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Women vs. men, battle of the sexes turns literary.

February 2, 2011 \pm\28 11:56 pm

VIDA has gathered up the statistics of male and female writers in 2010. The results of ‘The Count’ show that men have completely dominated women in the literary world.

The New York Review of Books reviewed the works of 306 men and only 59 women.

They aren’t the only ones who snubbed female writers.


At first, I was in awe at this news, but then I decided to test the theory myself. I counted the amount of male authors vs. female authors on my very own bookshelf.

There they were: 21 males and 15 females. I have fallen into the trap.

In my experience, women are the avid readers, not men.

My English classes are majorly dominated by women. Every once in awhile, I will have a guy or two in my class, but those solemn guys are hopelessly outnumbered about 20 to 1.

So how is it that men have come to rule the literary world?

Amy King believes “that we are educated in a world where male writing has been dominate.  Women can be sexist, just as men can be.  Often, for both genders these days, this kind of sexism is unconscious.  We learn it.  We don’t question what we’re focusing on, what we’re taught to value.   We grow up reading books in schools, from the “canon,” written by men about “male” subject matter, and we think that’s the “best” or most interesting stuff.”

Thinking back to the novels I was forced to read in high school, I can’t remember a single book written by a female. We certainly got our fair share of Shakespeare, F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Knowles, but no women writers.

I am beginning to get the feeling I was brainwashed. How can we reverse these statistics for the upcoming years?

How about this to start: School systems should require English classes to assign the works of female writers. High school is what shaped our academic futures. That’s when I decided that math and history were my enemies and English was my niche. I would have liked the chance to broaden my horizons earlier.

If I, as well as others,  had read more literature written by women in school, I think these statitics wouldn’t be so drastically separated.

“As an educator, my impulse is to suggest thinking about what we read, what books we give our children, how we talk about them, and by paying attention to what we read,” King says. “The only way we can change the statistics is to start broadening our palettes and valuing work we have likely ignored, dismissed, or even devalued in the past.”

Next time you buy a book, check the bottom shelf first for one you have never read, and make sure it’s written by a female.

  1. February 3, 2011 \am\28 12:47 am 12:47 am

    While this survey is in no way comprehensive or necessarily accurate on a cultural level, it seems to very strongly suggest a gap that has not closed in our supposedly progressive culture.

    The only books from high school I remember reading are those by Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, and Mary Shelley. Austen’s portrayal of women is pretty narrow-minded, Brontë’s certainly doesn’t put on a feminist lens, and Shelley’s Frankenstein doesn’t seem very relevant to the discussion.

    Another interesting survey could be conducted based on statistics gathered around female protagonists versus male protagonists. Are men defining our internal impressions of women?

  2. Robin Elizabeth Sampson permalink
    February 3, 2011 \pm\28 12:41 pm 12:41 pm

    Yesterday, several of my “friends” shared a link to this VIDA article w/charts (gotta love pie charts – I’ll have lemon meringue please). I thought about posting about it here (before Julia did), but I didn’t know what to say about it. I’ve been following the heated, though not nasty (at least not yet when I last checked it) debate in comments at The Rumpus. Though tempted to comment myself, I didn’t.

    Why? For the same reason that I’ve had trouble posting here, or at my own blogs, or why I haven’t been submitting work. Because somewhere along the way of my life (53 years now), I internalized a message that what I had to say was NOT important, and while sometimes I can work my way past that, at other times it comes crashing down on me. And I don’t think that’s necessarily a male/female thing per se, but because of society’s past treatment of women, the number of women who have this “issue” seems to be greater.

    While I am intrigued by this seeming disparity, I think it is a way-more-complex problem than just editors/publishers aren’t using more women’s works. Is it that more women aren’t submitting? Is it that more women aren’t writing? A lot of very good points have been raised over there in the comments.

    But, having an exactly equal number of men and women represented is NOT going to solve the core problem. That’s not to say that everyone couldn’t try a little harder. Which includes me personally. Every time I write something and post it, or send it out, is one more little push back against the rock that I’m constantly pushing against that I fear is going to squash me flat.

    The only solution is that each of us has to do what we can. Me posting this comment is just that, as silly and insignificant as what it is I have to say. See? There’s the internalized message that is my rock. We’re all Sisyphus.

  3. GeoMurph permalink
    February 5, 2011 \pm\28 5:41 pm 5:41 pm

    Part of the issue is that books of the same caliber on the same topic are classified differently (overtly or not) according to the author’s gender. A literary family drama by, say, Jonathan Franzen, is long-awaited, biting, clever, eight kinds of wonderful, whereas a literary family drama by, say, Jane Hamilton, is automatically considered “women’s fiction” and will of course have a book club guide in the paperback edition.


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