Whether it is the male gaze or other well-known phrases, gender in literature has played a big part on society. Here we see if that is changing.
I always wondered why whenever I quoted Simone de Beauvoir, I always had my male friends start talking about Jean Paul Sartre and quote him on the same matter.
Or if I would ever quote a woman on race & sexuality, along with other topics, they would immediately come up with male counterparts, male authors which I had also read as credible references.
I could not understand why it was so hard for men to recognise women author’s contributions, on any topic! Why are they considered as less credible sources, by default?
For a long time, I could hear conversations where young boys got bullied if they were ever found reading, say, a Jane Austen’s book. Instead, they were encouraged to read Bukowski, or Nabokov who among many things – write biased versions of how sexuality is developed differently in women.
About a month ago, even The Guardian wrote on the topic on why do so few men read books by women. Ironically, the author of this article disguised her name in initials, saying that she hopes to attract more male readers to actually read her article, who might think ‘she is one of them’ because of the initials.
This is a tribute to many women authors who became worldwide bestsellers but had to initially hide their name otherwise men would not read them. Take JK Rowling, for instance.
Imagine if she had revealed her name from the very beginning, do you think she would still be this well read, as an author? Because as you know, authors don’t start off with an immediate reputation.
Reputation is earned and a lot of authors’ success depends on whether publishers are willing to review and publish their work.
Writer Catherine Nichols did a little experiment on this topic that shows us exactly how “less credible” or “less worthy” women are perceived in literature, by pitching her book with her real name to 50 publishers and getting just two manuscript requests.
However, when she created a male pseudonym, and pitched the same book 50 times – she received 17 manuscript requests. “He is eight and a half times better than me at writing the same book,” she wrote in a 2015 piece for Jezebel.
This to say that the struggle of women authors to achieve success and a decent audience is real.
According to this MA (Mary Ann.) Sieghart article from the Guardian, for the top 10 bestselling female authors (who include Jane Austen and Margaret Atwood, as well as Danielle Steel and Jojo Moyes), only 19% of their readers are men and 81%, women. But for the top 10 best-selling male authors (who include Charles Dickens and JRR Tolkien, as well as Lee Child and Stephen King), the split is much more even: 55% men and 45% women.
“It’s not as if women are less good at writing literary fiction.” – the article notes, when “all five of the top five bestselling literary novels in 2017 were by women, and nine of the top 10”.
So Why Is This ‘Selection’ So Wrong?
Reading is a window to the world, right? So guess what happens when men do not read women authors? They deprive themselves from getting to know a world so deep, beautiful and in most cases opposite to what they are familiar with. But after all, this is exactly why we read, right?
To expand our horizons and learn about new perspectives. Of course, we are sometimes deeply touched by books that relate to our human experience, but we are twice as amazed when we learn things we don’t know about the way other humans around us think.
Refusing to read women authors is refusing to get to know their world, and develop a better understanding about how women perceive things.
Not reading women means that you are denying the experiences, colours and lives of the opposite sex, and that you are bound to keep looking at the world only through a patriarchal angle.
Reading women is even more crucial, as we see that violence towards them remains widespread, as we see that they struggle for a decent pay, salary, rights and a decent life. Understanding their struggles remains essential to reducing their struggles in the short and long term.
That’s why I deeply believe that reading women authors can be extremely educational, and it can lead us faster towards a world of gender equality, where we understand the intellectual and emotional capability of both sexes, and we interact in principles of an energy that flows equally.
If you just became aware that you haven’t read enough women authors, and you want to become an ally, read these this article of powerful women, which we have published earlier:
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