Dear Publishers, Sorry About My ‘X’ Chromosomes

Tue, March 2, 2010

Changing the World

I’ve been wondering for a few months whether and when women’s voices will finally be taken seriously.  Apparently, my two X chromosomes have been clouding my view of the writing world.

So much of our writing gets labeled as “chick lit” and “mommy blogs” — shorthand for ‘isn’t that cute that those little ladies think they have something to say, but leave the important task of serious writing to us menfolk!’

Just when I think that maybe we’re making a little progress, a new report comes out to snap me back to reality.

The trend doesn’t seem to be waning — the 2009 Top 10 Books of the Year list from Publisher’s Weekly contained no women authors.  How is that possible?  Of all the excellent books written by women, not one ends up on the Publisher’s Weekly list?

Not even Olive Kittredge, by Elizabeth Strout which won the Pulitzer Prize, made the list?

Op-ed pages are filled with men — fewer than 17 percent of opinion writers in the major newspapers are women.  With such a small number, you’d think the media would have their eye out for a few more women.  The Washington Post doesn’t seem to be too worried about it –  the winner of its Next Great Pundit Contest was a man (two women were in the final three) and the newest addition to WaPo editorial page is Dana Milbank — another man (though maybe they were trying to slip one past us, since I know plenty of women named Dana, too).

And the most recent addition to this sadly growing list — the editors chosen to compile the 2010 “Best of” volumes from Houghton Mifflin– short stories, American essays, travel writing, among others – All. Men.

Sure, there have been women editors for these compilations in the past, but this year’s announcement is just more evidence that there are just too few women’s voices acknowledged in writing today.

So what is there to do?  Do we just keep writing and hope that the people in charge will eventually notice?  That doesn’t seem to be working out so well.  I like the idea of making our own lists, but they’ll only get so much attention since they’re not the established ones — at least not yet.

It seems the only answer is to get more women into the positions where they will be the ones calling the shots.  Or we could try a different approach — don’t forget about the woman blogger who pretended to be a man so she’d get taken more seriously.  Maybe that’s the way to go?  Is it too late to choose a pen name?  Perhaps  “P.M. Blogger?”

Of course, there are plenty of exceptions (thank you Bright Sky Press and MojoMom!).  But in our ADHD world that loves anything on a list and tends to overlook the things that aren’t given the imprimatur of bestiness (I’m channeling my inner Rachel Maddow!), the combination of how people characterize women’s writing and where it gets placed in our award-loving world, is important for how our work is considered.

My ten-year-old daughter thinks it’s cool that her mom is a writer and, at least at the moment, she wants to be one, too.  I’d love to be able to give her some encouragement that things will be a little different when she starts her first book!

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10 Responses to “Dear Publishers, Sorry About My ‘X’ Chromosomes”

  1. Just Margaret Says:

    I hear you…it’s maddening.

    You and your readers may be heartened, however, by the fact the the American Booksellers Association just released their 2010 Indies Choice selections: http://news.bookweb.org/7296.html

    At least the indie booksellers have gotten over the X-factor to a certain degree!

  2. annie Says:

    The blogging thing is a sore spot for me. Men can write about matters of family, home and marriage and they are not called “daddies” for their efforts. My musings label my “mommy” and it irritates something fierce. Probably why I can’t sustain the blogging effort and shy away from conventions. The labeling makes my soul chafe.

  3. Lafftur Says:

    I’ve been thinking lately that it’s time to dig out my 1977 green “79c” button (btw, when did keyboards lose the sign for cents?)and start wearing it again. Sheesh…I really thought the world was past this crap. I stayed at home till my youngest entered kindergarten. I remember watching my IQ drop in the eyes of people I would meet at city council meetings, cocktail parties, etc. But my youngest is now 24. Gender discrimination is off the radar for both my daughters — they simply live as if it isn’t a part of life. I don’t believe they think about it much. But given what I see lately, I wonder if they are going to have one of those “click” experiences Ms. Magazine talked about.

    PunditMom, please keep showing us that the emperor is naked.

  4. Kevin Says:

    It’s not because you’re a woman, it’s because you’re devoid of rational thought.

  5. Ryan Says:

    It’s cool that your daughter looks up to you and wants to follow in your footsteps. I am in a position where I am helping young men and women compete in a sport that I used to compete in and helping them reach levels that I never knew existed at their age.

    I’ll read anything that adds value to my life. Person, financial, etc. Recently I’ve read books by Seth Godin, Daniel Lupin, and Donald Trump.

    All the books I put on my list to read are recommended by other people; friends, family, & acquaintances. What woman written book do you recommend to add value to my life?

    Your whole article complains about a ratio not being 50/50. Why don’t you concentrate on adding value and who cares about what percentage is what?…

  6. Kevin Incorvia Says:

    To be honest it’s something I had never thought about before. Good to be aware of. Will take a closer looks at the best sellers next time on in B&N.

  7. Ryan Says:

    Any books come to mind?…

  8. Ryan Says:

    I’m almost done with my current book, anything?

  9. Ryan Says:

    Went with The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson, give me one for my list…

  10. Ryan Says:

    Went with The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson, give me one to add to my list.


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