And speaking of sausage parties…

Echidne has the winners of the National Book Critics Circle this year.  (Go ahead and click on over–I’ll wait.)  Why is it that Francine Prose’s brilliant article, “Scent of a Woman’s Ink:  Are Women Writers Really Inferior?” Harper’s Magazine (June, 1998) keeps coming to mind?  As she wrote then,

And yet there are women writers of literary fiction: the species, however endangered, has not as yet been eradicated. Perhaps this recent batch of book awards was simply an anomaly? Perhaps our apprehensions about the ways in which fiction by women is received are merely symptomatic of some feminist dementia?

In fact, as so often happens, the statistics outdo one’s grisliest paranoias. In last year’s New York Review of Books, twenty-five books of fiction by men were reviewed and only ten books by women–in essays written by three times as many men as women. In 1997, The New Yorker printed thirty-seven stories by men, ten by women; Harper’s Magazine printed nine stories by men, three by women. Since 1992, the Editors’ Choice lists in The New York Times Book Review, arguably the most powerful voice in the book-review chorus, have included twenty-two books of fiction by men and eight by women. Since 1980, sixteen men and two women have won the PEN/Faulkner Award; and fourteen men and four women, the National Book Award. No works of fiction by women were included among the five finalists for the Los Angeles Times book prize last year (though the Los Angeles Times’s winner in a category for “first fiction” was a woman, the short-story writer Carolyn Ferrell, who took the prize with the appropriately named collection Don’t Erase Me). And in 1988, when none of the New York Times’s ten best books of the year was by a woman, the editors (who bypassed, for example, Mavis Gallant’s In Transit in favor of “a circus of storytelling” by Milorad Pavic) published this disclaimer: “In case anyone has failed to notice, none of the books on this year’s list is by a woman. Among more than 40 volumes originally nominated by individual editors were many, both fiction and nonfiction, by women. But none remained among the final choices after two months of weekly discussions.”

I'll just die if I don't get this recipe!

I just love John Updike!

What do you want to bet the numbers would look like if we ran them today, eleven years later?

But, remember:  don’t say anything bad about any male writers here, living or dead, no matter what stupid or vicious things they wrote about women or feminists!  They were all brilliant men, beyond reproach, so don’t say it!  Because that’s all in the past, and we just want to move on.  This isn’t a history blog, or a feminist blog.  La-di-dah!

42 thoughts on “And speaking of sausage parties…

  1. Stop it! Stop it now! I don’t like your unseemly tone. What are you, twelve? Clearly, you aren’t interested in having a serious discussion about Tertullian’s very serious and important argument that every woman carries the curse of Eve, as originator of sin.


  2. Well, let’s see, spending a half-hour updating this shows:

    Pen/Faulkner Award 1999-2009
    winners 8 men, 3 women
    nominees 37 men, 18 women

    National Book Award 1999-2008
    fiction 6 men, 4 women

    New York Review of Books, 2008*
    fiction reviewed 27 men, 7 women

    * NYRoB -this was a cursory look; may not be exact

    Editor’s Choice lists will take more time.


  3. Hi (and sorry if this is a little long),

    Over in the comments at Echidne, someone writes: “The research statistics are pretty consistent: make a list of nominees, and submit it to a set of experts/judges. The female judges will vote for men and women with something nearing equality, although they too are biased in favor of men; the male judges will pick 2 women for every 10 men. Even if the “women” and “men” are just random names assigned to the same piece of writing.”

    If this is the primary cause of the discrepancy, then perhaps these competitions ought to be done without names on the manuscripts, wherever possible? I mean I know that when you’re dealing with “already-published” books it becomes near-impossible to do this, but surely even consistency in manuscript formatting without names on them could have some psychological effect.

    Also, do you think this is the only cause of the discrepancy? Chances are there are probably more men than women on the evaluation committees as well. I think pointing out the statistical discrepancy is great — people need to be more aware that no, sexism is not, in fact “dead” — but I think we also need to try to figure out the root causes and to brainstorm solutions. Agree/Disagree?



  4. Personally, I think it’s pointless to be looking at the arts like it’s a workplace in need of a diversity overhaul, or to see bullshit award competitions as glass ceilings to be broken.

