Writer Maureen Johnson’s powerful polemic against an inherent bias in the way male writers are presented, by publishers and critics, compared to their female counterparts.
As a father of one daughter, I think a lot about male paradigms and how they influence the way life is presented to my daughter (and me) through books, language, the media. Looking back over my 2010 reading list, of the sixty-four books I have read this year, thirteen are by female writers: Virginia Woolf, Moyra Davey, Yiyun Li, Anne Michaels, Zadie Smith, Penelope Fitzgerald, Edith Grossman, Stevie Smith and Sarah Hall. 20%? Is it enough? Johnson makes a suggestion:
Here’s a simple test you can do at home. Go to your shelf now. Have a look. First, identify the books you had to read for school. (I know. A lot of men. Just do me a favor and do this anyway just so you can gauge your personal training. It can be an illuminating exercise.)
Now identify the books you consider your favorites. I don’t have a clue in the world what you will find, but when I did this for myself, I was stunned by the results. It was about 75% male, which is an astonishing amount, since I write YA, an area filled with women. I’m still cutting my teeth on male writers. I was surprised, and yet I don’t count this as a personal crisis, just something to think about.
Probably 80% in my case. It isn’t enough. This blog is not about to stray into gender politics, but I do believe that we need new paradigms of masculinity, particularly as portrayed in books, language and the media. I am not going to step up to the soapbox, suffice to say that as a father of a daughter (not that it should be different if I had a son) I think it important that I question an overwhelmingly male tradition.
Of the female writers that Johnson lists (below) I am sheepish to say I’ve read only Woolf, and a little Highsmith and Atwood
Edna Ferber, Diana Wynne Jones, Kate Chopin, Patricia Highsmith, Miles Franklin, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Shirley Jackson, Lillian Hellman, Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor, Edith Wharton, Eudora Welty, Ursula LeGuin, Octavia Butler, Virginia Woolf, Marianne Robinson, Lorrie Ann Moore, Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood, Grace Paley, Barbara Kingsolver, Mary McCarthy, Paula Vogel, Suzan-Lori Parks, Edwidge Danticat.
I need to explore some of these other writers. Currently I am attracted to books that embrace the Modernist project. Can you add to the list of female writers I ought to be reading?