Women read more fiction than men, according to a VIDA study. They enroll in more fiction courses, outnumbering men in pregrad and graduate seminars alike, and their sheer number every year appears to offer a new age of fiction dominated by women. Yet the number of female professional writers, publishing figures and prize winners is disproportionately low. Even more troubling, when a women does succeed in any of these writerly fields, it’s pinned as ‘women’s work’ and simultaneously championed as progressive victory – neither of which help to establish women as a natural presence in the writer’s world.
Image courtesy of Buzzfeed.
Sure there’s women’s writer prizes like VIDA and Stella, and slews of organizations that aim to create space for women, but nonetheless, change is slow to bloom and “there ‘seem[s] to be a gaping hole, when there is such an abundance of women attendees of writing and literature courses, in writers’ groups and at literary festivals,” Laurie Garrison tells the Guardian.
Garrison, a writer for Looking for Xanadu, is spearheading a new campaign, #Women_writers, that aims to carve a place for female authors in a space often overlooked when dealing with the larger problem of publishing disparities: the big black void of the internet. It’s home to many female writers and, unfortunately, no small dose of sexism.
The campaign was created on the observation that online discussion groups can operate for women as a safe-haven of sorts, where authors can support one another and meet around the watering hole to exchange advice and critique. It begins here, for Garrison, with active discussions about issues in publishing, the creation of a space for non-competitive skill building, and grassroots critique that can amend the sexist online culture that ultimately seeps into the publishing world.
“I’ve heard anecdotal accounts of publishers getting more submissions by men from agents,” Garrison shares in reference to the campaign, “and women being much less likely to send in second submissions even if encouraged to do so when the first hasn’t been accepted – and, even more bizarrely, when the first has.” Yes, there is potentially a mild issue with what’s often termed the ‘confidence gap’ between male and female authors, but any gap is nourished by publishing houses that make deals with more men than women and a prize cuture that holds females second to men. It’s propagated by authors like Gay Talese, who this year responded “none” when asked what female writers inspire him. It’s solidified when genres, like the On the Road – style travel narrative, put up entrance barriers for female writers. It’s an attitude, ultimately, that shapes how we think of female writers – and equally important, how they think of themselves – that Garrison’s flight to Twitter seeks to amend.
“If we can create spaces for women writers where these things can be discussed and put into perspective, I think it could go a long way toward levelling the playing field.”
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