    It’s not a slight against male writers to point out that four of the five most accomplished fiction writers in 19th-century England were women, or that women were the two best U.S. fiction writers working in the first quarter of the twentieth century. The consensus is that the best novel written by an American in the last 25 years (Beloved, by Toni Morrison) is by a woman. Four of the first seven winners of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction were women, and that award will probably go to a woman–Marilynne Robinson, for Home–this year as well. These things are not conscious or unconscious conspiracies; they’re just the way the ball bounces.

    It is estimated that women are responsible for 60-80% of the fiction sales in this country. The percentages of women editors and marketing staff at the major fiction publishers are comparable. The most reliable catalyst for sales isn’t an award; it’s being designated a selection of Oprah’s Book Club, which is all but entirely geared toward women readers. The series editors of the two most prominent short-story annuals (the O.Henry Prize Stories and Houghton-Mifflin’s Best American Short Stories) are women, and the most prominent book reviewer in the U.S. press–Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times–is a woman as well. If women think they’re being slighted in today’s literary world, they only have themselves to blame.

    The truth is that most readers don’t give a flying bleep about the gender of the author; they’re concerned about how good the book is.


  5. Vellum–good point about blind review, but I don’t know how the New Yorker and Harpers (to pick 2 examples) make their decisions about whose stories they publish or anything about their editorial processes. But, this is the point Prose makes: when the sex of the author is known to editors, reviewers, and prize committee members, it appears to work against women in the aggregate.

    Brassai–if you read the Prose article, she makes all of the points you make about popularity and sales. However, if you think the editorial decisions made at the NYRoB, the NYT book review, the New Yorker, the National Book Awards, etc. have nothing to do with sales, then you’re nuts!

    And, I think the statistics she presents, and that Marcia reports, reveal that women ARE being slighted, and that it probably has little if anything to do with the quality of their writing. Even if most readers don’t “give a flying bleep” about the sex of the authors they read, it sure still seems to matter to the gatekeepers of elite literary fiction journals and awards. You seem to be oddly invested in guarding the privilege of this little boys club. Why is that?


  6. One more revealing little statistic. On the NYT Book Review page there is a search feature called Times Topics: Featured Authors. If you scroll down the list of featured authors you’ll see 178 men and 47 women.


  7. The H-OIEAHC top ten early returns (somebody once called it the E-I-E-I-O Institute) are looking pretty grim as well. Of course, a lot of biblical prophets and ancient greeks are being nominated, so this may be tipping the scales. One noble colleague of mine down the allegheny ridge a notch or two did nominate Mercy Otis Warren and Mary Beard, it should be said.


  8. The only outside guides I look at for literary fiction are five award programs (Man Booker, National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle, Pen/Faulkner, and the Pulitzer) and two short-story annuals (O.Henry and Best American). I don’t bother with the latest issues of The New Yorker or Harper’s unless they’ve got something new by Alice Munro. You seem preoccupied with the editorial choices made by them, the Times Book Review, and the New York Review of Books. If they annoy you so much, why do you bother with them? I don’t read them, and I don’t feel the loss. And I pity any author who relies on good reviews by them for the majority of a book’s sales.

    If you decide to read everything by women honored this year by those five award organizations and those two short-fiction anthologies, you’ll be reading novels by Linda Grant, Marilynne Robinson, Rachel Kushner, Elizabeth Strout, Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum, Susan Choi, and once the Pulitzer committee makes its selections, you may have to add books by Toni Morrison and Jhumpa Lahiri. The short stories you’ll be reading are pieces by Munro (two by her), Karen Brown, Katie Chase, Danielle Evans, Allegra Goodman, A.M. Homes, Nicole Krauss, Rebecca Makai, Karen Russell, Christine Sneed, Lore Segal, Sheila Kohler, Brittani Sonnenberg, Shannon Cain, Rose Tremain, Yiyun Li, and Mary Gaitskill. The number of books by women this year is comparatively thin–the Booker nominees, for instance, included only one woman this year, as opposed to three for the year before–but I think most people would find it a challenge just to keep up with this list. If there is more honored literary fiction by women than all but the most dedicated readers have the time, money, or inclination to keep up with, then I don’t really see cause for complaint.

