Dita Parker

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Shakespeare's sisters

Ladies, choose your weapons, Mars attacks! Not really, but trenches have been under construction here and there after Publishers Weekly announced their Best Books of 2009 list. What's wrong with the list? Nothing on first glance, but the Top 10 has been weighed, measured and found lacking in one notable segment of writers, i.e. women. 

You probably wouldn't reject something solely on the basis it was written by a man or automatically like something because a woman wrote it. A good book is a good book. And taste is a subjective issue. So what does it matter what PW's list looks like? It's a list and for many that's all it is: just another list. But it's a list that gets coverage, sells books, helps define quality. And it's notably lacking in women. 

How many women would have made it okay? One? Fifty-one percent? What if there had been no men on that list? Impossible, you say? If it's a coincidence, if gender has nothing to do with anything, how so? So women did write inferior books, is that it? Or do men have an automatic advantage women suspect/know is there but PW categorically denies exists?

See how easily and how fast discussions like this escalate into a Mars versus Venus battle of the sexes? Come on, they do. Many women, assertive women, competent and competitive women are shrugging their so whats thinking it's nothing because they have gone through life pretending sexual biases don't exist. Or it isn't pretending, per se, but rather a self-assuredness and forcefulness born out of all that competence and a sincere belief in equality which has taken many women far and even further.  

But none of those women could say they didn't encounter at least once along the way someone who didn't share that belief, who couldn't get past the face or the figure, or who didn't carry a sexist grudge that tainted everything making it that much harder for them to get along and move on. This someone wasn't necessarily a man. 

Then again maybe it was and you see where the story is headed since all women have been there at some point in their lives. Trivial or life-altering, we tend to remember the moments we turned invisible. Because we felt senseless shame. We felt rage. We felt indignation. No matter how stupid the remark, how idiotic or inconsequential the person or the situation, it raises that "Not-this-bs-again-Couldn't-think-of-anything-else-could-you-The-more-things-change-the-more-they-stay-the-same" feeling women hate hate hate. I'm sure I had a point before jumping into a trench myself...

No, that is my point. That is exactly the feeling lists like this raise. Because art isn't an exact science, it's a compilation of subjective choices without objective meters, none that they have disclosed in detail anyway, and it's therefore easy to take it as a personal affront no matter how hard you tell yourself it doesn't matter one way or the other. 

"Really?" (SNL could take it from here.) "50,000 to choose from and not a single woman made the cut? Really?" I wouldn't want a pc consolation prize to be handed out, PW is free to choose whatever they want with whatever criteria they may or may not have, but ten men? Really? What are the odds? What is their ranking method anyway?

I've read two books from that list: Holmes' The Age of Wonder and Grann's Lost City of Z. I highly recommend them, but I could just as well recommend picking up Atwood's The Year of the Flood or Munro's Too Much Happiness: Stories. They made my list. 

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