Saturday, May 25, 2013

Blurbing's Gender Bias

There has been much written over the years, including a recent flurry of articles, columns and blogposts, on the fact that women writers (especially of fiction) are still disadvantaged in that they are less often asked to write reviews in major venues, and their books are less reviewed in those venues. Also, their novels are treated as if they are just for women: “women’s writing about women’s topics” (or some such words, usually said ever-so-slightly condescendingly; most people know better than to say this out loud), even when male writers who write about the same topics (often love, relationships, families) are lauded. I have posted several times on these issues. Recently I have been noticing that the blurbs on the back of novels by women are either by women and men writers, although slightly tilted to women writers, but the blurbs on the back of male writers’ novels are generally almost all by fellow male writers. For example, to name just a few recent novels that I have read, am reading, or will read and post on: “Z,” by Therese Anne Fowler is blurbed by women only; “The Humanity Project,” by Jean Thompson and “The End of the Point” by Elizabeth Graver are blurbed by an almost 50/50 mixture of men and women writers; however, “All That Is,” by James Salter, is blurbed by five (all very famous) male writers. In no individual case is this gendered difference necessarily pre-planned (I am guessing, although I may be wrong), nor is it “wrong” in any individual case. But the cumulative effect of such blurbing practices, conscious or unconscious, also erodes the respect that is given to women’s fiction, and perpetuates the notion that men’s endorsements mean more, and that men's literature is a different world than women’s literature. Blurbing practices may seem of trivial importance, but I believe they contribute to the whole picture, a picture that is still distorted rather than representative of the writing and reading populations.

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