    As far as the arts are concerned, sometimes men come out on top, and sometimes women do. Generally speaking, women own the literary marketplace these days, and it’s safe to say that male writers who succeed in it have women’s support. I’m not trying to defend any “boy’s club”; I just think you’re off-base.


  9. Indyanna: I had similar thoughts regarding H-OIEAHC’s “top ten” list, though the entire project struck me as bizarre from the start. I mean, just thinking of my own field, I would find compiling a list of the top ten people in early American history as a futile exercise an exercise as ranking apples, oranges, and say, pineapples. (Though I do have a friend who has given me a ranking of her favorite fruits in order, with detailed reasons for each one. She is fastidious.) Trying to rank the ten greatest historians of all time seems almost like a publicity stunt–if there were any publicity to be had in the wonderful field of H-Net discussion groups.

    But this mention of H-OIEAHC and the Institute got me thinking of an issue that I think is relevant to this thread: the role of the academic journal editor as institutional gate-keeper. I found it striking when I considered how few of the major journals in my fields at least have had women editors. The William & Mary Quarterly has never had a female editor, to the best of my knowledge (though it has had relatively few editors over its 66 years of publication.) Nor has the Journal of the Early Republic (though that has been in business for only a quarter century.) Joanne Meyerowitz edited the Journal of American History for 5 years, but otherwise they have had all male editors in its 100 years of existence. (I am including the days when the OAH was the Mississippi Valley Historical Association.) I can’t find a list of past editors of the American Historical Association. I also can’t find anything for American Quarterly, though I know they have had two different women editors since I started grad school in 1995.

    Is this a trend? Is this something specific to my particular field(s) but less applicable elsewhere? I will admit to picking those journals above somewhat arbitrarily, but if, say, my department chair or dean asked for a list of the most relevant publications in my area, those would probably be the ones I’d offer. (I also happen to have presented at the annual meetings of the various associations that publish those journals, so they “fit” me that way as well.)

    I’m curious as to what you all think.


  10. John S. and Indyanna–well, I’m going to ignore that “Top 10 list,” which seems like a David Letterman stunt crossed with those dumb “Rank the Presidents” lists that we all snarked on last month. Top 10 by what standard? Wev.

    John S. raises an interesting point: I wonder what would happen if we would run the numbers of articles published by the JAH when Meyerowitz was the editor, versus those of her immediate predecessor and successor. (Numbers in terms of women authors, as well as women’s history articles–both I think are important.) I don’t have the time or the energy, and Marcia has already turned in her lab reports, so consider this an open call to anyone with a spare day or two on their hands to track down the information and report it back here!

    Oh, and BTW–Indyanna will have the definitive scoop on this, but I think that Susan Klepp will soon be assuming the editor’s chair at the JER, if she hasn’t yet already.


  11. That is great news about Susan Klepp’s appointment. I no longer subscribe to the Journal of the Early Republic (a sore spot between me and my fellow early Americanist down the hall, a past president of SHEAR), so I missed the initial annoucement in the Feb 2009 issue. She was a wonderful mentor and resource at the McNeil Center when I was dissertating, so she’s a great successor to Roderick McDonald.

    Still, this development raises a pressing issue: who or what can break Rider University’s newfound lock on the editorship of the JER? I know Susan left Rider for Temple Univ. a few years ago, but still. This bears further investigation.


  12. Based on what Ruth Karras wrote here recently (who was at Temple and whom I believe hired Klepp on her way out the door to Minnesota), it sounds like Klepp will be doing yeoman’s service for free. Based on what I’ve seen and heard about journal editing in the past few years, it doesn’t sound like a job I’d enjoy. It seems like a big opportunity to just piss off a lot of people (when you decline to publish their work), and the people you publish probably aren’t all that grateful or appreciative, and they’re probably still very touchy about revisions and changes you make to their writing, etc. Plus, every time someone wants to meet you at a conference or meeting, you have to figure it’s not because you’re such a sparkling wit or intellect, or that you’re such a snappy dresser…


  13. @ Historiann: Yeah, I definitely get that when the gender of the author is known it plays a part — any ideas as to how to fix this in either the (less likely) short term or the (perhaps more realistic) long term?

