Happy Women’s Equality Day everyone! Or…not? By Deborah Siegel
It is a truth universally acknowledged (ok, yes, by some
) that popular, or “commercial,” fiction by women tends to be critically overlooked. Said New York Times
bestselling author Jennifer Weiner
in an interview posted at HuffPo yesterday
, “[I]t’s a very old and deep-seated doubled standard that holds that when a man writes about family and feelings, it’s literature with a capital L, but when a woman considers the same topics, it’s romance, or a beach book—in short, it’s something unworthy of a serious critic’s attention.” Jodi Picoult
, interviewed in the same piece, was less universally convinced, making the point that while the Times
reviews “tend to overlook popular fiction, whether you’re a man, woman, white, black, purple, or pink,” other venues, like The Washington Post
, er back when they had a book review section, reviewed more widely. But that’s EXACTLY the point; with book reviewing space increasingly precious, what are we to make of the fact that the Times
chose to review white male literary darling Jonathan Franzen
’s new novel Freedom
twice in seven days, when so many other books merit that precious review space too?
Personally, here’s what I think: IT’S CRAP.
No one has anything against Franzen here, present company included. But Weiner and Picoult have been tweeting and commenting about Michiko Kukatani’s recent rave of the latest
from a certain white male author who lives in Brooklyn, and I join them in righteous feminist ire. Tweeted Weiner, “Carl Hiaasen doesn’t have to choose between getting a Times
review and being a bestseller. Why should I? Oh right #girlparts.” She added, in the Huffpo piece, “How can anyone claim that [the Times
] plays fair when genre fiction that men read gets reviewed but genre fiction that women read doesn’t exist on the paper’s review pages?” Go, sister.
The furor around gender bias in reviewing, or gender bias in Times
reviewing in particular, and the debate about the status and importance of popular fiction in our culture is not new. Jane Austen, anyone? (This was, shall we say, part of what motivated me to pursue my PhD in women's literature back in the 1990s.) When Kamy Wicoff
posted a link to an Atlantic
article titled “All the Sad Young Literary Women”
at She Writes’ Facebook page
yesterday, author Julia Cheiffetz
wrote, “Do you remember sitting with me on your couch in 2006 discussing This Is Not Chick Lit
with Laura Miller and Alix Shulman
? Not much has changed since then!”
Oh, She Writers, but it will.
Because we—10,800+ of us—are here at She Writes, and Kamy and I have some serious plans underway. We have yet to even begin
to flex our collective power as readers and reviewers (see Kamy's posts--calls to action--on International Women's Day
, the 2010 Best American anthology editors announcement
, and Publisher's Weekly's Best Books of 2009 list
, for a taste.) But I digress. Back to our regularly scheduled post.
Some great little pearls from Weiner (my new favorite feminist heroine, who knew?!):
“[W]omen are getting the short end of the stick. If you write thrillers or mysteries or orror fiction or quote-unquote speculative fiction, men might read you, and the Times might notice you. If you write chick lit, and if you’re a New Yorker, and if your book becomes the topic of pop-culture fascination, the paper might make dismissive and ignorant mention of your book. If you write romance, forget about it. You’ll be lucky if they spell your name right on the bestseller list.”
“Nick Hornby, Jonathan Tropper, Carl Hiaasen, David Nicholls…all of these guys write what I’d call commercial books, even beach books, books about relationships and romance and families. All of them would be considered chick lit writers if they were girls….If Nick and Jon and Carl don’t have to choose between a slot on the review page and a space on the bestseller list, why should Jen and Sophie and Emily?”
And my personal fave:
“I think it’s irrefutable that when it comes to picking favorites—those lucky few writers who get the double reviews AND the fawning magazine profile AND the back-page essay space AND the op-ed, or the Q and A edited and condensed by Deborah Solomon—the Times tends to pick white guys. Usually white guys living in Brooklyn or Manhattan, white guys who either have MFAs or teach at MFA programs…white guys who, I suspect, remind the Times’ powers-that-be of themselves, minus twenty years and plus some hair.”
There are SO many different threads we could tease out here, but since it’s Friday, and this is a She Writes on Friday post, I turn it over to you:
Do YOU think there’s bias in literary criticism/reviewing? Have YOU—as a reader, writer, teacher of writing/literature, librarian, publisher, editor, fill-in-the-blank—experienced literary sexism in your own literary life? If so, how, when, and where?
We’ve written the She Writes Credo
. Methinks the time for the She Writes Manifesta may be near.
(For an EXCELLENT accounting of how far we've come, and where we still need to go in the wider world of women's leadership *off* the page, please see this wonderful oped posted yesterday by She Writers Jacki Zehner and Linda Tarr Whelan, in honor of Women's so-called Equality Day, "Women Call for Obama to Act")