Two more takes on lady writers…

Laura Miller at Salon weighs in on the VIDA report, pointing out that there are less books by women reviewed because there are less books by women published each year. Ruth Franklin at the New Republic and two of her female colleagues looked into it, and sure enough “magazines are reviewing female authors in something close to the proportion of books by women published each year”.  Laura Miller traces this back, annectdotally, to reader preferences: women read books by both women and men, whereas men tend to only read books by men. With the rather large exception of J.K. Rowling, and some of those old dolls writing mystery and crime thrillers, I have generally found this to be true. It starts early – children’s book publishers are wary of books with female protagonists written by female authors, according to Miller.

Then, over at Slate, Heather Mac Donald, a conservative intellectual, if you will, looks at female participation in magazines, newspapers, op-eds and Wikipedia, decrying quotas and “feminism’s intellectual decadence”, whatever that means.

She zestfully points out that where Meghan O’Rourke and others went wrong was saying that the gatekeepers (editors, publishers, etc.,) are the ones who are biased; Mac Donald notes that “the idea that these gender imbalances represent gatekeeper bias was demonstrably false, even before the Wikipedia reality check”. How? Well, Wikipedia famously has no gatekeepers, but has a female contributor rate of 13%, much lower than the 27% VIDA calculated in mainstream publications. Mac Donald attributes this to “the constant quoata-izing by gatekeepers on women’s behalf”. Gee thanks, Heather.

I do agree with this Mac Donald character (although I can’t figure out why there is a space in her last name), in that the Wikipedia mystery can be solved by simply noticing that men are A)much drawn to arcane and trivial bits of knowledge and B) enjoy using their free time to do things like POST ON WIKIPEDIA, while most women have other (or better) things to do with their free time. Yes, there are female geeks out there, but I’m going to guess that instead of toiling on some factually dubious Wiki article, they are perhaps working on writing something that will get past those totally non-sexist gatekeepers, who, according to Mac Donald, have quotas they must fill at some major publication.

I have taken the following from this dust-up:

  1. Gatekeepers sometimes can be and are part of the problem – it’s just a fact that women’s opinions on “serious” topics are taken less seriously.
  2. Reader preferences play a role in this, so, if you care, try and make some of your guy friends read some really smart books by the ladies, off the top of my head – The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, White Teeth by Zadie Smith, Big Girls Don’t Cry by Rebecca Traister, The Possessed by Elif Batuman, or anything by Curtis Sittenfeld. I know this will be hard, because they are unlikely to be separated from their patron saints of douchebaggery – Roth, Updike, Delillo, etc. We’ve been through this.
  3. There are some mega-talented and super-intelligent women working in journalism these days, Jane Mayer, Hanna Rosin, Rachel Maddow, Mary Rogan, etc., Please, read their shit because they’re awesome, not because they are women.
  4. A point was made somewhere in one of these articles, that perhaps women writers don’t pitch to these magazines nearly as often as men do, because they are intimidated, or somehow afraid of rejections, or lacking the balls to do so, or something. This is a possibility, though I wouldn’t want to speak for all women, but I do consider my own reticence to put my work out there. But as Alizah Salario asked, “Why don’t I submit my work and pitch stories more often? I know I should. I just don’t. I hesitate. I do the dishes. I come back to my computer and my idea has soured. Is it because I’m a woman, or is it just because I’m me?” I ask myself this question all of the time. I think it’s both.
  5. So, again, if you care about this, encourage any girls you know to pursue their ideas, to ask questions, to keep writing, to keep trying.
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