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message 1: by Mandapanda (last edited Feb 21, 2011 11:56PM) (new)

Mandapanda We've mentioned in the Crime genre thread about a well-known reviewer Graeme Blundell's tendency to review predominantly male crime fiction. Today the ABC Radio National Bookshow Blog poses the question, "Is there Gender Bias in the Literary World?"

"Is there sexism in the literary world? That’s what a new study by VIDA would like answered. VIDA is a relatively new US organization aimed at raising the profile of women in the arts.

VIDA conducted a count of the male to female ration of contributors to major literary magazines. They also made note of the gender of authors whose books were reviewed. You can look at the results of the study here - it’s very easy to follow as it’s made up of handy pie graphs. The results can be summarised quite simply: men are more prominent as commentators in the pages of magazines like The New Yorker, Granta, The New York Review of Books and the Times Literary Supplement. Read more about the reaction to this report in the USA and UK here: Slate, the Guardian, the New Republic.

The Book Show wondered what the situation is like in Australia so I asked three literary editors to reflect on their own review commissioning habits. I spoke to Susan Wyndham – Literary editor of The Sydney Morning Herald, Jason Steger – Literary editor of The Age and Stephen Romei – The Australian’s literary editor and former editor of the Australian Literary Review. They were open and honest in their appraisals and say that there’s a slight skew towards male commentators in their pages too, although their regulars are split 50-50.

The reasons for this skew were presented by the editors as:

- the greater willingness of male reviewers to pitch to the editors
- the dominance of women in genre fiction which doesn’t tend to be reviewed in literary pages, to Jodi Picoult’s chagrin (Jodi Picoult complained about the rave reviews Jonathan Franzen’s novel Freedom received – she wrote this on Twitter 'Is anyone shocked? Would love to see the NYT rave about authors who aren’t white male literary darlings'. Read the article, “The New York Times’ shameful treatment of women writers“)
- a tendency to commission more male reviewers of serious books by male authors
- the possibility that men publish more books (we’d need publishers to do the sums on this though, so this is just speculation)." Read more here.

message 2: by Dee-Ann (new)

Dee-Ann | 644 comments This is a bit different and is only an observation from my small world, in which I reside with 6 males. But there seems to be some reluctance by the males I live with to read a book where the main character is a female ... and even more to admit that the book/character was good. I easily read books of either gender and in fact I do not recall ever reading a book in class as a class project where the main character was female (eg. Storm Boy, Blue Fin, I am David, Boris, The Old Man and the Sea, Macbeth, The Lord of the Flies are what I remember). I wonder if they do it differently now?

Intersting topic Mandy ... something for me to ponder.

message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

This is really interesting. All I can add is the first book that pulled me into the reading world was written by a man about a man The Count of Monte Cristo. I'd like to know what the rate of male readers is as oppose to female readers. I just assumed (silly of course) that females read more as their are more of us, but then males are more apt to get an education then least in third world countries.

message 4: by Dee-Ann (new)

Dee-Ann | 644 comments I asked my 16 year old son, about how many books he recalled reading as a class in which the main character was a female ... only one, whereas he had read many about males. Maybe it has not changed that much after all.

message 5: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl (cherylllr) I do see some changes. My son reads a lot of YA adventure, which is really aimed at boys, and to me it seems there are a lot of brave girls. Yes, Percy Jackson and Artemis Fowl are boys (and so are the authors) but the girls in Flora Segunda, Fever Crumb, and Leviathan are amazing.

As far as the reviewers go - well, I guess I could feel bad for Jodi Picoult, but I don't go to reviews anyway. The internet is changing everything, and she needs to make sure she has a presence here on GR, too.

Bottom line is people will read what they want to, so long as they see it. I don't think burying me in Dan Brown and the Twilight series is going to make me any more likely to read them than I am to choose something by Marisa de los Santos, who was drawn to my attention only by an article in the "Costco Connection," a magazine for the warehouse store.

Picoult's books are well-displayed in the Target stores, and, I believe, in Costco - and I don't think the shoppers there read the New York Times supplement.

Sorry, not sure if my ramblings are making any sense. I'll be glad to read more observations from all you. :)

message 6: by Cathy (new)

Cathy | 123 comments Just to pose the reverse side - i was disappointed for my son who completed the HSC last year that one area of study gave him Elizabeth Barrett-Browning's love poems compared with the Great Gatsby. The other choice could have been Frankenstein vs Blade runner. For self-conscious 17-year-old boys, having to dissect fairly sentimental love poetry is a bit tough I think, where as I don't think girls struggle to imagine themselves in male character roles quite as much????

message 7: by Mandapanda (new)

Mandapanda Cathy wrote: "Just to pose the reverse side - i was disappointed for my son who completed the HSC last year that one area of study gave him Elizabeth Barrett-Browning's love poems compared with the Great Gatsby...."

