Published 20 January 201012 May 2010 · Main Posts ‘Who cares about gender at a time like this?’ Jacinda Woodhead According to a post on the SPUNC blog last week, independent Australian publishing does. Laurie Steed wrote that there aren’t enough women submitting to journals and publishers in Australia: Of the 200 submissions received by Affirm Press, around 80 percent have been from male writers. This year also sees the release of the next Sleepers almanac, a collection which often features the best women writers in the country, and yet, according to Sleepers Editorial Director Louise Swinn, the majority of their submissions are also from male writers, be they brilliant, brooding, or mildly unhinged. Which begs the question: where are all the broken-hearted women today? Where are the open-soul, pen scratching into the page of the first-draft, thesaurus-scouring, story-shaping women when we need them? There we have it – the myth of the male writer. He’s brilliant, he’s brooding, it’s okay if he’s mildly unhinged, because he’s brilliant. And women? Well, they probably just aren’t willing to sacrifice as much. Writers hope, perhaps naively, that they’ll be judged on merit alone, yet there’s so little transparency in publishing and the selection process that they are at the subjective whim of the publisher. It would be interesting to see actual statistics of how many women are submitting versus how many women make it to publication in Melbourne, and in Australia. Are publishers and editors actively considering diversity when putting a publication together? Because I suspect we’re talking about something other than mere diversity in publishing. We’re talking about what is recognised as ‘literature’. Maybe it’s time to ask the following – again: • Is there a difference between what women and men write? • What do we judge as good writing? • Where do we get these ideas about good writing from? • How important is voice and experience to good writing? And it’s not just in Australia. The American book The Anthologist was amusing and yes, well written, but if I have to read one more story of a middle-aged man bemoaning the weight of his genius – or lack thereof – I’m returning the book to the publisher, with a note requesting some diversity in their editorial readers. We need more writers who do not fit within the white, heterosexual, male writer paradigm. Because white, male writers are multitudinous – they’re practically the entire literary canon. But there needs to be a recognition that writers who don’t fit this mould, won’t be writing from that same position of privilege. Their writing will be different. Lizzie Skurnick has worked as an editor, writer, and literary judge, and says in the world of publishing in the United States, this discrimination isn’t viewed as sexism, they just ‘feel like Philip Roth’s output is impressive while Joyce Carol Oates’ is a punchline.’ It has been a very strong two years for female writers and a weak two years for male ones, and the fact that the latter have garnered unseemly armfuls of praise and prizes for their tepid output is a scandal. I will give this to PW editors – they did notice. “We wanted the list to reflect what we thought were the top 10 books of the year with no other consideration,” they inform us cheerily. “We ignored gender and genre and who had the buzz . . . It disturbed us when we were done that our list was all male.” Well, that’s comforting. Except the “no other consideration” and “ignored gender” part. Because, as someone who’s worked as an editor, writer and critic for almost two decades in the literary world, I’ve concluded, like most of my half-sentient colleagues, that the publishing industry is no better at ignoring gender than your average obstetrician. Our default is to call John Updike a genius on the basis of four very wonderful books and many truly weird ones, while Margaret Atwood, with the same track record, is simply beloved. Our default is to title Ayelet Waldman’s book, “Bad Mother,” while her husband’s is “Manhood for Amateurs.” Our default is that women are small, men are universal. So why just women? Why not diversity in general? Why aren’t independent Australian publishers seeking non-heterosexual writings? Where is the call for ethnic diversity in Australian writing? Voices of people who face oppression in society are incredibly important. We need to foster them in Australian publishing, because there are people who dominate the world of literature, and their voices are already heard everywhere. ‘Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice’ is an amazing short story by Nam Le published in Overland 187. It reflects on, among other things, the pressure on writers to explore their ethnic identity in their writing. Perhaps tellingly, this piece was first published in the US. Jacinda Woodhead Jacinda Woodhead is a former editor of Overland and current law student. More by Jacinda Woodhead › Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places. If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate. 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