Updated in 2015 to include 50% less ignorance!
When I browsed the fantastic events calendar for 2012’s Manchester Literature Festival, I found myself noting just how many of the female authors (but the not poets, strangely enough) I’m completely unfamiliar with. This got me to wondering why none of the female authors I follow ever do events or talks.
A cursory glance at my bookshelves provided me with the answer. If you took away my near-complete Daphne DuMaurier collection and the obligatory Harry Potters, a shockingly dominant male bias showed its face.
Pull out any books bought for university that have survived the near-decade since (Austen, Bronte, Shelley, Winterson, Zadie Smith, A.L Kennedy, Stella Gibbons, *) and I’m left… with two… Simon Lia’s beautiful graphic novel Fluffy which I one day hope she’ll let me put on a stage, and Claire Dowie’s Creating Chaos.
Thinking my collection was incomplete, I checked out the books that I lust after, rather than just those that I own. Of the 217 books on my Amazon wishlist in 2012, only 18 were by female authors, and only 9 of those were fiction.
My first reaction was one of guilt, but that didn’t feel right. Despite how aggressive I may have been towards Linda Barnes, I have no issue with female authors. I don’t really think of them as female authors, just as I don’t think of men as male authors. Both are just extra words on a book cover or a flag to tie a series or style around.
It’s not my fault that classic science fiction and fantasy was male-dominated. It’s not my fault that the most attractive covers on the shelf last time I was a-browsing were attached to works by David Drake and Jeff Somers. I’ve got to blame the industry, and go about fixing this bias by filling my shelves with female authors, right?
Back in 2012 I put on my new-feminism cap on for a moment (they gave me one at university, it suits me when I like it), and said that actively searching out female authors simply because they are female was just as sexist and oppressive as having an ignorance of female authors, and because gender plays no part in quality of writing, or prominence of genres or form, I shouldn’t expect myself to go out of my way to find female authors. Such an act would be just as sexist as the equal pay act, a symptom of the problem that informs it, rather than a solution.
So what was the solution? Beyond passively exposing myself to as many books as possible in the hope that some of them were by female authors, I used the original posting of this article to crowd source a huge list of new writers, and ever since I’ve been working my way through those recommendations. I also have to say I love that you’re chatting amongst yourselves too!
But still.. the fact that I to crowd sourcing didn’t feel great. I could easily generate a list of male writers I’d never read or knew nothing about, but the same apparently wasn’t true for women writers. I didn’t feel that my situation was a rare one, and despite my earlier admission, I was clearly choosing to blame the industry.
The very genesis of this problem was the number of “female authors I’m completely unfamiliar with” at an event. That’s not an industry problem, that’s a me problem. The Literature Festival was offering up a raft of female authors, and I was flailing my arms in the air yelling “Who are they?!” instead of reading up on them.
Recognising a cultural bias in your reading or education is a great first step, but it isn’t enough to simply acknowledge that, you’ve got to make the steps to rectify it, no matter whose fault it is. So yes, I crowd-sourced a stack of new authors and books, and incorporated them into my reading, but most importantly I made a point of paying attention to all writers and authors, irrespective of their gender or background, to the point that it quickly stopped being an issue.
Anyway, I’m off to read something. Anything.
And I need Maurier books than just Daphne.
(I will never edit-out that pun, sorry)
*I nearly put Wilkie Collins on this list but a quick google proved a worthwhile error-check..