March 28, 2013

Do Female Writers Need Affirmative Action?

Welcome back Tasha B. of Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Books for the Women's Lit Event.  Today she discusses whether female writers are sharing equal parts of the literature pie.  Thanks, Tasha!

The VIDA report came out last week, and--surprise surprise--it demonstrated women are still being under-represented in literature. The few exceptions were Tin House and Granta, both of which made a concerted effort to include women writers in their publication.

According to Flavorwire, both publications who increased the number of female writers they published made a concerted effort to court them. From Rebecca Jones-Schinsky's tumblr:
We did a thorough analysis of our internal submission numbers and found that the unsolicited numbers are evenly split, while the solicited (agented, previous contributors, etc.) were 67/33 male to female. We found that women contributors and women we rejected with solicitations to resubmit were five times less likely to submit than their male counterparts. So we basically stopped asking men, because we knew they were going to submit anyway, and at the same time made a concerted effort to re-ask women to contribute.

By making a concerted effort to court female writers, the editors of these magazines raised their ratio of female to male writers. To me this sounds like affirmative action, which was started in the '60s to even out the racial divide in universities and certain government jobs. In both of those cases there was a institutional preference for white males that overrode any individual's intention to be not-sexist or not-racist.

Affirmative action has become something of a dirty word in recent years, but the fact is that once racism or sexism or any -ism becomes institutionalized, it's extremely difficult to undo it. As Linda Nochlin wrote in her essay, "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?" institutions by definition are created to include and exclude certain people. Once those parameters have been established, it takes radical institutional change to undo them, even if the members of the institution don't agree with them. Affirmative action may not have been the most elegant solution to the problem of institutionalized racism, but it did help to correct it.

Given this, and the effectiveness of Tin House and Granta's new policies, I was wondering what you guys think. Do women need to have affirmative action in publishing in order to be equally represented? Or do you think this is reverse sexism and will hurt women writers in the long run?

Further Reading:


  1. Interesting question, that I'm not sure I really have an opinion on. From what I've seen since I've started blogging, it seems that most books are being written by women, though I think that's more of what's being pushed towards the blogosphere from publishers.

    1. It definitely seems like most of the book bloggers are women, so maybe that has something to do with it. I certainly read more books by women than men.

  2. I think it depends on the context/area you are discussing. For one would a woman want to write for a males magazine? Would a male want to write for a cake decorating magazine? Would their followers want to read something written by the opposit sex (unless a once off and or the magazine wanted to change its demographic).

    I seem to read more books and blogs by women then I do men. Yet I know they are out there. HOwever you get into a genre like horror or crime and there is definitely a emphasis on men then women writers.

    Not sure if I am making sense but it seems to be if there is a culture in a publicist/work place of hiring one particular sex and a man or woman couldnt work there based on their sex rather then ability then yes affimartive action is needed.

    However I am not sure it is so clear cut any more in western society.The line isn't drawn like it was in the 60's.

  3. From what I'm understanding of the situation, I'm liking this affirmative action as a means of recognizing historical bias and attempting to fix that. It's not like male writers are better than female writers but they may have been more encouraged by society that their words are worth more.

  4. Hmm, not sure what I think. I guess I never have thought there was a lack of female authors, more of my books are by females but I do know they don't get the same exposure as males re: The New York Times Book Review. Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult probably sell as much as best-selling male authors but don't get reviewed as much by critics. I don't like the idea of someone being published based on their gender or race but they should get same opportunities. But readers have a say. Or buyers really. because for publishers it is all about making money. If we are buying thrillers written by females, they will publish more.


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