    @ Brassai: You wrote that “…four of the five most accomplished fiction writers in 19th-century England were women… women were the two best U.S. fiction writers working in the first quarter of the twentieth century [and] The consensus is that the best novel written by an American in the last 25 years (Beloved, by Toni Morrison) is by a woman.”

    A couple of questions: One, does “accomplished” relate to sales figures or something else? Two, what qualifies the words “best” and “consensus” in the next two statements? Three, which names were you thinking of for the first two statements?

    Also, I know a number of people who would contest that Morrison’s Beloved is the best American novel of the past 25 years.


  14. Vellum–good question about how to fix it. I think John S. is on to something–storm the editorial offices! Until there is a critical mass or majority of women making the decisions about who gets reviewed, by whom, and who wins the big prizes, I don’t hold out hope for parity. Even then, of course, women judge other women more harshly than they judge men, so who knows?

    Of course, if the New Yorker had another woman editor who made it a point to publish fiction and review books by women, that would immediately lead to cries of “whatever happened to the New Yorker? It used to be so serious and important!” Whenever women enter a profession or take leadership roles in an organization, that profession/organization loses prestige.

    But, that’s not very encouraging, is it, Vellum?


  15. Historiann: No. No, I’m afraid it isn’t 😦 Oh well. Guess we’ll just keep fighting the good fight and hope that education will eventually solve the problem. And hey, at least if Brassai is right, the economics of things are on the side of female authors.


  16. The five British writers I was referring to were Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, Charles Dickens, and George Eliot. The two U.S. writers were Edith Wharton and Willa Cather. I grant one can find enthusiasts for Thackeray, Trollope, and (especially) Hardy with regard to the Brits, and Dreiser with regard to the Americans, but I think most knowledgeable observers would agree with my view of these writers’ stature relative to their contemporaries.

    At this point, that view is probably reflected in relative sales as well. Of course, books by Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Robert Louis Stevenson, H.G. Wells, Lewis Carroll, and Conan Doyle have had huge cumulative sales, but I don’t think many would seriously argue that they enjoy the same esteem as the other writers I mention.

    As for Beloved, its stature as the best American novel of the last 25 years is a consensus view, not a universal one. Personally, I’d choose Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace, or Don DeLillo’s Underworld. Beloved, though, is the book that is invariably singled out by teachers, authors, and critics.

    I don’t know if the economics of publishing are on the side of women authors, but they’re certainly on the side of women readers. And as far as the big sellers go, I don’t think many care that J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyer are women, or that Stephen King, John Grisham, or Neil Gaiman are men. They just like the books.


  17. Brassai, I think you’re right that people probably don’t pick up or put down books on the basis of the sex of the authors. But I don’t think it’s meaningless. On a few recent threads here, there was a fairly sharp divide in opinions about Updike between men and women readers. The women for the most part agreed that Updike’s portrayals of women characters were inadequate if not insulting, and that his sex scenes were overall very creepy–opinions that weren’t shared by any of the male commenters.

    Sex and gender matter deeply to the ways that we perceive each other (and writers), and to the ways that writers represent the world. Again, read the Prose article–she gives specific examples of two heterosex scenes, one by Updike and the other by Mary Gaitskill, that make this point nicely. (And it’s a good example of the kind of representations of women, women’s bodies, and sex that many women find disturbing in Updike.) For this reason, it still matters a great deal that the editors of major literary publications are overwhelmingly men and not women. (I would also argue that the relative lack of ethnic and regional diversity among those editors is also a problem–as well as an explanation for why a writer like Updike met with such success in his lifetime. In the mid- and late 20th century, it sure was a good thing to be a straight, white, Northeastern, Harvard-educated upper-middle class man, since so were all of the literary tastemakers, judges, and editors!)


  18. @Brassai:

    I was mainly curious as to the methodology of your choices — for what it’s worth, the male names that popped into my head for the 19th century were indeed Thackeray and Trollope (though, to be fair, I detest the both of them and would read Charlotte Bronte any day over the two of them).

