often frustrated that her pay was minimal and she was never given raises. She thought it was unladylike and ungrateful to ask for more for money. She really believed that her employers would just give her raises when she deserved them. Naturally, her employers never saw any need to give her more money. They assumed she was perfectly happy at the wage she was at (and that it was all she deserved, since she was the secondary wage-earner in the house.)

The sad thing is that when I talk to my girlfriends in corporate America today, most of them have never negotiated their salaries - they have always just accepted what they were offered. They believed to do otherwise would make them seem greedy and hurt their career prospects. Meanwhile their employers have put them in the category of "non-ambitious, no need to give raises, promote, etc."

Susan Gottfried mentioned that more women are DIY publicists and marketers. I have to wonder if publishers don't invest in them simply because they see that they don't have to?

Breaking these self-perpetuating cycles is the task of modern American feminism. Recognizing inequalities is a critical part of this task.

Kristi said...

Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I don't agree with a few comments that bringing attention to such issues causes more damage - awareness that a problem exists is the first step toward solving it. I would definitely classify myself as a feminist and agree that lists like the PW one reflect attitudes that don't well serve men either. I've read a ton of amazing books this year by female authors and they deserve more recognition than they've gotten.

As for the comment that maybe women shouldn't write so much YA, well that right there is an example of how women themselves play into the stereotypes. Books written for and about adolescents shouldn't be any less valid than those about taxes.

stacy said...

You know, I recently saw a photo of your secret boyfriend and I can now see why he's your secret boyfriend.

I think you're right about the list.

Sarah Laurenson said...

My wife reads adult books and she loved The Help by Kathryn Stockett. She always reminded me that Margaret Atwood's The Year of The Flood came out this year.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Kate - you are so right in some ways. If you don't negotiate your salary and take the risks to get ahead, you generally don't. Companies will only pay you as much as they need to in order to keep you.

The part I don't agree with is that this is limited to women. I know a lot of men in this position. Although, culturally, in the US, women are not taught to take risks.

Matilda McCloud said...

All 10 of the nonfiction books they picked were written by men, but at least half of novels on the PW list were written by women (Gillian Flynn, Jane Gardam, Zoe Heller, Jayne Anne Phillips etc)--unless I'm totally missing something...

WendyCinNYC said...

My list of favorites is up!

Nora Lumiere said...

I recently abandoned two books. The first was by a woman (too many descriptions of clothes on characters I didn't care about), the second was by a man (his hero was so boringly self-absorbed I wanted to kill him).
This tells me both genders can write crap books and both can write awe-inspiring books. The Nobel prize this year was won by a woman.
One of the top selling authors is Dan Brown and one is JK Rowling.
Most readers are women and most women readers read women authors.
The all-male list is just PW's opinion.
And this is just mine.

Dreamstate said...

Great post, but very sad that it had to be posted.

I urge you all to check out -- a fantastic magazine designed for female writers. It's a British site, but they offer electronic subscriptions. Here's their blurb:

More than just a magazine
We are a vibrant, ambitious and growing organisation, commissioning work by prominent authors as well as talented newcomers. We aim to provide a high-profile platform for new and established voices with every copy of the magazine. Since the magazine was launched in 1999, Mslexia has become the magazine for women writers to submit to. If you want to take your writing more seriously - or have some serious fun with your creativity - subscribe to Mslexia.

Why 'Mslexia'?
Mslexia means women’s writing (ms = woman lexia = words). Its association with dyslexia is intentional. Dyslexia is a difficulty, more prevalent in men, with reading and spelling; Mslexia was created to address a difficulty, more prevalent in women, with getting into print.

Here's to the day when we no longer have to have this discussion.

moonrat said...

Rejectionist--you know, I really like you. I didn't want to have to kill you. But I may not be able to live with my jealousy (sob).

Emily St. John Mandel said...

