I mentioned yesterday that I was doing a talk this morning on Women’s Lit, and I thought I’d share a bit of what we discussed this morning.
I began by introducing myself. Unlike my fellow panellist, a lovely academic professor who discussed the magazine Time and Tide (from between the world wars), I was coming from a publishing and writing space. I’m a development editor for an lgbt publishing house, I’m a writing consultant and teacher, and I’m a PhD candidate working on gender in contemporary mythology.
The topic was Women’s Literature. Now, that’s rather vague, isn’t it? I mean, what is women’s lit? Is it literature written by women, regardless of subject? Is it literature written about women, regardless of author’s gender? Does it need to have feminist undertones and be aware of gender? Is a crime novel, written by a woman, but without female characters, women’s literature? I mean,it’s written by a female author, after all.
When I went to the conference in Manchester, it was 95% heterosexual women writing gay male romance/erotica. Is that women’s literature?
Recent statistics about women and writing are strange: According to Julie Crispin at Tor, out of over 500 manuscripts they received in the first half of this year, only 32% were submitted by women. A bit of research shows this as a trend all over–fewer women are submitting their work to publishers. But, paradoxically, more women are self-publishing than men (by about 2:1). And the top earners in e-publishing are women. Traditional publishing numbers overall are still higher than overall self publishing figures, though.
So: why aren’t women writing? Why aren’t they submitting work they have written? Is it a confidence issue? Time? Desire? Lack of validation?
When it comes to book reviews, women’s work is reviewed substantially less than men’s–of the New Yorker’s book reviews, 84% were books authored by men (73% in the UK). Now, if we consider that women are submitting far less, then it stands to reason they’ll be reviewed less, because there are less of their books out there.
No, not necessarily. The fact is, there are enough books out there that the reviewers could balance out their reviews a bit more. But sadly, the writing world is still heavily dominated by men. And if the reviews focus on men’s work, but not women’s, then maybe women feel their work is ‘less than’ before they even start writing?
Why are women’s voices going so quiet?
That’s the gist of the conversation. It was engaging, and the few people in the audience really got involved in the discussion. I love discussions like these. Not only does it keep me confident in my conference type speaking, but it also allows me to talk to other people interested in writing and women, two of my passions.
Today’s question: Does gender matter to you in the books you read? Do you care if the author is female? Do you care if the characters are? What do you consider Women’s literature?
Book: Promethea by Helene Cixous
Song: Where Have You Been by Rihanna