This article explains why I participated in the Australian Women Writers challenge this year.
It is also part of why I was so, so pleased with Julia Gillard's speech in parliament this week, openly accusing the opposition leader of sexism, and even more so with the subseqent interview Penny Wong gave on the 7:30 report.
In the interview Senator Wong points out that the PM being called "precious or a victim" or the equivalent is par for the course when a women speaks up against sexism, and is part of how we continue to we silence women in this country.
We need to be having this conversation in mainstream Australia. We need to be having it in the media.
'Women who do speak out—whether against sexism in the literary world or in the church or in the academy or in politics—are often accused of "whining," and then, like children, they are punished. But I am convinced the risk is worth it.
'Author V. S. Naipaul recently claimed in an interview with the Royal Geographic Society that there was not a single female writer he considered his equal—not even Jane Austen, whose work he dismissed as "sentimental."...
'It might be possible to dismiss Naipaul's blatant sexism as the ravings of an arrogant misogynist if there were structural equality in the publishing industry, but there isn't. For the second year in a row, VIDA: Women in Literary Arts released a series of pie charts (the VIDA count) showcasing annual data comparing the rate of publication between women and men in the writing world's most respected literary outlets—and things don't look good for women who write.2 VIDA reports that in 2011, The Atlantic published 184 articles and pieces of fiction by men and 64 by women; 18 of their book reviewers were men and 8 were women; and 24 of the authors reviewed were men, compared to 12 women. Harper's Magazine published 65 articles by men and 13 articles by women; 23 of their book reviewers were men and 10 were women; 53 of the authors reviewed were men, 19 were women. The New York Review of Books published 133 articles by men and 19 by women; 201 of their book reviewers were male and 53 were female; and they reviewed 75 male authors and only 17 female authors. I could go on. The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, The New Republic, The London Review of Books—all pay more attention to books and essays and articles and poems and short stories written by men than they do to those written by women.
'Gendered responses to women's writing have led several women to create alter egos in an effort to determine whether it is their ideas that generate hostile responses or whether simply being a woman with an opinion is enough on its own, no matter what they write. In "Disagree with Me—But Not Because I'm a Black Woman," Hannah Pool describes creating an online white male alter ego, Harry Pond. "I went on to a couple of threads. The opinions were my own, but the name a fake," she writes. "Unsurprisingly, Harry Pond received no racism and no sexism, in fact very little of anything by way of comment. People engaged with 'Harry' in a grownup manner, without the need for insults. Is this what it's like to be a white man? Having people accept your right to a difference of opinion?"3 In 2009, researcher Emily Glassberg sent out identical scripts to theaters in the United States, half with a male name and half with a female name. She found that those believed to have been written by women were rated significantly worse by artistic directors and literary managers than those written by men. "This was even the case when many of those artistic directors and literary managers were women."4
'I am beginning to understand why Mary Ann Evans changed her name to George Eliot.
'[Author Dani Shapiro described] a recent post by Tim Parks on the The New York Review of Books blog in which Parks explores how "the writer's job" is currently understood and illustrates how this conception has changed over time. Parks mentions many writers—Sophocles, Virgil, Pope, Petrarch, Chaucer, Byron, Shelley, T. S. Eliot, Rushdie, Pamuk, Coetzee. "It was on second read that it occurred to me that there were no women. Not one," Shapiro said. "This was written by someone who simply doesn't have female writers as any kind of reference."
'What does it mean that a supposedly historical account of the writer's job can ignore all female writers? Most contemporary statistics suggest that women are writing more books than men are writing, and women are reading more books than men are reading, and women are buying more books than men are buying, and yet our work, our very existence, is regularly made to disappear. What effect does this erasure have? On women? On writers? On readers? Theater critic and novelist Alison Croggon writes, "If millions of reinforcing signals say a woman's work is less significant, something will eventually begin to stick."
'What can be done?
'First, buy books written by women. Novels, memoirs, theology, political nonfiction, scientific explorations, poetry, history, mysteries. Put yourself on a diet of books by women and see what happens. Read them with your book groups. Review them online. Disagree with their ideas. Critique their arguments. Revel in the power of their words.'
For more (including 2nd & 3rd things to do): Sarah Sentilles: The Pen is Mightier: Sexist responses to women writing about religion.