Thank you for including Last Night in Montreal in your list. I'm honored by the inclusion and by the company you've placed me in, and I'm glad you liked the book!

Sarita said...

I've started on my list. I'll finish it up soon.

I actually haven't been reading many newly published books this year (too busy reading text books...) so I'm making a list of my overall favorites. And you know what? It's tough!!!

Emily Cross said...

Kate - this is what they call the 'double bind'. From the social status POV, there are two things that occur that cause the 'glass ceiling' - especially in maledominated or masculine viewed jobs.

1. when a women applies for a leadership role, descriptive gender stereotypes (basically how each gender is 'likely' to behave) come into play. Women are expected not to be good leaders because they are viewed as 'communal' (i.e. caring) rather than 'agentic' (i.e. dominant) so this prejudice exists before a woman even becomes a leader orgets the job.

2. when a woman becomes a leader, prescriptive stereotypes exists (i.e. how each gender 'should' behave). Basically women leaders who conform to their gender role (be communal) will produce failure to meet the requirements of leader role (be agentic) and women who conform to the leader role will produce failure to meet their gender role, resulting in less favourable attitudes toward female leaders (e.g. iron maiden, bitch, battle axe) and more obstacles in obtaining and maintaining future success in leadership roles.

So basically for women leaders in male dominated/masculine jobs they need to find a balance - be able to portray communal qualities but also be a leader. Some studies have found that if people are presented with equal information about two successful female managers - those who were mothers, did charity work in own time or should a 'caring' quality are judged more positively!

Alice Eagly and Madeline Heilman basically developed this field, so if you want to read more i'd highly recommend them,

sorry for the long post lol

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Kate, I think it's that women see that they have two choices: do it themselves 'cause no one else will, or choose a new career. The authors who have great publisher support or a great readership seem less likely (in my experience at Win a Book) to go make the rounds and reach out to readers.

Then again, they don't need to. However, neither does James Patterson and I post links to hundreds -- literally -- of his books being given away. It's actually sort of sad. If publishers would pour some of that publicity money into mid-list and emerging authors (regardless of gender, but that's also assuming parity would ensue), we'd probably have more authors who are turning a profit for their publishers.

pacatrue said...

Emily's comment was very interesting in many ways, but one is because these stereotypes of genders comes back the other way. Meaning, periodically you hear that the world would all be better if women were in charge precisely because they are communal while men are combative. Both arguments rest on stereotypes of women and men.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

It was funny because when I first heard this kerfuffle begin, I was like WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT, YOU INSANE PEOPLE -- because my novel (in a most surreal way) had gotten onto the PW's top list for '09 . . . for YA. Which of course is dominated by women. I would never say that list was gender-biased, however, because I've read a ton of YA and I can say with utmost confidence that, percentage wise, the number of women writing YA versus men was reflected in the proportions in the list. (Is that grammatically correct? it's late, I'm NaNo'ing, I don't care).

But for there to be 10 out of 10 men in the overall fiction list just seems . . . absurd to me. Like the numbers can't possibly add up. Like . . . what are they smoking? Like we can't write the serious stuff, but at least we can write us some YA?

And that said, this: "I love Sarah Waters; she's an absolute wonder of psychological messing with you." made me go and buy this book online this second.

Ben-M said...

My first thought on seeing their list was that this year's Nobel and Man Booker prizes were awarded to female authors.

Okay, so maybe Müller's is more a lifetime achievement award, but there are clearly monumental works being published by female authors.

Still, I am a little confused: Is PW mainly targeting the US market, and recommending US authors? I couldn't see what their criteria was, but it didn't seem to be sales (they were talking about reviewers?).

So if we're reading a list of books selected subjectively based on criteria we don't know, do we want to call foul and point at a lack of female authors? Is a list of 10 books really a large enough selection to guarantee inclusion regardless of their reading criteria?

Do we really want to push towards a politically correct review/recommendation/publishing culture where male & female, ethnic origin and pretty much every other demographic gets its fair representation in every shopping list?

