Publishing’s perpetual problem with women among many other things.

In the wake of the Jonah Lehrer controversy, Roxanne Gay wonders if  the publishing industry coddles young male writers and unpacks the fascination with our boy genius narrative:

Lehrer’s success and this current humiliation, how far he had to fall, is a symptom of a much bigger problem, one that is systemic, one that continues to consistently elevate certain kinds of men simply for being a certain kind of man. Jonah Lehrer fits the narrative we want about a boy genius. He is young, attractive and well educated. He can write a good sentence. He can parse complicated science for the masses and make us feel smarter for finally being able to understand the complexities of the human mind. He is the great white hope.

Jonah Lehrer is part of a system that allows magazines, year after to year to publish men, and white men in particular, significantly more than women or people of color. He is part of a system where the 2012 National Magazine Awards have no women nominees in several key categories. He is part of a system where white editors belabor the delusion that there simply are few women or writers of color who are good enough for their magazines because said editors are too narrow in what they want, what they read, what they think, or just too lazy to work beyond their Rolodex of writers who look and think just like them. He is part of a system that requires an organization like VIDA to do an annual count that reveals a disheartening, ongoing and pervasive practice of a certain kind of writer predominantly gaining entrance to the upper echelons of publishing. He is part of a system that exhausts itself denying these problems exist or that these problems matter.

Which is another thoughtful way to say, that we’re really tired of excuses from the publishing industry failing to reflect the reality of the reading population. So tired in fact that within a day after the Sunday NYT Book Review dropped, another genius child created a Tumblr mocking (criticizing) fixed gender roles in their ‘How To _’ issue. Just last month, writer and contributor to Bookforum, Ruth Franklin, released an open letter to the editors in an effort to get them to reach out to more women reviewers as well as review more books by women.

The literary tastemakers just two years ago were so eager to crown Jonathan Franzen, the Great American Novelist ™ that it prompted novelists Jodi Piccoult and Jennifer Weiner to call people out (the New York Times, Time Magazine) in their bias toward white male writers and white male reviewers. Franzenfreude, as it came to be known in the twitterverse, pointed out also that some may view our criticism of this bias as sour grapes, or bitterness because Piccoult’s and Weiner’s books aren’t held to the same standard. A criticism that misses the point entirely. This year, the Pulitzer committee couldn’t decide to award the fiction award between the late David Foster Wallace, Denis Johnson and Karen Russell.

Change, we know, is slow. Still, considering how many women writers I know (and you know too), in addition to good number of women who work in publishing, it’s disappointing that this isn’t a tidal wave.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted August 2, 2012 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    If you are interested in becoming a freelance book reviewer, I know that the National Book Critics Circle is always eager for new members!

    http://bookcritics.org/

    Of course, the perks of the members do seem to support the above article–there’s a definite “culture” there that might not appeal to, say, someone interested in reviewing YA books. But hey, gotta start somewhere!

  2. Posted August 2, 2012 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Those complaining about the inequities are part of the problem. Taking a page from the civil rights movement, people need to protest with their money by simply refusing to purchase books lauded by the discriminatory publishers. Why are readers continuing to purchase Frantzen and other white male authors foisted on the public as “wunderkinds?” And then complain that women and POC don’t have fair representation? Why purchase the magazines that discriminate, whether consciously or unconsciously? Why not create review venues and award venues that are more progressive and open to all writers with judges not stuck in the past?

    These are avenues that should be considered to overcome these racial and gender barriers.

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