Monday, November 9, 2009

Women's Words

I consider myself a feminist, but honestly, gender discrimination isn't something I think deeply about on a daily basis. I'm not so naïve as to believe it's a non-issue, just one that I'm not confronted with too overtly anymore. Turns out, I may need to rethink my position.

I was one of many people upset by Publishers Weekly's recent announcement of their "Top Ten Books of 2009." A list that included no female authors.

Knowing nothing beyond that, my initial reaction was lukewarm. All things being equal, the odds are strongly against an all male list occurring by coincidence, but... it could happen. And they didn't completely ignore women--there were 29 included in their "Top 100." Still, a low total. As I considered it, the less lukewarm I became. A little steamed. A lot steamed. Hot.

I spent several days in dialogue with other women writers, collectively bent on responding. After all, who else was going to spotlight this oversight? As articles were written, and the conversation unfolded online, the range of public opinion stretched far and wide. From the overtly sexist ("Women just can't write as well as men."), to the inane ("It was a bad year for women writers."), to the delusional ("We're in a post-gender America. Quality trumps quotas."), arguments abounded. Few people seemed willing to accept our critique and move on.

All in all, I observed more anger directed at the women who were protesting the PW list, than at the list itself. Many people seem to believe that PW should be allowed to have their opinion about the best books of the year, without anyone second-guessing them, yet women writers aren't allowed to disagree without being pegged as reverse-sexist, or worse, a special-interest minority group vying for an unearned piece of the recognition pie.

In the end, does any of it matter? The PW editors and their sexism--whether intentional or subconscious--matter very little in the long run. It is just one list, one moment, one group's opinion. The true value of this experience, for me, was watching women writers come together to say something important. It's unfortunate to realize that we still have reason to unite in protest, but it's good to know that we still can.

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