Or can we take a deep breath, call art art, nod maturely and just say Hey, interesting selection, but I beg to differ...

stacy said...

I think those that are getting caught up in counting the number of books by women on the list are missing the point. Moonrat's original point was that it's the lack of marketing funds that's causing fewer women to be on PW's list and others like it. So the problem isn't necessarily PW's way of writing the list—it's more likely the publishers and how they allocate funds to books, resulting in books written by women getting far less attention.

Yes, it's hard out there for everybody. But given that there are just as many female writers as male writers (in terms of quality), and more female readers than male readers, it would stand to reason the list would be more balanced between the sexes.

CKHB said...

I posted my top 4 women's books for 2009 on my blog, and cited back to you. Thank you!

Susan McBride said...

On a happier note, The Atlantic's top books list has women authors on its list:


Anonymous said...

Uh, I dunno. Stephanie Meyer is a woman, as is Sue Grafton and Anne Rice and JK Rowling, Patricia Cornwell, and Nora Roberts. Just goes to show, if you write something people wanna read, the market doesn't care if you're male or female.

I guess more males write overall, though, cuz women are having babies and cleaaning the house and stuff..also, these days all the women who used to write romance novels to try and sell to Harlequin in between houseowrk now spend their time chatting on Facebook instead, so we're seeing a dorp in output there...

Anonymous said...

Another reason, as someone pointedout above, is that most women don't write serious stuff-it's all genre romances and kids' stories about stuff that can never happen in real ife (aka "paranormal")...the word counts are short since they're for kids, the ideas recycled--that's whay it's not taken seriously.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

If the two anon comments about women at home with babies and writing paranormals were expressly written to make me want to pop either my head or their balls off (and oh please tell me they have balls, because if I woman wrote them I despair for the fairer sex).

I will only say: THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE, which is both paranormal, a bestseller, and exceptionally written without being derivative. Or how about Melina Marchetta's JELLICOE ROAD or SAVING FRANCESCA? Award winning, stunningly written YA? Mary Lawson's deftly observed CROW LAKE? Susanna Clarke's remarkable JONATHAN STRANGE & MR. NORRELL?

Anon should maybe think about reading more than what they can find on their mum's bookstand before commenting. My bookshelf is dominated by hard-hitting fiction by woman AND men. Careful and beautiful observation of the world is not limited to one gender or the other.

Anonymous said...

Stunningly written YA is still YA. Kids' books. Books meant to appeal to kids, which means they're not as likely to appeal to adults. Yes, there are exceptions, but people win the lottery too, right? Most publishing business lists have a separarte list for YA, because adults aren't so interested in it.

High school proms, vampires, ghosts, ESP, mind-reading--these are the things that make up the YA-paranormal-vamp mega-genre, and that's what most women write. Kidss stuff. That doesn't meant it can't be commercially successful, but in a list of important books or whatever the list title is, adult books will get preference.

Anonymous said...

hey, the Catcher in the Rye was YA.

Anonymous said...

Women are selling books in the non-fic arena too, GOING ROGUE, anyone?

Oh or did I misread it and it's GOING ROUGE ?!

Maggie Stiefvater said...

A tiny part of me, Anon, thought that you were being sarcastic when you posted, but I see that you weren't. Sigh. Do you . . . actually . . . read YA? Do you know the difference between MG/ tween/ teen/ upper YA? How about crossover markets, especially overseas? YA is a marketing distinction, one that you have clearly bought into. Melina's books are sold as adult in some countries -- so are mine -- so are many, many upper YA -- and the other examples I gave were adult literary fiction by women. Some - gasp - even wrote AFTER HAVING BABIES!

