So there is this article, in which guy-author Jeffrey Eugenides accuses lady-author Jodi Picoult of “belly-aching” about the fact that she doesn’t get any love from the New York Times. I hate how soundbites are taken out of context, so here is the full quote, emphasis mine:
I didn’t really know why Jodi Picoult is complaining. She’s a huge best-seller and everyone reads her books, and she doesn’t seem starved for attention, in my mind — so I was surprised that she would be the one belly-aching. There’s plenty of extremely worthy novelists who are getting very little attention. I think they have more right to complain. And it usually has nothing to do with their gender, but just the marketplace.
Hmm, you mean she wants to be commercially successful AND respected? How dare she! Complainer! And really, does ANYTHING have “nothing to do with gender?” My feminist spidey-sense are tingling…
Then I read this Jezebel article. Jezebel has a feminist perspective, and I was ready to be righteously outraged… but I totally wasn’t. The author doesn’t deal with the fact that Eugenides writes literary fiction while Picoult writes commercial fiction, so all the ranting about how ladies aren’t taken seriously is moot because literary fiction is more deserving of publicity and attention… isn’t it? Maybe Eugenides is right, it’s all about the marketplace…
I was feeling very conflicted and icky. I didn’t expect to agree with a guy who accuses a woman of “belly-aching” because she demands the same sort of respect her peers are getting. But then, I don’t see a situation in which I would ever read a Jodi Picoult book on purpose. Jeffrey Eugenides is brilliant and wrote one of my favourite books, The Virgin Suicides. So am I sexist, a book snob, or both?
Then I read this article (tweeted by @jenniferweiner. Follow her.) The author takes the time to research the background, present some actual data, and break down the issues. There are a couple of things going on:
- Commercial fiction is not seen as important or worthy as literary fiction
- Female genre writers like Picoult are treated differently than male genre writers, like, say, Nick Hornby.
- Female genres like romance and YA are treated differently than male genres like horror and mystery.
The whole “belly aching” controversy seems like a smoke screen to distract from the real issues. Kind of like that whole “mom wars” silliness a few months ago. There is ABSOLUTELY sexism in publishing and in writing and in reading. I’ve been reading the classics for years, and it is a vast sea of dead white dudes. Think it’s not a problem today? Nearly all of the current New York Times hardcover bestsellers are by male authors. If you add e-books to the mix, suddenly half are by female authors – thanks to E.L. James are her ilk.
I’m trying to assuage my feminist guilt by stacking my Classics Club list in favour of female authors. I still only made it to 19/50 books, and that was difficult. Maybe I need to write a book.
Do you think the publishing industry is sexist? Do you make an effort to read female authors?