We already knew that publishing is hard for women. VIDA’s annual count is a persistent reminder that, while the gender gap in publishing has begun to close, it’s still far from approaching equality.
But novelist Nicola Griffith had a feeling that it just wasn’t women writers that were underrepresented; books about women were absent as well. “I’ve been counting, subconsciously then consciously, for 20 years when I was first published and started to see how skewed the playing field was,” Griffith told Fusion. So Griffith gathered the data, and published it on her blog last week.
She found that regardless of the gender of the author, major awards overwhelming favored books about men and boys. For example, the Pulitzer committee seems to prefer books by men about men:
Griffith found similar patterns with the National Book Award, the Man Booker, and the Hugo. The one exception was the Newberry Award—an award to honor children’s books—which showed virtually even numbers between male and female protagonists. Griffith wrote on her blog:
At the bottom of the prestige ladder—judging by the abundance of articles complaining that YA isn’t fit fare for grownups—for the Newbery Medal, awarded to “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children,” women wrote wholly from girls’ perspectives 5 times—and men wrote so 3 times. Girls, then, are interesting. Girls count.
Griffith’s overall findings suggested that the more prestigious the award, the more likely it was to perceive books about men to be more worth of merit. “If more than half human perspective isn’t being heard, then we are half what we could be,” she told Fusion. “Stories subtly influence attitudes… If women’s perspectives aren’t folded into the mix, attitudes don’t move with the whole human race — just half of it.”
We can all point to numerous books by women and about women that are both interesting and challenging, but ultimately the hierarchy of literary worth is still intimately bound to gender.
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