Monday, March 21, 2011

Men vs. Women


I recently ran across a horrifying article at VIDA analyzing the ratio of men vs. women in various respected and renowned book review sources (they look at reviews, reviewers, interviews, short pieces, etc.) Only one out of what seemed like at least a hundred of these stats was skewed towards women (and it was in Poetry magazine). Some were so skewed as to make me wonder what decade (or even century) it is. Depressing.

When I worked as a Bookseller, I had a few regular customers that always asked for me to get my personal recommendations. One was a young man, and over time I noticed a pattern. I'd recommend a book written by a man, and he'd snatch it right up. I'd suggest a book written by a woman, and he'd give some excuse as to why it wouldn't work for him. I let this go on a few times, but eventually I called him on it (I know, I know, "the customer is always right" blah blah. There's a reason my stint in retail was blessedly short!) His excuse? "I just don't think I'd get a book written by a woman." I was baffled. Despite my rude outspokenness, I simply couldn't ask him the next question that came to my mind. Which was: Because you're not smart enough? Women read books by men all the time (in fact in school we're forced to read almost exclusively male authors) and we understand them. Why can't men understand books written by women?

Later, when was an editor, I found that my painful knowledge was very useful. A lot of young editors simply don't understand this. If a book is written by a female author, you can pretty much write off male readers (although since women comprise 60% of the book buying market, that's not as dreadful as it may first sound.)

But wait... if women are 60% of the book buying market, then it's even more baffling why The New Yorker and The New York Times Book Review spend the vast majority of their column space on reviews by men on books by men. Unless they do this because women will read books by and for men, whereas men will not read books by or for women. So by focusing on men, you actually get the largest market. Wow. So women get the short shrift because we're more open? That makes me want to hit things.

So, Mr. Men out there - stop being such close-minded cowards. Stretch your comfort zone. Read a book by a woman. I promise you've already done it and didn't even notice. As the lone male character in The Jane Austen Book Club points out, a lot of female authors have always written under male pseudonyms. Andrew Norton, James Tiptree Jr., Pat Murphy are all given a shout-out in the movie. The bookstore scene starts at 1:44.



I must admit, I'm pretty annoyed that all the books I'm currently reading are by men, and I promise the next book I pick up won't be. Anyway 12/16 books I've read this year have been written by women. The last two years I came out at very nearly 50/50 in the end.

2 comments:

Teacher/Learner said...

That's too bad about your experience with that customer. You should have recommended a Carson McCullers book to him & said it was a guy :D

Christy said...

ugh, the view of that customer is unfortunately a prevalent mindset.

Also the bookstore scene is my favorite part of that movie!