News Flash: Literary World Ignores Women

A great little article in HuffPo points out something that, for most serious female writers, isn’t exactly news: “publications like the New York Review of Books, the New Yorker, Harper’s, and the London Review of Books published significantly fewer articles by women in 2012.” This was based on a VIDA study, which also concluded that those pitiful numbers were “consistent with results from previous years.”

This kind of information is so commonplace, and has been for so long, that many people wonder why it’s even worth mentioning. Women have been excluded from the realm of literature ever since the Western world has had “literature.” Women were, for centuries, barred from attending universities; for a long time after that, we could only attend those institutes of higher education designed especially for women – that is, the curricula focused primarily on the domestic and social “arts.”

Now, however, thanks to our brave foremothers and -grandmothers, women are no longer overtly denied entré to the world of literature. Apparently, it’s a good fit: women comprise the majority of book buyers and readers. Yet, when it comes to producing literature, instead of merely consuming it, women are still turned away from the old-boy’s network. It’s harder for women to get published, and when they do, their books are often diminutively labeled as “chick lit” or “summer reading.” As the study above clearly shows, books by women get reviewed less frequently and win fewer prestigious awards.

The fact that men have more doors opened for them in the publishing world was brought home when the writer James Chartrand revealed himself to actually be…a woman. As a female freelance writer, she “struggled to get gigs”…she was “bossed around and degraded,” and despite her good writing and professionalism, her pay “hit a plateau.” So she started using a nom de plume – a male nom de plume. “Instantly,” she writes, “the jobs got easier to get.” She was treated with a great deal more respect, and her pay increased significantly.

Was what she did right? If there were some magic key that could open the doors to the places you want to go (as a writer), would you pick it up? The only cost would be, like a superhero, you would have to keep your real identity a closely-guarded secret. Would you do it? Would you pick up that key, and turn it in the lock?


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