Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Are Men & Women Writers Being Treated Equally?

There’s no doubt that humanity’s history shows women being overly oppressed and their worth being heavily suppressed.

But, in our “Modern” world, are the creative writers who are female getting the attention they deserve?

A female writer from Australia, Jane Watson (who’s been interviewed on this blog), sent me a link to the article, A Woman’s Place, from The Age.

The article discusses how women are treated by the major literary publications, including the London Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, and the New York Times Book Review.

While looking at whether the reviewers are men or women and whether more men are being reviewed is important, this type of analysis only shows the issue from the perspective of traditional publishing. I would love to see figures (if they exist) for self-published authors; though, they still seem to be ignored by major review publications.

The Age article cites a study done by VIDA, an American organisation for women in the literary arts, called The Count. Fifteen major review publications are included.

The results are very graphic—all one has to do is scan the page and look at the red sections of the pie-charts, the number of men—and it becomes blindingly clear that men are receiving more coverage than women.

There are certainly a number of questions to be asked:

Are the number of reviews in the traditional publishing arena a fair view of the status of women writers?

Is the sex of the reviewer important?

Are women writers being published less often than men?

Still, the article in The Age brings up another concern

Even if women writers are being systematically ignored, is it somehow wrong to make a big deal out of it?

From the article in The Age: “…Australian writer Kirsten Tranter has said: ‘It’s become possible for respected critics to openly admit — not just when they’re drunk at a party but in public, in writing — that they think issues of gender equality are dated and irrelevant and that women who complain about it are privileged whingers.’”

Another important excerpt from that article:

“Women write about half the books published. Sixty-two per cent of publishers are women (although most senior roles are held by men). Women make up 80 per cent of fiction readers. And according to British research, they buy almost twice as many books of all kinds as men do.

“And yet there remains a perception that compared with men, women writers and their works, both past and present, are far more often marginalised, belittled, pigeonholed, dismissed, ignored.”

Perhaps this post can help a bit

Perhaps the innovations in self-publishing will empower readers to select and review more women writers

In case you’re curious, here’s a list of women who have made an impact through their fiction or journalism or poetry in the 20th Century.
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16 responses to “Are Men & Women Writers Being Treated Equally?

  1. Selena January 16, 2012 at 8:52 pm

    A thought-provoking article, Alexander. I wonder if more women are entering the self-publishing field because of this?


  2. grahamwhittaker January 16, 2012 at 11:11 pm

    Hi Alexanda. In the years between 1968 and 1974 I wrote feature articles for the British mass publication magazine SHE, owned by the National Magazine Company. The publisher was Pamela Carmichael and the features editor was Howard Robinson. We had a great relationship and through them I was nominated one of the “Five Most Promising Poets” in Britain. SHE gave me my start as a serious writer and as a humorist. Then the magazine was sold and I received a rejection letter from a MS Rosie Parker thanking me for my submissions… “But SHE is now a magazine for women, by women and we do not accept articles or poetry from men. Thank you and good luck…” For some years (because I wrote romantic fiction and much of my work was written FOR women- and rejected many many times) I decided to join with my writing partner Dora and we created an entity called DORA GRAHAM. Dora Graham still publishes “her” romantic fiction and poetry and has been remarkably successful over the years. BUT as Graham Whittaker I receive more rejections than acceptances (except when the fiction is labelled “erotic”) MEN is appears are accepted as “serious” writers, and WOMEN as somewhat frivolous. However, look at the bookshelves, the biggest sellers are now predominantly women. Kathy Reichs, Jodi Picault, Elizabeth George, Kate Atkinson, Patricia Cornwell and the list of big sellers goes on.. I think there is more to the issue (Genre/gender) . But highly interesting.


  3. Alexander M Zoltai January 16, 2012 at 11:39 pm

    Fascinating, Graham…

    Your experience bears on the issue of this post, most assuredly

    And, yes, there is much more to the issue………


  4. cmmarcum January 17, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    ‘Are female writers, reviewers, editors and readers different from those of the male persuasion?’

    ‘You bet your booty they are. To deny the fact would be illogical, and we go back to my favorite adage when submitting work: Know thy Audience.

    Graham is correct. For those of us who write across the fence, gender can stands in the way of being accepted. Sometimes a bit of deception–a white lie–is called for. Which is why I choose to use initials in my pen-name. Without a photo, most readers assume that I am male. I must accept this and even use it to my advantage.

    A quick scan of my library and my husband’s library reveals only one female writer, Judith Richards. Is this bias or preference?

    And what about your representative, Sena? A play on words from Sean? A way to attract both the male and female readers, perhaps? Devious of you.


  5. Alexander M Zoltai January 17, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    Thank you for calling me devious, C. M.

    I don’t believe I am being devious with my “mascot”, Sena, but you give me insight into another person’s perceptions–know thy audience, eh?

    So men and women are different. OK, granted.

    Care to address a comment or two to the main point of the post—are they being Treated unequally in the Book World? ( I did see your question about bias but I asked the question first—in the post :-)


    • cmmarcum January 17, 2012 at 11:10 pm

      …women buy twice as many books OF ALL KINDS, and yet the other day a young fellow saw me reading my Kindle and asked me if it was a romance. ‘Hardly,’ I said, “I don’t think I’ve read a romance since the 5th grade. I’m actually reading a grisly, true life crime story. What are you reading? Oh, pardon me. You’re not reading anything; you’re playing a game on your pod thingy.’

      The public wants action, and here’s the bias: women can’t write action. And if we speak the truth, the vast majority of female writers aren’t writing action based stories. I know it’s politically incorrect to say that, but it’s true, nonetheless.

      Editors and reviewers are just following the scent of money. If Mary Shelley or Harper Lee showed up, they’d be all over ‘um.


  6. Alexander M Zoltai January 17, 2012 at 11:33 pm

    C. M., do your think self-publishing, and its allied ability to give the reader more power in the process of which books get published, give more women the incentive to write “action” books?


    • cmmarcum January 18, 2012 at 4:11 pm

      True, there are many female writers that have shredded the stereotype of the female romance and cookbook writer…yet the bias persists in the minds of the general public. Just like the belief that a man can not write romance or a convincing female voice. Ridiculous of course, a good writer should be able to write from many POVs, so don’t give a long list of male romance writers. I thought we were talking about prejudice and acceptance and public opinion, which has nothing to do with the facts. Sorry, but I’m a little befuddled here by the reactions.

      I’m not saying females can’t write action; I’m saying the public doesn’t believe it.

      I believe that female writers who do write action have to jump over a higher obstacle. Self-publishing gives everyone more options–but changing public perceptions, especially when the majority of female fiction writers still write about romance, family, children, internal emotions, feelings…well, tain’t like to be a changing soon. -done- :( :)


  7. grahamwhittaker January 18, 2012 at 12:21 am

    Meg Gardner, Lisa Gardner, Lisa Scottoline, Lynda la Plante, Sue Walker, Nicci French, Donna Tart, Pd James, Patricia Cornwell, Kathy Reichs, Val McDermid, Tammi Hoag, and the list of women Action/thriller/murder novels goes on. Women write a great deal of best-selling action.


  8. Alexander M Zoltai January 18, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    C. M.,

    You said: “I’m not saying females can’t write action; I’m saying the public doesn’t believe it.”

    Perhaps the review publications have a part in shaping that disbelief?


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