    As for the esteem that genre writers are held in — it only depends upon whom you ask: for my money, I would take Wells, M. Shelley, Carroll and Doyle and day, over Emily Bronte, Thackeray or Trollope (but not over Charlotte Bronte, because the ending of Jane Eyre is almost gothic in its wonderful sensibilities ^__^). But I’m a genre reader.

    And I suppose Hemingway was just at the limit of the first quarter of the 20th century. The Great Gatsby being in 1925 only squeezes in just before the bell, so I guess he’s really a bit late for that quarter.

    As for the last 25 years — I nearly mentioned DeLillo and Underworld (one of my favourites) — also Philip Roth’s The Human Stain? But I see your point about the “teachers, authors and critics” thing.

    I remember that in Vic. Lit. class, we were always taught that the novel was the invention of female writers, that it wasn’t considered “serious” writing, and that now we’re all very, very grateful for their work.

    I suppose when it comes to the economics of things, we’ll all be better off when everyone votes with their wallets, so to speak. I, for one, love Alice Munro and will continue to buy her books. Also, if you haven’t checked it out, Maureen McHugh’s Mothers and Other Monsters is a great collection of short stories. It’s available for download from Small Beer Press (but buy it if you like it!). 🙂

    Oh! Also before I forget — I think the biggest “holy crap” moment I had, re: literature and feminism, was when someone explained to me the Bechdel Test, and I realized how few things I liked passed it. Given that I made it to 25 years of age without even knowing what that was, maybe we should start telling people about it more. I don’t know.

    /really-far-too-long-post sorry 😛


  19. Susan Klepp will indeed be taking over the _Journal of the Early Republic_ pretty soon, I think this summer, and it may well be that the reign of the “republican synthesis” will be in retreat mode there. Although in truth, that’s recently probably been less an editorial artifact than just that (fairly) high politics never seems to be very recessive in that field, and it rallied strongly in recent years. It’s also worth mentioning that Elaine Crane has been the editor of _Early American Studies_ for a couple of years now, and is moving pretty strongly to put her stamp on it. Including encouraging new and hybrid genres of historical analysis, among which, historical fiction has become a component.


  20. Glad other people have stepped in to make note of the — deep sounds of annoyance — top ten historians thread circulating. Nuff said.

    But not enough said yet, I think, about academic journals. I recently looked back over the table of contents for the past 5+ years of WMQ. The paucity of articles on women’s history is astounding. Really.


  21. Ok, I’ve got to weigh in as a lit person here, and as a lit person who focuses on stuff over the past hundred or so years, and as a person who has a strong focus in women’s literature. It’s definitely true that women writers (in both the 19th and 20th centuries) have been the best-selling authors (whether we limit our discussion to the U.S. or the U.K.) Best-selling or popular isn’t necessarily prize-winning or canonizing, however. And those distinctions do matter. Virginia Woolf, in comparison with James Joyce or D.H. Lawrence – who she’s typically paired with in the canon – was a “best-selling” author, while neither of them were (because of copyright issues, etc.) Similarly, Toni Morrison sells in a greater proportion than do some other contemporary authors (I’d imagine David Foster Wallace, for example, though I don’t actually know that for a fact). That said, based on how the awards have been divvied and how worth is apportioned, I’d, as a person who cares a lot about objective worth, argue that there’s a huge disparity between how women authors are treated – even today – as opposed to how male authors are treated. This point is not aesthetic (as if male authors are “better” writers than female, or as if “white” authors are better writers than those of color), NOR is it about how sales work out between them. What matters, in terms of what counts as “literature” is what wins prizes, what seems to “matter” most in terms of literary merit (not necessarily representation of new or “other” identities, but in terms of formal experimentation), or what “counts” in the economics of publishing. What “counts,” typically, has little to do with what people want or choose to read, in other words. In fact, if masses of people want or choose to read something, it’s often the case that people dismiss those things, because those things are “low culture.”

    Brassai may be correct that some authors may sell particularly well. But that doesn’t mean that they are taught as frequently, or regarded as highly, nor does it mean that they are taught, when they are taught, as central to a broader canon of literature. What gets taught in that context is the stuff that wins ( or has won, or is at the very least nominated for ) prizes.

    I get the argument that women readers rule the marketplace. I dispute the argument that women readers determine the marketplace, and dispute the argument that the marketplace determines what counts as literature.