I'm not gonna get into it though, because I can see a) that you are convinced of your rightness without actually bothering to read enough to back up your cleverness, b) you're very clearly of the person-with-balls variety and not even the interesting sort, and c) one doesn't argue with Anons. You see that name attached to my comment? That's how you can tell I actually believe what I'm saying, and that I know it's not so bigoted and echoey from rolling out my a$$ that people will flame me.

Can't say the same for you.

Ed. Anon, sorry for the ranting in your comments!

Anonymous said...

Teen, tween, middle grade, whatever you want to call it, they're still kids' books and that + romance is what most women write. I believe that's why they're not making the lists as much as men. I did, however, point out the women bestsellers. So they are there, they're just not as many.

But I think that goes for any field. Throughout history, women have devoted less time to career pursuits than men, and they are only recently catching up. Don't get mad about it, that's just how it is. I am but an impartial observer of history and modern business.

moonrat said...

Just in case I haven't been clear about my politics, I'm a feminist who is also pro-men and pro-men's studies. I am neither angry nor deliberately inflammatory, and I prefer that people not be hurtful or deliberately inflammatory to me or others on my blog.

With that in mind, I'm turning off anonymous comments until this post falls into the backlist, because my feelings and temper have felt a little... attacked by certain commenters here. I can't believe you don't know who you are; if you read my blog, you already know what I stand for.

If you want to come forward bravely under your own name and stand behind those kinds of comments, please be my guest.

angelle said...


1. Writing isn't the same as running a fortune 500 company or being partner at a law firm. You do it in your own time. It's a career that takes time yes, but as with many creative things, how fast you get something done may have little to do with whether or not you have a family to raise. Mary Gordon and Joyce Carol Oates are extremely prolific; Junot Diaz took 10 years to write his first novel. Because Diaz doesn't have a bunch of kids running around, no one blames his lack of output on children. Jhmupa Lahiri is acclaimed and produces tremendous work. I heard her speak recently and she says her schedule is erratic with children, and yet somehow she manages to wow us with the stuff she writes.

2. There are so many women writers who DO NOT WRITE YA, so your broad generalization is inherently fallacious. Do women writers dominate the YA and romance market? Sure. But men dominate the thriller/horror market. These are genre trends but that doesn't make them mutually exclusive from presence in a literary/commercial market. The above three women are three such examples of amazing female writers. I could continue to name some amazing writers who are women, but it doesn't matter who they are - I just want to point out that your generalization seems purposely inflammatory, or else grossly ignorant and misinformed. Or the possibility exists that you are really are that big of a chauvinist that you've somehow managed to disregard news of every female author who has merited respect in literary fiction.

angelle said...

3. Lastly, for argument's sake, let's say you are right, and very few women ARE actually publishing literary fiction. Have you ever considered that it's the vicious cycle which people such as you continue to perpetrate that is causing this? That maybe it's not that women aren't any good at writing serious fiction, but that the powers that be believe that people WON'T buy literary fiction written by females? That they dislike the aesthetic because it might be different, because they have set rules and guidelines that were put forth by a white male culture back in the day, and that our notions of what "good literature" is, is based upon that? Why is it that "the canon" is made of mostly dead white guys? Why did writers such as the Bronte sisters and George Eliot have to take on pseudonyms? Is it possible that perhaps less female fiction is being published because of all of these things? Literature isn't math -- it's not like you can do some equations and whoever is the fastest must be the best mathematician. It's not a scientific breakthrough where the person with the best and most ingenious test results must be the person we should be giving scientific grants to (although even the nature of what is a worthy cause is debatable, but that's a different conversation). Literature is subjective, and there's no clearcut way to determine who is the "better" author sometimes when people have such different aesthetics, styles, narrative voices, themes, etc. And if most of the people who determine what we read are people who have a particular idea of what is "important" and what aesthetic and style that is -- and if those people have been mostly conditioned to believe that those attributes are the things that men most commonly write about or commonly write like, then don't you think it's more likely that those are the types of work that get pushed to the forefront and hailed as important? I'm just throwing that out there.

