Friday, February 11, 2011

Mind that Gender Gap

Image Credit: George Bates

The Vida 2010 Count was released at the beginning of the month, and it's the talk of the literary world... well, at least, the literary world in which women reside. Men, so far, don't seem quite so interested. Oh, wait, one just weighed in, remarking:
The bottom line at Tin House is that we are aware of the gender disparity, we are concerned about these numbers, and we are committed to redoubling our efforts to solicit women writers.
That's refreshing. So, actually, it's the talk of a small corner of the literary world in which mostly women reside, and not all that many women are talking about it.

Short synopsis: Vida compiled a comparison of women-to-men literary authors reviewing books, reviewed books authored by men vs women, and women and men authors overall throughout the magazines. They remarked on the great gender disparity, as a means to spark discussion:
The truth is, these numbers don't lie. But that is just the beginning of this story. What, then, are they really telling us? We know women write. We know women read. It's time to begin asking why the 2010 numbers don't reflect those facts with any equity.
The biggest defenses of the numbers seem to be:
  • More men than women are published.
  • Men submit more work than women.
  • Laura Miller at Salon muses that while women are known to be avid readers, they tend to read books by both men and women. Men, on the other hand, tend to read books by mostly male authors. (I suspect this is true.)
So what now? Clearly the issue is much deeper than just the decisions made by mostly male magazine editors. We live in a society grossly colored by gender stereotypes, subconsciously teaching us the difference between the roles of men and women in society from a very young age. Ironically: stereotypically, women are "supposed" to be masters of language, and men masters of science and math. (These underlying stereotypes and how they affect our behavior, self-perception and actions are discussed at length in a book I'm currently reading - Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine.) Why, then, are men the ever-constant puppeteers of the realms of science, math and language?

We are still taught implicitly to respect men's opinions more, to admire their work as the standard by which all others must be judged. This, I would think, would have much to do with men submitting more work and being more likely to submit work after being rejected. Men are taught that that's how men do things. Women, on the other hand, aren't supposed to worry so much about success and achievement in the public world, so if at first we don't succeed, well, we tried that once, anyway. We have our homes and our own small private successes to keep us happy.

But it's 2011, you say! All these silly gender disparities have long since been abolished! We've achieved equality!

Actually, we haven't. Women still make only 75-80 cents for every man's dollar, are routinely overlooked for jobs if there's a man available with the same credentials (unless, of course, the job is a traditionally female position, such as nurse or secretary), and if you're a mother, well, forget it. Clearly your focus is on your kids and you're not going to give your job the mathematically impossible 110% of your capabilities and focus.

It's not much of a surprise, then, that the literary world is no different. It's not only that these magazines need to be more gender-conscious, it's that we ALL need to be more aware of the choices we make, and how all of us make judgments about other people based in part on subconscious gender- and race-biased attitudes and expectations that too often reside far below the surface of our awareness.

These underlying reasons for the choices we make and the judgments we pass must be brought to the forefront. Gender parity must be reflected in every aspect of our daily lives, public and private. Men need to continue to share more responsibilities at home, and women need to encompass an ever increasing roll in public life - in executive and editor level positions throughout the business world.

The Vida 2010 Count, then, is yet another tool to bring this awareness, and the need for change, to the surface.


  1. Yes yes yes. I agree completely.

  2. This is such an articulate post on the status quo. It's tiring trying to share these kind of statistics or perspectives with individuals that don't believe these gaps exist. I frequently hear derogatory statements about womens' roles as eye candy in my office. It makes me sick to my stomach, especially when I know I'm smarter than most of the individuals making these comments. The point of this little annoyance is that no one thinks that what's being said is even offensive. That women are this- or women enjoy this- is poorly conceived and yet massively dispersed. Frustration. I saw that you recently said these topics were really getting to you, you know, once you had literally been intensely engaging yourself in this type of material. And it does. It's painful- and maybe that's why most women don't talk about it. They buy in and walk away because it's just another problem and who needs that. I've had moments where I couldn't read another article/title about women in advertising- I stopped watching tv, movies- it was everywhere. But I'm back and appreciate this post. It's so nice to see other females/individuals that care about the same issues. Studies have shown that children usually associate language referring to power and intelligence connote the male gender, while compassion and excessive signify the female gender. With the second example bearing the burden as seen as pejorative and certainly unwanted. I'm interested to see your review of Delusions of Gender and want to pick up a copy myself. Thanks for this post; I really enjoyed it!

  3. I'm glad others feel the same way! Katha Pollitt, whom I adore, wrote an excellent piece over at Slate earlier today that I'll either update into this post, or include separately. The gist is that only women are talking about this - after all, why would the privileged group be nearly as concerned about parity as those getting less credence? These attitudes are so incredibly pervasive many of us don't realize we're also guilty of perpetuating the very patriarchal 'norms' that are keeping us down, so to speak. It's distressing, at the very least. I think we have to keep holding everyone accountable, though, including ourselves. We may be considered humorless and tiresome, but it's the only way we'll ever see real change in the long term. At least, that is my hope.

  4. It's frequently been noted that men hold more high-level corporate jobs than women, and are paid more, but I think the Vida statistics got people talking because reading and writing are seen as such "feminine" activities. If women read so much, why aren't we published just as much? Really enjoyed this post, it's definitely a concern that needs to be reflected on, and long-term goals should be set.

  5. zebracactus - I'm glad you liked the post. It seems this is still generating related articles around the internet, at least, a whole 3 weeks after the study was released. So that's a small start.


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