  22. Well said, Dr. Crazy. If I recall correctly, women writers’ successes have been counted against them in terms of assessing their literary merit. (Hence Nathaniel Hawthorne’s complaints about the legions of “scribbling women” whose sales were much greater than his in his lifetime.) It’s been interesting to watch Steven King’s caculated efforts (abetted hugely by The New Yorker) over the past decade or so to evolve from a genre fiction bestseller to a literary fiction author. The message I take from all of this is that anything women achieve can be used against them–anything at all!–whereas men’s successes in the marketplace won’t be held against them.


  23. @Historiann: I hardly think Stephen King is ever going to be considered a Literary Author, even if he does write particularly well. It’s just too easy to turn one’s nose up at someone who’s written genre fiction for that many years. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see more genre fiction authors discussed inside the ivory tower walls — I just don’t see it happening any time soon. When I went to undergrad there were over a hundred literature courses available, and only one half-course on science fiction AND fantasy lit. We covered maybe half a dozen books. When I suggested I’d do graduate research on the field I was politely informed that it ‘wasn’t done’. Because, you know, only Serious Literature is really worthy of study. Sorry if that was a bit off topic.


  24. Vellum–you may be right. The key point for me is that The New Yorker was collaborating heavily in his makeover–whereas I find it difficult to believe that they’d do the same for women genre fiction authors like Danielle Steel! The New Yorker would apparently rather rehabilitate King than publish women’s literary fiction.


  25. Late to this party, but in case anyone is still reading the comments here, check out the HNN “Top Young Historians” list. Of the current 100 historians, 73 men, 27 women. This is a recognition for which people are nominated by anybody, so if you know any smart women historians, nominate them!!!


  26. Ellie, yeah–well, it’s HNN, which promulgates a very traditional vision of what history is and who writes it. To be fair, Rick Shenkman has asked me to contribute articles, and Cliopatria links here occasionally (and publishes Tenured Radical posts too.) But, the commenters over there seem like a very strange lot of non-professional enthusiasts who are extremely hostile to anything but history as it was written in 1950. I’ve never written anything for them because–well, I get plenty of hits over here, and why should I cast my pearls before swine, right?

    I’ve sent recommendations in to Bonnie Goodman for her “Top Young Historians” feature, and she has followed up on some of them, so I endorse your strategy, and I encourage many of you to gang up and nominate some of the same people to get some movement on this issue. For myself right now, I guess I’m more into the notion of supporting (and creating new) rival communities for women historians and women’s historians, like the Berkshire Conference and my blog, along with other feminist history blogs. It’s such a relief not to have to have the same pointless arguments with stupid people.


  27. **HYOOOOGE eyeroll**

    Whatever. I can’t get over how incredibly pretentious the recommendations over there are. Herotodus, Thucydides, and Tacitus? Gimme a break. No one but Classicists read them any more, so it just strikes me as ridiculous posturing for people on the early American history list.

    Or, maybe I should write in TerTOOLian?

    I remember in college I finally pulled down the 2 volumes of Gibbon’s _Rise and Fall_, mostly because of all of the hype. I couldn’t believe how boring it was, and from then on I’ve doubted any claims from current scholars that they like to curl up with books by historians who have been dead for more than 200+ years (unless those count as primary sources in their field of research, that is.


  28. Yeah, even making due allowance for the entirely worthy “standing on the shoulders of giants” concept, what other field of inquiry thinks that its best work was done before people had given names and surnames? There really was quite a lot of soliloquizing going on in those nomination statements. Maybe we should go on there and run up some numbers for the six inquirers chaptered in Devoney Looser’s _British Women Writers and the Writing of History, 1670-1820_ (Hopkins, 2000), viz, Lucy Hutchinson, Mary Wortley Montagu, Charlotte Lennox, Catherine Macaulay, Hester Lynch Piozzi, and Jane Austen? They do it every year before the All-Star Game!


  29. Pingback: In other diversity news: The New Yorker still safe for pale males : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

  30. Pingback: Scent of a woman’s ISBN number? : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

  31. Pingback: “Scent of a woman’s ink,” updated for a new generation. | Historiann

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