|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.