Good point Cathy. The first two choices are a bit outdated anyway. Surely plenty of great poetry has been written in modern times they could have chosen from. Same with the Great Gatsby... If that's the best choices they can come up with for teenage boys they are missing the point of encouraging kids to read.

message 8: by Geoff (new)

Geoff Woodland | 313 comments Is the chat about female authors or female main characters ? or have I missed the point? :-o)
Female authors who also have the MC as a female – a few come to mind, consider Mills & Boon books isn't the main character in most of M&B books mainly a female ?
Margaret Mitchell, Georgette Heyer, Daphne du Maurier, Maureen Lee, Annie Groves, Judith Lennox all have female MC and that’s just off the top of my head.
Depending on your age consider the comics from the 40’s & 50’s which led many of us in to books. In the UK boys had Eagle, The Hotspur,(MC was male) girls had School Friend, Girl (sister to the Eagle), Girl Crystal (MC female) and from the comics we moved on to the William books (boys), Billy Bunter (boys), Famous Five (girls), Heidi (girls).
As for studying books at school – for GCE (similar to HSC) I had ‘The History of Mr Polly’ (H.G.Wells wrote it in 1910) which became one of my favourite books, we also did Henry IV part two. I don’t remember the poetry bit, but later on grew to like John Masefield.
To study Mr Polly in the late 50's was only 40 years after it was published but to study The Great Gatby 85 years years after it was published (1925) seems odd unless it fitted with a history lesson :-o)
I've rambled - sorry :-o)

message 9: by Mandapanda (new)

Mandapanda Geoff wrote: "Is the chat about female authors or female main characters ? or have I missed the point?.."

The article I quoted above discusses the results of a survey which showed that men are more often contributors to literary magazines and books written by men are more often reviewed in literary magazines. But it's a big topic and people are welcome to add any personal views of 'sexism' in literature/the literary industry. Lots of POV just make the conversation more interesting!;)

message 10: by [deleted user] (new)

If we're posting female Authors, thats a totally differant matter...I recall Willa Cather, Shirley Jackson, and some others I cant quite recall at this time. While my Mom who was attenting a Jr. College at the time was reading Southern Writers...Hemingway, Capote, Baldwin and Fiztagerald....Williams, my favorite.

message 11: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl (cherylllr) I think msg 6 addresses the point of the article quite well. Males seem to have difficulty outgrowing the need to read, and write, and review, within the bounds of what's considered manly.

I think some women tend to reinforce that in our men, though. Some of us have no trouble with a woman writing about, say, a male macho detective. But all too often I find myself, or hear my female friends, criticize a man who tries to write about a female going through family problems.

I'd like to think we're enlightened and egalitarian, but old habits die hard. I do think, though, that the sexism we see is more due to tradition, to habits, and perhaps to genuine differences between the sexes, than it is due to deliberate chauvinism.

message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

I've read books by men that I had no idea at first they were men, like Midwives.

message 13: by Mandapanda (new)

Mandapanda Here's a response to the initial article by the book reviewer of the Courier Mail:

Chick lite
"I took part in an interesting discussion on ABC Radio’s The Bookshow this week about the gender bias in literary world. In a nutshell, it seems more books by men get reviewed than do books by women, and more men than women write the reviews. And, according to a survey by a new organisation named VIDA, this is a global phenomenon, with the slant quite pronounced even in prestigious (and liberal) journals such as The New York Review of Books.

I think there are several reasons for this, starting with the baseline fact that men still dominate many areas of public life. I think this is an issue that deserves serious consideration and while I don’t commission book reviews based on gender, I do try to be conscious of the overall mix in The Australian’s Books pages. Certainly I use many fine female reviewers. But there are certain types of books - political histories, say - that tend to be dominated by male reviewers. Perhaps people in jobs like mine need to think harder about the pool of people capable of doing such reviews.

As an aside, before I went on the ABC I checked the list of Miles Franklin Award winners over the past 20 years. Only four women, and one of them was Helen Demidenko.

Anyway, you can read all about this - and listen to the audio - over at The Bookshow’s blog here."

message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

This shouldn't really come as a surprise to anyone.

message 15: by Velvetink (new)

Velvetink | 136 comments It's everywhere, how could it not be represented in the literary world?

message 16: by Tracey (new)

Tracey Alley (traceya) | 485 comments Velvetink wrote: "It's everywhere, how could it not be represented in the literary world?"

