Dear SheWriters,

I’m sick of hearing how hard men have it these days. They still earn more money than we do, they still dominate most professions, and women are still the default cookers, cleaners, and care-givers. But women are creeping slowly closer to equality, and men are suddenly wringing their moisturized hands at the slightly smaller—though still vast—gap between us.

I guess we’re making them anxious.

Seventy percent of children diagnosed with learning disabilities are male*. (I was also going to report that men are more likely to suffer from attention deficit disorders, but recent research shows that males and females are afflicted with these disorders in equal numbers; it’s just that more boys than girls are referred for treatment due to their greater propensity for hyperactivity.)

Eighty percent of high school drop-outs are male*, and in 2003, seventy-two percent of female public high school students graduated compared with sixty-five percent of their male peers**. In 2005, fifty-seven percent of college students were female***. Female graduate students outnumber men overall and in most disciplines—arts and humanities, biological and agricultural sciences, education, health sciences, public administration and services, and social and behavioral sciences—though men still outnumber women in the traditionally male fields of business, engineering, and physical sciences****.

For years, parenting and education experts railed against the system for short-changing female students. Boys were getting called on more often and teachers had higher expectations for their male students (and teachers’ high expectations—even when not based on actual aptitude—practically guarantee success). Now the experts are speaking out on behalf of boys. During my time at Random House, I worked on two parenting books about the special needs of boys: Meg Meeker’s Boys Should Be Boys and Michael Thompson’s It’s a Boy! (see also The Minds of Boys: Saving Our Sons from Falling Behind in School and Life by Michael Gurian and Kathy Stevens; Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men by Leonard Sax; The Trouble with Boys: A Surprising Report Card on Our Sons, Their Problems at School, and What Parents and Educators Must Do by Peg Tyre; and so on.) I can attest that the Thompson and Meeker titles are excellent, worthy books, but come on—men are still ahead!

As the Publishers Weekly article proves, men are still taken more seriously. Their books are seen as better, more valid, and about more universal (not girly) topics. So gentlemen, stop freaking out that we’re catching up, because we obviously still have a very long way to go.

My favorite book is the one I’m reading now, and the book I finished yesterday was my favorite until I started this one. I love almost everything I read, so sharing my list of top books is a challenge. Here are my lasting favorites, none of which were published in 2009, but all of which are excellent whether they were penned by a man or a woman:

Everything by Margaret Atwood, especially Cat’s Eye
Everything by Haruki Murakami
Ann Patchett’s Truth and Beauty
John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany
D.H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow
Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre
Margaret Cezair-Thompson’s The True History of Paradise
Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest
Stories by Flannery O’Connor
Stories by Raymond Carver and John Cheever
Poems by Mary Oliver and Elizabeth Bishop
Poems by Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams

Love what you're reading, no matter who wrote it,
Lea Beresford
The Girl with the Red Pencil

*Tyre, Peg, "Boy Brains, Girl Brains.” Newsweek, September 19, 2005.
**Greene, Jay G., and Marcus A. Winters, “Leaving Boys Behind: Public High School Graduation Rates.” Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, Civic Report No. 48, April 2006.
***Marklein, Mary Beth, “College Gender Gap Widens: 57% are Women.” USA TODAY, October 19, 2005.
****Jaschik, Scott, “Growing Graduate Enrollments.” Inside Higher Ed, September 16, 2009.

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Tags: Ask an Editor, Lea Beresford, PW, The Girl with the Red Pencil, reading


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Comment by Lea Beresford on November 15, 2009 at 9:43am
Thank you both for these provocative comments! And Nancy, I did read SILAS MARNER in high school! I don't remember spending much time discussing her pen name, but I do remember talking about those of the Bronte sisters.
Comment by Nancy A. McCormick on November 13, 2009 at 5:07pm
Many of you are so very young, or else you would recall when you were in high school and required reading was "Silas Marner" by George Elliot; the pen name for a woman writer Mary Ann Evans. This was the prime example of the discrimination of women. What I recall so interesting, is my female English teacher added the fact about George Elliot quickly and without debate. We were to read the story, discuss the story, take a test on the story "Silas Marner". On the cusp of 1965 and the revolution of the world as we knew it; there was nothing, absolutely nothing which would bring this class into the ring using our brains to ask what was the world like when Mary Ann Evans wrote and disguised herself in a man's name to be sure her words were read? And had the world changed now in 1965? And I ask you today, has the world changed in 2009 if indeed women are left completely off a prestigious writer's list? I apologize for my generation not taking care of this cleanly and completely. The weapons of our revolution were not as efficient and effective as we were lead to believe they might be. Our lives were in the balance of being June Cleaver and Gloria Steinem; we tried, we honestly did. Forgive us for not insuring the end to discrimination and prejudice. The question to ask is "Were there women on the panel who placed all these men on the 2009 PW list?" must begin at the beginning before charging in at the end.

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