Like Moonrat, I don't have anything against male authors. I love men's books just as I love women's books. I'm actually an extremely open minded reader, one who prides herself in being relatively unpretentious in that I will give most things a try and usually find something redeeming. And so, do I think you should pick a shitty book written by a woman over a great book written by a man for a list? Of course not. I try to be fair, and I don't think you should go around "affirmative actioning" books for the sake of pushing a political correctness agenda. But it seems ridiculous to me that there is not a SINGLE book written by a woman that measured up to any of those books on that list. I simply don't believe it. I don't think this was a matter of, well these were really honestly the 10 best books of the entire year, hands down. I think this was a matter of oversight. And that's what's sad. That female authors are continually overlooked and underrecognized, and will continue to be so when thing like this happen.

That's all.

Sorry, I couldn't put it all in one comment. It was too long!

Kirstin Cronn-Mills said...

Anon, NOBODY is "an impartial observer of history and business." Not possible.

Thanks, Moonrat, for hosting the discussion. Thanks, Maggie (you brilliant woman you), for your rants.

WendyCinNYC said...

Please. Plenty of women are writing literary fiction. Just do a search on Amazon if you are unable to get to a bookstore to check. The winners of the Man Booker Prize, the Nobel Prize for Literature, and the Pulitzer in 2009 were all women.

Emily Cross said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Emily Cross said...

I don't want to add to anything but i wanted to address Pacatrues comment. Its an extrememly interesting field and like anything involving sociology/psychology there is no easy/simple answers for behaviour. Its when you delve deeper and see how these descriptive/prescriptive gender stereotypes are so prominant in our society/world/culture- in both others perceptions of us (both male/female) and our self perceptions and how this can even lead to 'self-limiting' behaviour and 'self selection' that you realise the complexity of it all.

maine character said...

I saw nothing wrong with your post, but actually appreciated you pointing it out ‘cause it’s something I never would’ve noticed.

In fact, as a guy, I've never been big on feminism 'cause I've always thought, well, yeah, of course. Like Earth Day - We Need the Earth! No kidding. To me it's always been so obvious that women should be treated as equals and then some (not just to be nice, but because you simply got so much more to deal with).

But posts like these wake me up to the fact that, just as with Earth Day, some people need to be made aware of what's going on and how feminism is about that - not dividing or separating, but saying, "Hey, we’re pulling just as much weight on this side of the boat as you guys over there. Quit clapping yourselves on the back and promoting each other and give us some friggin' respect."

It's a shame we need it, as a cause to champion, but that seems to be the way of the world – at the worst, whoever’s in power makes sure they stay in power, and at the best, people can’t be bothered to understand or have compassion for what they’ve never been through.

Simon Hay Soul Healer said...

I'd like to make it clear that I'm a big fan of Maggie Stiefvater and this blog. I became interested in YA after I'd found Maggie's blog, and I haven't been dissappointed. All fiction is fantasy, restricted only by our imagimation and desire. YA authors research material, are committed and professional, just like any other writer, and gender, or market is no measure of quality.

Few writers will be successful enough to have only one career, and whether you raise children, sell real estate, or shoot wild pigs, no one has the right to degenerate the gift of family.

Gender bias, and indeed any bias, is a cancerous dinosaur that refuses to die.

Al we have is each other, and I choose respect before stupidity and ignorance.

maine character said...

As far as tossing off YA goes, Nick Hornby said this about his own introduction to YA books: “I've discovered a previously ignored room at the back of the bookstore that's filled with masterpieces.”

In fact, I got here by way of Intern, by way of Laurie Halse Anderson’s blog, whose YA novel was just selected by PW for one of the Best Children’s Books of the Year.

Sprizouse said...

Firstly, I am not the anonymous commenter. Keep that in mind as you read this rather long comment because what I'm going to try to do is offer some clarification as to what he (or she?) may have been trying to say were he (or she) more intelligent.

