Never Mind a Room, We Need a NEWSPAPER of Our Own

Uh-oh. The year's "great books" lists have begun. Female authors have put on our literary heels and danced backward as well as we can, but it looks again like we're going to be left tapping our toes to the music while male writers dance on the best books lists once again. The New York Times just published its year's notable books list -- containing three times as many books written by men as by women.

Admittedly, 25% representation has women faring better in literature than we do in some other important places. Women constitute only 17% of the Senate and less than 3% of Fortune 500 Company CEOs. So perhaps we shouldn't complain. And we certainly shouldn't be surprised. A book the Times included on the list but didn't review is the rare exception, and last year, the number of books written by men the Times reviewed outweighed those by women by almost two to one.

Could it be that women just don't write as well as men? And yet the winner of latest Pulitzer Prize for fiction is notably female, as were three of the four winners of this year's National Book Awards. Four of the five NBA finalists in fiction were women, while only twelve could be found for the more extensive Times list.

It isn't just The New York Times, either. The New Yorker. Harper's. The Atlantic. They all reviewed substantially more books written by men than by women.

Our ideas of who we are and who we should be are shaped by the media, and yet those who shape the media often don't even realize the gender stereotyping they perpetuate.

The Geena Davis institute on Gender in Media found that in G-rated movies there are three male characters for every one female one, with most of the female characters stereotyped and/or hyper-sexualized. Female aspirations were almost exclusively romance, while male goals almost never were. And the top occupation for females? Royalty. Yet studio representatives and writers were surprised at the study results.

Think about how that shapes your daughters. Think about how it shapes your sons.

Studies also show that the more hours of television a girl watches, the fewer options she believes she has in life; the more a boy watches, the more sexist his views become.

The fact of the matter is few readers think about the gender of the authors who write the books they read. But the ways we learn about books, largely from the attention they get in the media, including through lists like these -- shape not just our reading choices, but the very idea of what constitutes good literature. One message the elevation of books written by men communicates is that the male story is more important than the female one.

I don't mind dancing backward and in high heels, but I'm not sure I want to read or write that way. Do you? - Meg


I'm the nationally bestselling author of The Four Ms. Bradwells, a Ms. Magazine great read selection, The Wednesday Sisters, a writing group novel, The Language of Light, and the forthcoming The Wednesday Daughters, all from Ballantine Books. Other of my 1st Books posts on SheWrites include Sentencing a Book: The Tough Task of Writing the Pitch Sentence/Par... and How to Build a Book Group Audience for Your Book. Find more on the writers page of my author website and at 1st Books: Stories of How Writers Get Started

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Comment by Andrea Heiberg on March 5, 2012 at 11:18am

I often wondered why Karen Blixen called herself Isak Dinesen and here you give the answer. Thanks for a great article.

Comment by Meg Waite Clayton on December 26, 2011 at 6:12pm

Also the SF Chron list - jut out - has 3/5 best fiction by women, and 2/5 nonfiction. Parity!

Comment by Meg Waite Clayton on December 26, 2011 at 6:09pm

Link to the NYT piece, btw - and it's not on writing, but on Joanne's point, is

Comment by Meg Waite Clayton on December 26, 2011 at 6:07pm

I'm not sure, Joanne. Harder to sort that out from a look through the names on the list. I'd be interested to know, too, though. Saw the most moving piece in yesterday's NYT mag by Isabelle Wilkerson on the 2011 obituaries with "first black to" in them. I'm recommending it to everyone I know.

Comment by Joanne C. Hillhouse on December 24, 2011 at 10:56pm

As a black female writer, I'm curious about how the list breaks down in terms of writers of colour (male and/or female).

Comment by Meg Waite Clayton on December 1, 2011 at 9:55am

Some good news for women authors, on the fiction side, if not the non-fiction, on the New York Times Top 10 Books List

Comment by Melody Fuller on November 30, 2011 at 11:27pm



The odds are better.  Check out the tremendous business women's resources in the bay area. For over 20 years, I was the CEO and Founder of a very successful international business and I know that funding for women starting a business and going for vcf is nothing like what we face, as discussed,in publishing.

Matter of fact, if someone (you perhaps) takes your suggestion about creating our own *publication* to heart, and creates a solid business plan, you should go for vcf. Lets not allow a man to take your great idea (wink).

Comment by Meg Waite Clayton on November 30, 2011 at 4:19pm

I was at an event this morning and someone reminded me that it could be worse: I could be a woman entrepreneur searching for venture capital funding.



Comment by Melody Fuller on November 29, 2011 at 4:49pm

Who were met with these lovely words:

(I simply cut and pasted this again as this was down-thread)

Here is a little bit of what is said about us women writers--of color who *win*.  I say we make our own award and rock it like no other!:


In a post for Commentary Magazine, D.G. Myers said black female writers have increasingly granted a number of honors in a literary affirmative action, of sorts.

Literary awards to black women writers are not historic. For nearly three decades, critical attention and honors have been demanded for some writers (and granted) on the basis of their race and sex. The day is long past when the identification of American writers by race and sex became a mental habit, a social custom; it is now a deep structural element in the grammar of literary criticism. Indeed, the self-congratulation implicit in the trumpeting of the “historic” achievements of black women writers is, by now, thirty years on, a stock reaction like tears when lovers are reunited or laughter when yet another stand-up comic says the word f--k. The Source What "He" Said  The Whole NBA Video (I have not watched all of it)
Comment by Meg Waite Clayton on November 29, 2011 at 4:18pm

Someone asked (offthread) who the prize winners I mentioned were:


Pulitzer = Jennifer Egan;

NBA (fiction) = Jesmyn Ward (who was a student of my friend Peter Ho Davies)
and finalists were:
Andrew Krivak (only guy in this gang)
Téa Obreht
Julie Otsuka
Edith Pearlman

NBA Poetry was Nikky Finney

and Young Persons lit was Thanhha Lai


And there is are a lot of writers of color represented there as well, inc. Lai, Finney, and Ward



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