Sunday was my nephew Otto's third birthday party, held at my favorite breakfast spot, the previously blogged about Flabob Airport Cafe (brilliant move, in my opinion--a breakfast birthday party!) As I've mentioned, there is a community library on the mantle of the fireplace inside the restaurant--you can borrow the books or keep the books forever, and people are constantly bringing more to add to the offerings. I found two gems this time: a handsome 1937 edition of 101 of the World's Greatest Books, and a yellowed paperback edition of the Best American Short Stories 1964. I love smelling the age of the books, feeling the integrity of all the words that have traveled through time.
I found myself tallying the number of women in each of the books: the World's Greatest Books collection featured a measley four women out of 101 (Jane Austen, Charlotte and Emily Bronte, and Mary Shelley.) The short story collection fared better--eight women out of twenty writers (including Joyce Carole Oates and Carson McCullers.) I'd like to think that the trend toward gender parity in the publishing world continued to improve over the decades, but sadly, that hasn't been the case. In the recent New York Times survey about the best American fiction in the last 25 years, only 2 of the 25 books that made the final list were written by women (happily, the number one choice was Beloved by Toni Morrison.) Susan Straight had a great opinion piece in the LA Times on Sunday, exploring how the survey was flawed in other ways--not only did it underrepresent women and minorities; it alo underrepresented regional writers outside of New York. But back to the issue of women...
Elizabeth Merrick did a statistical analysis on gender bylines at the New Yorker; the results are very unsettling (although it's nice to see that the ratio of women's fiction has improved since Deborah Treisman was named fiction editor.) The website WomenTK.com keeps tabs at several general interest magazines, and finds that the current ratio of men's to women's bylines is 1157:391. I think we need to find a way to hold these editors accountable and demand gender parity in the media. Of course a letter to the editor is a good way to begin. So is querying with article ideas to get your own voice into the cultural conversation.
The Emerging Writers Network recently featured an engaging online panel discussion introduced by Lauren Cerand, Writing Women's Voices. The panel finds that online book culture tends to be much more balanced gender-wise than the print media, which I find to be a very hopeful development. I (obviously) value women's voices so deeply, and hope that one day the culture at large will offer women writers the same respect and dignity that is extended to the old boys'club.