There is a variance in intelligence between the sexes and test results consistently reveal this variance.

On average, men are less intelligent than women. That's what the data consistently shows. So if you randomly select a man and a woman from the general population, the odds are in the woman's favor that she'll be more intelligent than the man. However, the Bell Curve distribution for men's intelligence has slightly "fatter tails".

What this means is that men have a less peaked distribution than women so there are more men than women at the tail ends of the intelligence curve -- i.e. there are more extremely intelligent men in existence than extremely intelligent women, but there are also more extremely moronic men than extremely moronic women. Some of this variance is believed to have actually been caused by women (ironically enough), because women value intelligence in potential mates. Therefore men's brains may have evolved to the more extreme upper end as a way to impress the fairer sex--- but this is neither here nor there (and it's a conversation for another time and place).

Moving on... the research on the variances of intelligence in the genders can't be ignored and must be accounted for when we're discussing the world's scientific geniuses (Einstein, Newton, Galileo, Stephen Hawking) or canonical writers like Shakespeare or Milton. I believe it also shouldn't be ignored in the case of a "Best-of-2009 Fiction List" or in the case of Oprah's recent book club selections.

So let's examine this issue (as I believe Anonymous may have been trying to do).

At one point in Anon's ranting he (she) said: "Throughout history, women have devoted less time to career pursuits than men, and they are only recently catching up. Don't get mad about it, that's just how it is."

This statement is certainly true, but Anon doesn't clarify that women did not choose to devote less time to career pursuits throughout history -- instead the choice was made for them. In fact, equal rights for women in the Europe, America and parts of Asia have only occurred within the last hundred years -- but, as I'm sure most women know, equal rights still do not necessarily mean equal treatment, impartiality, fairness or absolute equality (and, by the way, there are still far too many places in the world where women still don't have equal rights).

So, throughout history, women weren't allowed to pursue careers in writing or the sciences and this is obviously a major reason why there are no canonical women writers. It's also a major reason why there isn't (yet) a female Einstein. But the question we have to ask (now that we know that men occupy the upper end of intelligence curve) is:

Would there be women canonical writers and scientific geniuses if men granted women equality in 1390 rather than 1930?

According to the statistical variance in intelligence we've studied above, the answer is undoubtedly yes.

But Sprizouse (I hear you saying), how is this possible? You just said that there are more extremely smart men than women! You're contradicting yourself! No, I'm not. Look again.

(this comment's riveting conclusion is continued in Sprizouse's Long Comment: Part Two)

Sprizouse said...

(Sprizouse's Long Comment: Part Two)

Research has shown that men tend to occupy the upper end of the intelligence curve in greater numbers than women, but it has NEVER shown that men have a monopoly on the extremes of intelligence. It shows, instead, that if you search the world for the ten smartest people what you'll find is that two or three or four of them will be women.

Knowing this, we can ask if all the canonical writers should also be men? Of course not.

I'm a passionate student of Romanticism and I love the Big Six of that era (Wordsworth, Coleridge, Blake, Shelley, Keats, Byron) but Percy's Shelley's wife deserves mention alongside them (and, in my personal opinion, surpasses all but Wordsworth and Blake).

Frankenstein is a work of staggering genius that not only outshines the work of most of Mary Shelley's contemporaries, but is also a work that none of them could possibly write. The other Big Six poets often wrote about religion, the nature of God and the relationship between God and man.

Mary Shelley also wrote about this but she did it from a different angle -- she examined the relationship between man and God from God's side as well as man's! She was able to question what it means to be God by making Victor Frankenstein a god. The 'ol Doc can't handle, or come to grips, with the fact that he created life so he shuns it and leaves it to its own devices. In turn, the monster hates God for shunning him and rebels.

