Monday, April 23, 2012

Wolitzer on Gender Inequities in the Book World

Readers of this blog know that a topic I occasionally address, and one that I feel strongly about, is gender inequities in the book world. Even today, when many women writers are published and widely read, there are problems. The novelist Meg Wolitzer recently (4/1/12) wrote in the New York Times Book Review an essay titled “The Second Shelf” (an allusion to Simone de Beauvoir’s feminist manifesto, “The Second Sex”). She argues, as other women writers have recently done as well (e.g., Jennifer Egan), that when women write about marriage, families, sex, and children, their work is labeled as “women’s fiction,” but when male novelists write about the same topics, their work is not labeled or ghettoized, but praised. Case in point (as Wolitzer’s essay begins): “If ‘The Marriage Plot,' by Jeffrey Eugenides, had been written by a woman yet still had the same title and wedding ring on its cover, would it have received a great deal of serious literary attention? Or would this novel (which I loved) have been relegated to ‘Women’s Fiction,’ that close-quartered lower shelf where books emphasizing relationships and the interior lives of women are often relegated?” Further, Wolitzer states, “Some people, especially some men, see most fiction by women as one soft, undifferentiated mass that has little to do with them.” This concern about inequity is backed up by facts: for example, VIDA, a women’s literary organization, showed statistically that “women get shockingly short shrift as reviewers and reviewees in most prestigious publications. Of all the authors reviewed in the publications it tracked, three-fourths were men.” Such practices disadvantage women writers, limit their audiences, and limit the kind of recognition they receive. Wolitzer acknowledges that there are many exceptions: women writers whose books have sold well and been acclaimed. But, she concludes, “the top tier of literary fiction – where the air is rich and the view is great and where a book enters the public imagination and the current conversation – tends to feel peculiarly, disproportionately male.” Many female authors feel the same; for example, in the “letters to the editor” section of the NYT Book Review on 4/15/12, there was a letter of strong agreement with Wolitzer, signed by 89 women writers. What will it take to change this inequitable situation?

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