Last week I took a look at six literary awards and concluded books about women don’t win prizes. I put together nifty pie charts, wrote a couple of paragraphs about my conclusions, and went to bed thinking my job was done.
Wrong. I woke up to a world gone mad: signal repeat and interview requests from what seemed like half the world. Here’s a screen shot of some sites I bookmarked:
I am not complaining. Just the opposite: I am delighted that this issue is getting some attention. It matters. It’s about far more than books. Books are part of what creates and sustains culture; women’s perspectives are vital to society. The more this gender bias is discussed, believed, and—most importantly—understood, the more effectively we’ll be able to put it right. First, we need to understand how we get to the current lop-sided results. In other words, we need to understand the inflection points in the system: Where does this bias begin? Where is it most pervasive? What are the bottlenecks? Think of it as the world having back pain. It is impaired, every day. It needs attention. But is it a pulled muscle or a herniated disc? To treat it, to take the pain away, we need to know exactly where and what the problem is. We need data. Data is like an MRI. It will give us a picture of the problem. Then we can fix it.
So, we need data. This is where you come in. We need many people counting many things. The more who count, the less each of us has to do.
If you sign up to help, if you join the people who are already committed to this, you will be part of something that will change the world for the better. If, say, you count the manuscripts submitted to your publishing imprint, what percentage are written about women and about men (and then the percentage of each that’s eventually acquired, then supported, then submitted to awards) and if someone else is counting what’s being submitted to a particular award (and long-listed, and short-listed, and chosen as a winner) we get a sharp and useful picture of what’s going on. From there we can work out how to proceed: maybe we need massage, maybe surgery, maybe physiotherapy. Maybe all three. But it won’t happen without your help.
It’s clear that the media are interested. If you sign up, your work will be at the heart of the data reported all over the world: by US culture forums like Time magazine, Entertainment Weekly, and the Huffington Post; CBC, RTÉ and other broadcast networks; the New York Times; financial journals from India to Canada to the US; UK broadsheets like the Guardian and Independent; countless publishing journals; Swedish and Italian and French sites; and a thousand other venues. Your work will be what gets people talking; your efforts will help move the needle. I hope you’ll join us.
If you’d like to help, please leave a comment here or contact me directly. We need many hands.