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What We Honestly Think

Fortunately, the conversation around the VIDA Count continues online  and because it’s a conversation by and about writing and literature, it’s a lively and intelligent conversation being held by some of the great minds working in literature today. Yay Facebook! This is what awareness feels like. Unfortunately, awareness also brings some lint along with the velvet, as in this post from an anonymous poster on VIDA’s website:

AFX-WIN says:

March 10, 2013 at 6:17 am

Personally – and I fully realize I may have bias, being a male – most of the work of female writers just isn’t that… good, to me. It doesn’t appeal to me.

Now I think that calling on publishers to ramp up their number of female writers published will not necessarily solve the issue. Quotas are never good for quality. What I think could be done are two things.

One, have writers submit anonymously, only asking for their names once their work has been accepted.

Two, call for more female editors, not for male editors to publish more females. If male editors are anything like me, then odds are they also aren’t drawn by female writing, which may be at the crux of the problem, rather than the very improbable scenario of editors actively discriminating against women (“well I like the work, but it’s by a lady, so no,” said no editor ever), so hiring editors with more feminine sensibilities could see a rise in lady writers.

I’d be very interested in hearing what females think – honestly think – about other women’s writing. Does it resonate more with you? What do you think of its overall quality?

Now it’s true that Twitty McTwitter is a bit of a dolt, and some out there are really hoping it’s just a provocation from some bored undergad and not actually an editor at a glossy. I knew of someone in academia who claimed he “didn’t read the ladies.” It isn’t new, the open and confessed hating of words out of women. Twitty, though going about this all wrong, is clearly a simplistic thinker with his masculine sensibility and his superior man writing, but he points to a kernel of anxiety that goes largely unvoiced about the VIDA Count and the act of championing women’s voices in literature. Editors who didn’t fare well in their VIDA count probably feel somewhat in concert with his fear of “quotas.” If Contrary’s numbers had been poor, I’d probably feel a bit defensive myself. Our numbers were great, but it’s more than just about scoring well by accident, it’s about an overall consciousness, a governing intelligence, a promise to always strive to challenge blind spots.  It’s not a quota, but a way of reading that is open and focused on the readers and on the literary community. This nice little phrase is going around post-AWP and I like it: being a literary citizen. Citizens show up, contemplate, participate, and comment. They shape the soul of their community with their thoughts and expressions. And being a good one means not so much that anyone for any reason gets a pass because of an accident of biology, but everyone who works for it is invited.

So, naturally, there’s a bit of backlash against McTwitty. And there should be: can anyone get away with the implication that women suck at writing? No. And if he’s for real, he’s probably not going very far as an editor, either. But I think he probably is speaking for a large, silent group of people who aren’t likely to speak up for themselves. He’s a scouting doe for those who think their pubs are fine without those girly stories messing in their boyness. The truth is, Contrary without the great women who let us publish their words isn’t Contrary. The women we publish add to our quality and consistency as much as the men, and for that we are so grateful. We want more of that. Are our numbers great because two of our editors are women who like lady words? Nope. It’s because half of what we know to be great out there is coming from women. It’s true at your pub, too, Twitty. Just look a little deeper.



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  • Dave Hopkinson March 13, 2013, 2:49 pm

    Ancient Greek myth: Tiresiras changed into a woman by godess. His/her life included the experience of childbirth and raising children as a mother. Such a change being unavailable to men, literature remains one way of understanding the point of view of women: to be able to see through a woman’s eyes and comprehend is a definition of compassion. The other myth about Tiresiras involves being struck blind by the gods for revealing their secrets. Complete deprivation of writing by women would strike men totally blind, it seems to me. Isn’t the point of literature to reveal other worlds to us? And which worlds could be more important to men than those of women? The greatest gift would be the ability to see from the point of view of both, without either necessarily becoming the dominant eye, so to speak, without losing one’s own native point of view.

  • Shweta March 13, 2013, 7:52 pm

    I don’t think that what the anonymous poster said is valid. For every individual who writes off the work of most female writers as “just not that good,” there’s another who IS reading as many females as males, who is therein less likely to make gender a factor in good writing. The latter almost certainly reads much more as a result, and has a much wider scope fed into his/her brain on which can be judged what’s good and what isn’t. People like Anonymous have a narrow concept of what can be judged ‘good.’

    It did make me think of something, though. I just now counted the books on my shelves and around the house and worked out the percentages – just about 25% are by female authors. So I wonder if I’m a hypocrite with my standpoint, as I haven’t consciously been seeking to read either male or female authors more/less in my time. I just go for what people recommend and what connects to me in the bookstore when I read a page and decide what to buy. I will say, the literary reviews I read do usually feature a good number of females, often more than males, and I love reading these reviews for quality of writing – hopefully that makes up for the disproportion on my bookshelves? Ha.

  • Frances March 13, 2013, 9:14 pm

    Great comments! Thank you both!