Anyway, this is a long discussion of a book that most of the people on this blog have read (or should read) but believe me, I am writing about Mary Shelley to make a point -- Dr. Frankenstein's perspective about creating life is the kind of perspective that could only come from a writer who has the ability to give birth. It's a perspective that the men of Mary Shelley's time couldn't possibly have understood.

So she deserves mention alongside the canonical writers of her day -- perhaps doubly so because she was able to produce a work of singular genius at a time when 99.9% of the women were forcibly banned from reading, writing and academic study. And Mary Shelley's success also confirms that women aren't completely absent from the upper end of the Bell Curve and aren't incapable of matching canonical writers in ability and commentary on the condition of man.

But Mary Shelley's tale also illustrates another point -- unlike Stoker's much more pedestrian book Dracula (which has spawned a million spinoffs and been re-imagined countless times), Shelley's work hasn't received the same promotion and fanfare. Even in the academic world she's relegated to the back bench behind the Big Six (and others, like Edmund Burke). Which brings us back to the point about equal rights not necessarily creating fairness, impartiality or equal treatment.

(continued even further in... you guessed it! Sprizouse's Long Comment: Part Three!!!)

Sprizouse said...

Sprizouse's Long Comment: Part Three (I swear this is the end!!!)

So where does all this study of variance and Mary Shelley leave us?

Well, it seems highly unlikely that the ten best novels Publisher's Weekly chose this year were written by writers who will go down in history as a John Milton, William Shakespeare or Mary Shelley of the 2000s. But -- as we know from the research on variance in intelligence -- even if every single one of the male writers that PW chose were, in fact, as talented as their forbears, we also know that it's statistically improbable (and probably statistically impossible) that there wasn't at least ONE woman who didn't produce something of equal or greater value than what PW chose.

Because we know this, we now have validation for our outrage. We have validation that the list PW created is a complete absurdity. After all, the data and the statistics are on our side. And because the data and the statistics are on our side it also means we can disregard any attempt to justify why the list was composed completely of male writers (by people like Anonymous) and we can disregard any attempt to rationalize the list (by idiots like PW's editors). We know from the data and the statistics that both attempts are equally fraudulent.

So in the end what we're left with is the ugly truth -- that women writers are under-represented on lists like PW's (and lists like Oprah's book club) for reasons other than talent. Which is not a shame. It's an injustice.

I don't have all the answers as to why this is happening (I have more than a few of my own opinions) but a good place to start for industry-specific reasons would be to listen to someone close to the industry. Perhaps someone who has, through years of work, formed her own opinions on the matter. Someone like Moonrat.

So fire away Ms. Rat, I'm listening. And keep firing away with both guns blazing until everyone else listens too.

CL said...

I wanted to say something derogatory and rude about sexist comments and cowardly Anonymous posts, but instead, I'll just say the following:

Barbara Hambly
Kate Walbert (The Gardens of Kyoto has some of the most beautiful prose ever written in any language, IMHO.)
Anne McCaffrey
Agatha Christie (Right behind friggin' SHAKESPEARE in all-time sales! SHAKESPEARE!!!)
Anne Rice
Mary Higgins Clark
Ayn Rand
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Anne Bishop
Nancy Kress
Elizabeth Hand
Jennifer Roberson
Marion Zimmer Bradley
Pearl S. Buck (Winner of a Pulitzer AND a Nobel.)
C. J. Cherryh
Patricia Cornwell

The list could go on forever. Notice the common thread, though. NO YA, kids, romance, whatever else our anonymous "friend" was spouting about.

FYI, I'm an aspiring writer--and a boy, of all things--and I've read books or stories by most of the writers on this list, with likely dozens more I forgot. A writer's gender has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the ability to tell a compelling story.

Last bit of pontification: So what if women write YA or romance. One might be shocked to know that men also write for those markets. I know, perish the thought, but one of my favorite writers, Neil Gaiman, writes YA all the time, and a fair number of men (some under female pseudonyms and some not) write romance.

Final thought: Sheesh, grow up.