I’m a novelist, not a statistician. Why am I taking the time now1 to count and graph the lack of recognition for women’s stories? Because it matters, and because I see a path to a solution.
This skewed publishing landscape is fixable. That, for me, is the point of this exercise. VIDA has shown that there are willing hands out there. And that’s the key: many hands. What I’ve love to see is the assembly of masses of data, data from many awards across many genres and categories. I’d love to see that data exploration encompass what books about women and about men are reviewed, submitted to awards, longlisted, and shortlisted. Once that’s done, we might go farther back (in time and the publishing process)2: who writes about women, who writes about men, who publishes it, who reads it. The more data we have, the more accurate our picture of the publishing ecosystem.
We now have the tools to analyse and display masses of data in ways that are easy to understand. We have more ways to parse and communicate the results—and solicit input.
Data is the way forward. Data will give us patterns. Patterns will give us connections. Connections will help sort correlation from cause. When we have causes, we can find solutions—or at least begin to experiment with a variety of solutions. And it will take experimentation: small (or radical) changes at many levels.
But the key point is that the publishing gender ecosystem can be fixed.3 And it needs to be fixed. Literature matters. Our novels are extra-somatic information delivery, they knit together our culture. They are part of what makes us who we are.4 If more than half human perspective isn’t being heard, then we are half what we could be. Stories subtly influence attitudes.5 If women’s perspectives aren’t folded into the mix, attitudes don’t move with the whole human race—just half of it.
If you are willing to do some counting, or some collating, if you just want to be part of the conversation, leave a comment.
ETA: Here’s how you can help.
1 I wrote a post about it 2007 for the LitBlog Coop but this was before social media so the spark didn’t catch. I’m not the only one thinking about this stuff, of course. For an excellent essay on gender and literary publishing, see Katherine Angel’s piece in the Los Angles Review of Books. For a fabulously graphed chunk of data on children’s and YA publishing, see Ladybusiness’s wonderful post (which I didn’t even know existed until yesterday—but this is exactly the kind of thing we need).
2As Laura Lippman and Sarah Weinman pointed out, things were better in the 90s for women in the mystery genre—at least with the Edgar Award for Best Novel—than they have been this century. What changed? I have no data, I don’t even know if this is true of other genres (though I suspect it is). But if I had to guess I’d say it was because abundance became scarcity. Fewer slots at a variety of levels: medium-sized publishers with individual tastes and marketing budgets, bookstore owners with individual tastes, review outlets, front-of-store choices. Scarcity tends to trigger conservatism, retrenchment, reliance on conventional wisdom: the male perspective is the Norm, female is the Other. But as I say, this is anecdata, not real data. It just an opinion—until someone does the work to assemble the info in one place.
3 It’s not just gender diversity that needs fixing, of course. See Malinda Lo’s excellent series of posts on diversity in YA.
4 There are studies showing fiction makes us more empathetic.
5 There are studies on this, too.