I'd have to say this would be my response also. Men, especially successful white men, still basically dominate the world. Things are changing but slowly does it. Just the way it is

message 17: by Jacqueline (new)

Jacqueline George (jacquelinegeorge) There was (is?) a feminist publisher in UK called Virago whose aim in life was promoting women's literary interests. They were a bit shrill about the whole thing, and only published books by female authors.

At one point, they were making a good deal out of a series of novels about life in an I ndian village, seen through the eyes of the narrator, a village woman.

Big furore when they found out that the author was a male Anglican priest. The books were then instantly worthless, and dropped from the Virago list. I hope someone else, more interested in literature than dogma, published them instead.

message 18: by Velvetink (new)

Velvetink | 136 comments Feminist press in Australia...

message 19: by Mandapanda (last edited Mar 08, 2011 12:16PM) (new)

Mandapanda Yesterday 8th March was International Women's Day. Here's a very entertaining and thought-provoking piece from the Wheeler Centre to mark the occasion (make sure you check out the links!):

Centenary of International Women’s Day

It’s the centenary of International Women‘s Day today and we thought we’d mark the occasion. We’ve asked novelist Kirsten Tranter to write a piece on the under-representation of women in major literary journals and magazines – read Kirsten‘s essay here.

In case you haven’t already caught them, we also thought we’d point you towards some web links we liked. The Bond franchise’s Daniel Craig has dressed up in drag and copped a dressing down for the occasion. We admired this list of 10 great female graffiti writers and this piece on gender outlaws. We thought this Book Beast article on angry men provocative, and we liked the pictures in this essay as much as the writing. Finally, happy 20th birthday to Spinifex Press (Aussie independent feminist press).

Update: Here’s Charlotte Raven on how the new feminism went wrong, and Carmen Lawrence in an opinion piece on how far feminism has come, and how far it has to go. The Overland blog has lots of great links too.

Related events coming up at the Wheeler Centre include She Must Be Seeing Things (20 March), Drama Queens (27 March), Leslie Cannold for Lunchbox/Soapbox on The Problem With Feminists (7 April), and Jeez Louise (16 April).


message 20: by Dee-Ann (new)

Dee-Ann | 644 comments ... We admired this list of 10 great female graffiti writers ..."

The graffiti is terrific ... what a tragedy for the last person, Margaret Kilgallen to die so young (33 from breast cancer).

message 21: by Matthew (new)

Matthew Lang (matthewlang) | 143 comments @Velvetink - Oh my, Ormond College. Good times.

From a completely different perspective, in my genre (m/m fiction) I think there is a number of strange gender biases. AFAIK women are more likely to read, publish and write male/male fiction than men are (gay or otherwise). However, there can be a bias in readership towards male authors, because, in theory, a man writing about male/male love or sex should have a better understanding of how it works and/or feels. That's one of the reasons female authors sometimes use a male sounding pseudonym or their initials and last name rather than a full name--the assumption from the reader often is 'oh, that author's a man'...

message 22: by Velvetink (new)

Velvetink | 136 comments @Matthew! Interesting phenomenon - while it's not a genre I have read much of at all, I have noticed on GR a number of female writers publishing m/m fiction and I wondered about it from various perspectives.

@Mandy thanks for all those links...I'm rather embarrassed to say I didn't know that Overland still existed..I used to subscribe years ago.

message 23: by Mandapanda (new)

Mandapanda @ Velvetink I haven't even read all the links myself yet. But there are some juicy ones in there so I'm going to pour myself a glass of wine and go through them all tonight!;)

message 24: by Velvetink (new)

Velvetink | 136 comments Oh Mandy share the wine! (if only it were possible via the internet). ha. I had a most frustrating day battling a spreadsheet assessment for my librarian course....I should have stopped by the bottle shop..(I passed! & nothing but coke or milk in the fridge to celebrate with) - enjoy yours!

message 25: by Mandapanda (last edited Mar 09, 2011 04:30AM) (new)

Mandapanda Cheers! And yay for passing!!

message 26: by Brenda, Aussie Authors Queen (new)

Brenda | 68311 comments Mod
Velvetink wrote: "Oh Mandy share the wine! (if only it were possible via the internet). ha. I had a most frustrating day battling a spreadsheet assessment for my librarian course....I should have stopped by the bot..."

Congrats on the pass Velvetink!! Add a banana to the milk & enjoy a banana shake...luxurious considering the cost of the bananas at the mo..LOL

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