If it's broken, fix it.

Or you could read George Eliot
and have it both ways.
Bella Mackie, at the Guardian Comment is Free blog, asked if it mattered to readers whether the author of a book was a man or a woman. Mackie asked this wrong-footing question because of a long standing accusation of sexism against some of the biggest of the book awards. Every year, when the Booker or the National Book Awards publish their short list, critics ask, "Where are the women?"

I don't think it's the readers fault. Speaking for myself, I'm after a good story. The gender of the author doesn't matter to me as long as they can spin a good tale. And I don't think it's the award judges or even the literary agents. I think it's the publishing industry as a whole because they, like Hollywood, are afraid to take risks. They want bankable writers in their stable. If you look at the bestseller lists, a lot of those books were written by women. If you pay attention, a lot of the literary fiction is also written by women. The critics slinging accusations of sexism around are missing the point. Where I see sexism is in the Western canon.

There's an old saw among English majors about having to read dead white men and damn if it isn't true to a large extent. A female writer has to be very damn good to get into that pantheon. But looking at the last twenty years of Letters, I think women and men are equally well represented. What needs to change, I think, is that the publishing industry needs to take more risks. When I see news about another merger, especially among the Big Five* (formerly Six), I groan. And when I see an announcement of a new imprint or publishing house, I cheer. The bigger problem is that we need to support those new publishing efforts. We need to encourage readers to read and buy books.

Besides, to my way of thinking, creating a book award for women isn't about feminism. Political feminism is supposed to be about equality. Men and women should be competing as equals. Sure, judging books for an award is purely subjective and always will be. I don't think that the long and short lists are made up the way they are because of sexism. What annoys me about the lists is how they ignore genre fiction.

But that's another post.


* Macmillan, Hachette, Random House-Penguin, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster


  1. Have you ever checked out the VIDA website? They do a count of men versus women reviewed in major publications as well as men vs. women by number of bylines. It has nice pie charts that show pretty clearly that sexism is rampant in the business of book reviews. In fact, in 2012, only Tin House had a majority of women, or close to an equal number of women and men in their categories. http://www.vidaweb.org/the-count-2012

  2. I've heard of VIDA. When I looked at their list, I didn't see the periodicals I read for their reviews Publishers' Weekly, Library Journal, and Book List--which might explain why I have a different perspective.

    But I think my point about wanting publishers to take more risks and publish a more diverse group of authors, styles, and genres stands.

  3. Agreed on the second point. And I think what is reviewed and what is published are two separate, though undoubtedly interconnected, questions that tend to get lumped together. I wonder if there is a site like VIDA for the Publisher's Weekly and its ilk of periodicals. Maybe it will be my summer project.

  4. I came across this on the numbers of men and women genre authors reviewed. I think overall, reviewers are making improvements, but there is still a loooong way to go. I liked this article because it also talked about the number of women and men published and compared the percent to those reviewed, which seems a useful comparison. http://www.themarysue.com/genre-publishing-gender-reviews/


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.