I have decided. I will read more books by women. I will consciously pick up more books by women. This is actually something I decided at the start of the year.
You may wonder why. You may ask why it matters. You may ask if it matters.
I think it does. So why am I suddenly writing about this? Actually, it’s not so sudden. This post has been in my drafts since January. I know! Somehow, it’s such a sensitive topic.
There are many, many reasons why I’ve decided this. Long story short: in an ideal world there would be no gender bias, but this is not an ideal world, and there is gender bias.
For example, the yearly Dutch Book Week gift novella will be written by a man for the 13th time in a row (and out of 90 authors so far, only a little over a dozen were women). J.K. Rowling’s name is a pen name because the publisher was afraid young boys would be wary to read a book by a woman. We see more men than women translated into English or almost every other language. Follow any course on literature anywhere, and literature written by men will almost definitely outnumber that written by women (unless you are following a class on ‘Women’s Literature’). And while people – both men and women – keep suggesting male authors are more successful because men ‘simply write better’, we’ve got a problem.
Now, why am I going to read more books by women? I felt unable to explain this – I wish there was no need to consciously do this – until I read a wonderful piece titled Women in Fantasy: Thoughts on Disrupting the Circle. Seriously, read it!
I want to disrupt the circle.
Essentially, if I read more books by women, I can talk more about books by women, I can review more books by women, and I can inspire more people to read these books. To read these books not because they are by women, but because someone is talking about them. Someone needs to be talking about them.
Anyway, I also figured I’d examine my own reading stats. I went into this not really knowing what to expect, but my suspicion was sadly true.
21 books by female authors versus 38 books by male authors
16 different female authors versus 31 different male authors
In 2013 I read:
16 books by female authors versus 37 books by male authors
14 different female authors versus 25 different male authors
Not happy with the results. This year is somewhat better, so far I’ve read:
19 books by female authors versus 25 books by male authors
18 different female authors versus 23 different male authors
Why still more men than women this year? Remember that MOOC that I’m taking? Yep… For this year I am aiming at 50-50 though.
Now, not all is bad out there in Bookland. Lately there is – thankfully – a lot of attention going out to the topic of gender bias, but also diversity in books (both author diversity as well as character diversity). We get beautiful hashtags like #WeNeedDiverseBooks, and reading events like LGBT Month and Mental Health Awareness Month. The book community on the whole is pretty amazing, if you ask me! And thanks to a colleague I am stumbling into articles such as the aforementioned Women in Fantasy, and this round table discussion. The two articles focus on sci-fi & fantasy but are relevant to almost every genre imho (read them, they are good!).
Finally, let me say: I don’t think anyone should feel forced go around picking female over male authors in order to ‘set things right’. And I don’t necessarily think the reason for this gender bias is because people consciously choose NOT to read female authors. But I do think it’s important to at least be aware of what’s happening.
So, what do you think? Do you notice any bias? Do you think there should be a distinction, like with special ‘women’s prizes’? Do you consciously pick what you are reading, and do you read more male or female authors? 🙂
(Disclaimer, in case anyone is having doubts: I am not against books by men, I am not avoiding books by men and men are not the devil. I have to state this silliness because I’ve had this discussion before.)