Dear Publishers Weekly

13 Nov

Dear Publishers Weekly,

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

ON YOUR TOP TEN BEST BOOKS OF 2009 LIST, THERE IS NOT A SINGLE WOMAN AUTHOR.

THAT IS NOT OBJECTIVE. SAYING THAT YOU IGNORED GENDER WHEN YOU CHOSE THE LIST DOES NOT JUSTIFY YOUR END RESULT. AND SAYING THAT YOU ARE DISTURBED BY THE RESULT DOES NOT SAVE YOU OR EXCUSE YOU FROM BEING RAMPANTLY SEXIST.

As Kamy Wicoff, founder of She Writes, wrote in an email to members (through The Rumpus: Women’s News by Elissa Bassist):

“According to the novelist and journalist Louisa Ermelino, the editors at PW bent over backwards to be objective as they chose the Best Books of the year. ‘We ignored gender and genre and who had the buzz. We gave fair chance to the ‘big’ books of the year, but made them stand on their own two feet. It disturbed us when we were done that our list was all male.’ It ‘disturbed’ you? In what way exactly? Like, did it make you think, ‘we are insane?’ Try to imagine if they had come out with a list of the Best Books of 2009 and it had included ZERO MEN. Try to imagine if Amazon had released its Best Books of 2009 and it had included only TWO men. I know it’s hard. But just try.”

I’m sorry, I know all caps lock is yell-y, and nobody likes to be yelled at, and DEAL WITH IT.

WOMEN BUY 65% OF THE BOOKS SOLD IN THE U.S. You really think they’re buying only books written by men? You really think none of the books they’re buying or that women are writing could be top ten of 2009? You really think the problem is with what’s being WRITTEN or READ?

No. I didn’t think so.

LEARN SOMETHING. RETRACT YOUR LIST. CONSIDER THE CONSEQUENCES OF YOUR ACTIONS. CONSIDER THE POWER YOU HAVE AND RE-EVALUTE YOUR DAMN CRITERIA FOR “BEST” SO IT DOESN’T INCLUDE MALE AS AN UNSTATED REQUIREMENT.

That’d be great. Thanks!

MM

Advertisements

8 Responses to “Dear Publishers Weekly”

  1. Sevvy 13 November 2009 at 5:28 pm #

    All caps doesn’t look yell-y, it looks unprofessional-y and makes it harder for people to take you seriously. As a female writer, I took a long, hard look at this list. At first I agreed with your sentiments, but then I looked at the rest of the site and noted that the top ten was part of a larger list which includes female writers.

    I don’t think sex should be looked at when determining what might constitute the best books of a given year. And, if sex isn’t looked at…I mean really isn’t being looked at…then there is a chance that in a given year the best books were all written by men. Just as there was a chance that they were all written by women. What would you say if the opposite had happened, and the entire list was composed of women writers? Would you accuse these people of being biased towards women, and excluding all the good books written by male authors?

    Is it possible that the best books (already a very subjective thing, because what is best differs from person to person) in a given year were written by men? Yes. But this is one year, and next year the best books could all be written by women. And the year after that, it could be a mix. Now, is it likely that no book written by a woman deserved to be in the top then? Of course not, but again, top ten lists are subject to the whims and tastes of those who compose them. And it should also be noted that 2009 isn’t even over yet, and some amazing female authors didn’t have a book out when this list was being composed, and perhaps if they had, their books would have made the list.

    You’re right, there are many obvious flaws with this list, and sex shouldn’t have anything to do with these lists, but this isn’t a perfect world.

  2. margaret michelle 13 November 2009 at 6:07 pm #

    Sevvy, thanks for taking the time to read and think and respond! I understand what you’re saying. Then again:

    a) This isn’t a professional website. It’s a personal blog. And you can take me as seriously or as casually as you like. And I think ALL CAPS LOOKS ANGRY. And I am angry. And if that makes me unprofessional, then so be it. But– emotions have a place in the workplace, so I don’t even think that stands up to scrutiny.

    b) Do you really think that next year the top ten list will be all women writers? Really? Can you imagine that? Can you even imagine what Kamy Wicoff suggests– that an Amazon top ten list might only include 2 male writers?

    c) Has there been a top ten list that isn’t explicitly geared towards women that was made up MOSTLY of women? Is there ANY proof anywhere that a top ten list next year or the year after or ten years ago or anytime will be made up of all women, based on the # of women traditionally included on such lists?

    Not that things can’t change. But where is the evidence that they are changing?

    d) It’s possible that the best books in a given year were written by men. Likely? No. And since the list is going to be subjective, let’s see if we can be aware enough of that subjectivity to include some women. Even if it takes a conscious effort. Until there is equality, we can ask for awareness. That means taking a look at the reasons why and the how of the fact that no women, in the end, appeared on that list. That MIGHT mean that the subjectivity of the judges, as these lists are inherently subjective, has a bias for male writers…which MIGHT be called sexism.

    e) And yes, if the entire list were composed of women, I would be shocked. And I would look for the word Female before Top Ten. Because it is so far from the reality that we live in! As based on the fact that this list came out if nothing else.

    f) You’re right; this isn’t a perfect world. Does that mean I shouldn’t Yell About It? Does that mean women writers shouldn’t be upset that there are no women writers on this list? It’s a personal decision. You’re not upset; I am.

  3. skhor 14 November 2009 at 11:34 am #

    In an effort to underline the non-professional orientation of the website, and possibly to make M less ticked, I wanted to tell you, M, that I drank a whole-milk vanilla late and ate a marionberry scone while I read your post this morning, all the while thinking that its sad that I didn’t have any company with breakfast. And that I’m excited to see you in few days, M, and that I hope you’re not still angry when that happens. 😀

    xo,
    S

  4. margaret michelle 15 November 2009 at 10:11 am #

    oh man oh man i highly recommend whole milk vanilla lattes as a cure for anything. that might be why i am smiling right now. just maybe.

  5. Kamy Wicoff 23 December 2009 at 10:11 am #

    I loved this exchange and I felt the passion of the ALL CAPS, as was obvious from my original post on She Writes! (check it out if you get a chance.) Lists like this are inherently subjective, and to suggest in a year when women won the Pulitzer and the Prix Goncourt that they did not write ONE of the best books of 2009 (more caps) cannot just be a statement about quality, but begs the question of other things at play. Margaret Michelle, thank you for this open letter! Hopefully PW heard it loud and clear. 🙂

  6. margaret michelle 23 December 2009 at 4:27 pm #

    Kamy, thanks for your support (of the exchange and the CAPS) and for your original call to action! I might have remained ignorant of the whole thing otherwise. See you on SheWrites (I’m there under my more common name Maggie Hess).

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Dear Kathryn Bigelow « Dear Mr. Postman - 9 March 2010

    […] the fun part!  There’s a hierarchy here. No way, right?!? This is all part of how Publisher’s Weekly managed to select a “gender-blind” top ten list that consisted solely of men.  Because writing is often gendered in subject and style and we […]

  2. Dear Chick Lit vs. Bitch Lit « Dear Mr. Postman - 28 July 2010

    […] did Publishers Weekly describe Erica Kennedy’s (author of The Feminista Files) new novel Feminista as “The […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: