Many of you may assume that when I use the term, “gender issues” I will speak about LGBT literature. No, that’s for another post. I am taking this time to elaborate a little on the issue of female gender (trans would be included by the way – trans to female that is) and writing. The topic was inspired by a piece that I heard this morning on NPR. For those of you not in the know, “NPR” is National Public Radio. Ever since PBS (Public Broadcasting System) was outre and cool enough to show “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” in the heyday of the 1970s-it was my favorite show – I have listened to NPR and watched PBS.
This morning, NPR did a piece on the renowned science fiction author James Tiptree Jr. whose “real” name was Alice B. Sheldon. Writing during the era of Ray Bradbury and other male science fiction authors, Tiptree, er, Sheldon bent the public perception of gender roles in science fiction. At that time (the 1960s and 1970s) science fiction sported a multitude of male “leads” and a vast array of alien coochie and hoochies. “Supporting roles” were reserved almost exclusively to women. Pity that.
Once exposed as, “GASP!” a FEMALE….oh my GOD, banish the thought, Tiptree’s seven-year star faded and went out with a fizzle rather than as a super nova decades later. Other female novelists also changed their pen name to a male gender (George Eliot, for one) or made their name gender neutral in order to be published in the first place (J.K. Rowling). I swear I still don’t understand why this is necessary. I thought that bra burning was a little over the top, after all, they are useful when it comes right down to it. I am likewise far from being a radical feminist. However, as a female, I do believe in equality in pay; equality in opportunity; equality in all things even though I, personally, would never apply to be a firefighter, police officer, or soldier. The time has come to acknowledge that we are all human beings divided only by differences of opinion and ideologies NOT gender. I won’t even venture down the religion path because that’s a morass I won’t touch.
Yet I, being female, am already familiar with this phenomenon. In law school, one of my professors (and this was in 1987, mind you) told the entire class about the glass ceiling that women will probably never break through. She told us that for every dollar a male lawyer made, a female lawyer might make $0.60. This was no run-of-the-mill professor either. She had served as a law clerk for Warren Burger on the U.S. Supreme Court. I don’t know, I think she probably knew what she was talking about. I got to experience it firsthand. Oh, and that $0.60 today? It’s up to $0.82 according to the ABA Journal (April 23, 2014). The last incident of gender bias I experienced? Last November. I prefer to focus on doing the best work I can despite this idiocy that is unnecessary in 2015.
It would seem that one level playing field for both genders is writing. My literary mentor was a female. There have been many renowned female authors, to be certain. However, not until 2014 – 2014!- was an upswing even noticeable in the percentage of female authors reviewed or “taken seriously” as authors regardless of genre. The London Review of Books performed abysmally (no real surprise there); the New York Review of Books fared less poorly; Harper’s; and the New York Times Book Review. (see http://www.vidaweb.org/category/the-count/the-2014-vida-count/). I can’t find any reliable stats on ebooks yet but rumor has it that women tend to dominate in that platform.
It seems that females are uniformly relegated to the realms of romance, chick-lit, charming YA, dark YA (witness Harry Potter), and other genres that have no bearing whatever on how and what we write in reality. Forget that Danielle Steele remains the bestselling author alive; and fourth bestselling author of all time; and her website crashed when she crabbed around in 2013 about being asked by men, “Are you still writing?” Hm. My bent tends to be historical fiction and literary fiction. Damn, and all of those hot sex scenes still work. Who knew?
All speculation aside, however, this issue is ponderous. I mean seriously, are ALL editors of literary reviews from the turn of the last century? Is there something inherently pedantic about the “male” voice in literature? I don’t think so. I remember when Erica Jong’s “Fear of Flying” came out and the F-word was spoken of (a “zipless f**k no less) in hushed tones like you might burst into flames if you said it out loud. Reading the passages again today, I honestly can’t tell that a female wrote the words, can you?
I write this because I think that women who write – in whatever genre, about whatever topic, for whomever they do so – should keep on writing and don’t be self critical based on a skewed model of reality in the publishing world. When I write a story, it doesn’t even enter my mind whether a male or female will read it. I could care less because it doesn’t matter. All that does matter is that you enjoy my story. I would like to imagine a sort of booktopia wherein we can all read, not be ugly to each other, and not demean people for any reason. There’s enough dysfunction in fictional musings to populate every insane asylum around the world and then some. There’s more sex, love, wizards, witches, angels, Vikings, kings, queens, and above all, fools, to fill our lifetimes with wonderful prose.
Let the words speak for themselves regardless of the gender of the author giving rise to those words. The world truly will be a better place.