Wednesday, October 24, 2007


What to make of the following convergence of events? One can’t help but notice….

--Folger Poetry & Lecture series brochure arrives in the mail. Eleven speakers in the series, two women.

--October 29 issue of the New Yorker arrives. Twelve writers listed in the Table of Contents, one woman.

--Oprah picks another book for her book club. Despite a viewership of, oh, what—99.9 percent women??—she chooses Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Okay, fine, a modern classic…but according to blogger M.J. Rose, since January 2005, Oprah has picked 9 books—each by a man. Since 2003, she’s picked 15 books, 13 by men.

--Read an interesting interview with writer Kate Christensen in Maud Newton and came across this quotation:

“That said, and to answer your question more directly, it does seem to me that male writers are taken more seriously just because they’re men, and conversely, female writers have to work much harder to be taken seriously just because we’re women; I don’t have any hard statistics to back this up, but almost every time I open the NYTBR, I become convinced anew. Anyway, it’s a little dispiriting, but there’s nothing I can do about it but keep writing.”

--And, to top it all off, I read this in Slate’s new blog written by women:

" The Science of Female Self-Doubt -- More on women, science, and stereotype threat: A new study published by Psychological Science of undergraduate women majoring in math, science, and engineering found fresh evidence that cues of gender-imbalance negatively affect not only women's performance but their desire to perform. (The study was conducted by Claude Steele and others.) In the study, some women watched a gender-balanced video about an upcoming conference in their field, while others watched a similar video in which male speakers outnumbered female. The participants who watched the latter video "reported a lower sense of belonging and less desire to participate in the conference, than did women who viewed the gender-balanced video." (Men who watched the videos didn't report any differences in their sense of belonging--but those who watched the video with more women expressed more desire to participate in the conference.) Interestingly, the women experiencing stereotype threat also demonstrated more "cognitive vigilance"--that is, they remembered more about the video and the room in which they saw it than did the first group. More analysis here at Inside Higher Ed (scroll down).

"I suppose it hardly bolsters the case for (or against) an all-women's blog--but it may have some bearing on the perennial discussions of why there are more male bloggers than female bloggers in fields like politics. Via Inside Higher Ed. Posted Monday, October 22, 2007 2:20 PM by Meghan O'Rourke"

If you’re not depressed enough, read (or reread) Francine Prose’s essay first published in Harper’s magazine, “Scent of a Woman’s Ink: Are Women Writers Really Inferior?” It was published in June 1998 but still rings uncomfortably true:

“But some of us can't help noting how comparatively rarely stories by women seem to appear in the few major magazines that publish fiction, how rarely fiction by women is reviewed in serious literary journals, and how rarely work by women dominates short lists and year-end ten-best lists.”

Continuing on:

“In fact, as so often happens, the statistics outdo one's grisliest paranoias. In last year's New York Review of Books, twenty-five books of fiction by men were reviewed and only ten books by women--in essays written by three times as many men as women. In 1997, The New Yorker printed thirty-seven stories by men, ten by women; Harper's Magazine printed nine stories by men, three by women. Since 1992, the Editors' Choice lists in The New York Times Book Review, arguably the most powerful voice in the book-review chorus, have included twenty-two books of fiction by men and eight by women. Since 1980, sixteen men and two women have won the PEN/Faulkner Award; and fourteen men and four women, the National Book Award.”

I was in the audience when she delivered this essay as a speech at the Sewanee Writer’s Conference, and I was disgruntled for weeks after. I'm not saying someone needs to be keeping a 50-50 tally chart...but still.


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.