Feminism In Literature

When I first started reading at the age of thirteen, I didn’t pay any attention to who the authors of those books were. Granted—I didn’t really care. I was young (considerably) and my parents encouraged me to read anything I could get my hands on. However, once I truly began a collection of novels, ones that piled up on the floor next to my bed and spilled from the rickety shelves in my living room, I glanced at the writers names and realized nearly all of them were women. Much like who the books were written by, the gender of the authors didn’t phase me either. It didn’t strike me as odd, or normal, I was simply platonic on the matter. Who cares, anyway?

A year later, once I started to review books and read other commentary on popular novels, I noticed that, although I’d been reading many books written by women, a vast majority of the big titles out there were by men.

Was it that Young Adult literature is dominated by women? Perhaps. But while I was excited to read at that age, many of my friends could’ve cared less. It’s true that while I am surrounded virtually by friends near my age who also read YA, there is also the rest of the world to consider—particularly those who, like my friends, don’t enjoy reading. On the spectrum of the population, those who read, and those who read YA…we’re a fairly limited bunch.

VIDA, an organization for women in literary arts, releases each year an authentic representation of the men to women authors ratio in regards to publications and advocations. I planned on skimming through the webpage because usually heaps of numbers in a written document reminds me of writing papers for class…not something I’d enjoy doing in my free time. But as I continued skimming, I wound up spending two hours going through their site and finding myself no less disgusted with the matter on hand. Essentially VIDA proved to me what I was beginning to understand—women are shadowed by men in the literary world.

Just to make you feel my contempt, here’s a direct quote from a recent article (9/16) in The Guardian: “In the UK, the LRB (London Review of Books) reviewed 68 books by women and 195 by men in 2010, with men taking up 74% of the attention, and 78% of the reviews written by men. Seventy-five per cent of the books reviewed in the TLS were written by men (1,036 compared to 330) with 72% of its reviewers men.”

Well damn, it’s no wonder female authors aren’t as popular as male authors when their work isn’t being properly displayed or equally advocated for. It seems that the problem doesn’t lie in the amount of publications, but rather by the way in which those books are being promoted. While YA has a staggering amount of female authors, it’s merely a genre in the entirety of the literary field. And big name magazines, such as all those stated above, will probably never write about YA because they believe they have a particular audience, one in which only reads adult books (apparently written by adult men).

And if you think finding a female author in the review column is hard, try searching for a female author of color. You’d be luckier finding Venus in the afternoon sky.
I did my own research, seeing as I work in a bookstore, and while I was restocking some titles I took the time to look at the authors names. Not surprisingly, more than half of them were men. Not only that, but the ones I had to place on display tables were almost entirely male authors. Now that I have a deeper love and respect for literature, the things that once didn’t phase me are the issues that press deeply and leave a mark.

If you’ve ever been inside a Barnes and Noble cafe, you can look above the barista bar and see a painting of many famous writers from the dawn of the 20th century. It’s not hard to miss, and it’s in every store. I work as both a barista and a bookseller (but at the moment, mainly a barista because of how understaffed we are) and I never pay much attention to the massive piece above my head. Not until one customer came up to me and pointed out the lack of women depicted in the painting. At the time I didn’t really know what to say other than politely agree with her, but once I had the space to examine the piece that hung above me shift after shift, I saw what she meant.

Even today, in a society that is trying to be more progressive than any other period in America, we still place value on the past. Of course, I understand that there’s a certain nostalgia to the notion in regards to the classics. But then we also must place that same value on the success of our future—specifically the female authors of our time.

While I rant about an issue that’s been plaguing this country for decades, I also want to offer up some solutions that we can perform to overcome this injustice.

  • Blogging— I can’t express enough how influential blogging can be. Not only are you preaching to people who live long and far away, but you’re getting your own opinions out there through a method that can spread farther than a mere review column in a newspaper. Talk about books that no one knows of. Mention women of color whose works have been overcast by the frequent names of men and white women. Acknowledge the movement, and make it happen. The more voices we have, the louder we will be. It sounds easy, but there isn’t nearly enough articles or videos depicting the seriousness of this issue. And it is serious, because if you think it isn’t—you’re inadvertently helping the opposing view. So blog about it.

 

  • Recommending— You don’t have to have a blog or channel or page to recommend a book to another person. You just have to have read that book and happen to be in conversation with another being. Simple enough. So next time you read a spectacular novel written by a women, no matter if it’s on the bestseller list or something you could hardly find in the biggest bookstores, recommend it. Get the word out there. You need to be the missionaries for this movement if you want to make a change.

 

  • Writing— I’ve met many people over the internet in the past few years, and probably interacted with them more than the ones I’m surrounded by in real life. I’ve found that plenty of them express the same passion for reading as I do, and excitingly enough they also express an adoration for writing—wether it be through blogging, creative freeform, or simply jotting down a heated meta on Tumblr regarding their favorite characters. Never be afraid to get your voice out there. You’re only truly writing when you think it’s the worst thing you’ve ever read. Remind yourself that you are your worst critic, and that there are a million people out there who’ve never heard of the sentences you can paint together.

 

+ Recent Books I’ve Read by Female Authors (* = authors of color) :

The Star Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi *
Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur *
The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie *
A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J Maas
Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman
This Savage Song by Victoria Shwab
The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater
The Rose and the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh *

Important References:

VIDA
Rupi Kaur //

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7 thoughts on “Feminism In Literature

  1. My additions to this list: everything by Tamora Pierce, and The Inheritance Trilogy by NK Jemisin* (though it’s not really YA… but she also has an awesome blog!)

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  2. I noticed some years back when I branched out into adult Sci-Fi/Fantasy the distinct difference in the number of women who write YA vs. adult fiction. I was a little surprised to be honest.

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  3. I’ve noticed this before, but when I bring it up in conversation, many tell me that YA is a female-dominated industry. It frustrates me that some can’t seem to see the bigger picture.

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  4. I’ve always tried to read a variety of genres and I see your point. I feel there is a lack of popular women Australian authors (being Australian)-most of the great Australian writers I’ve read or know of are men. I understand what Rebecca means by the lack of women authors in Sci-Fi/Fantasy as well. For those of you interested in Sci-Fi Ursula Le Guin is excellent-I read Left Hand of Darkness (it’s old now)-but extremely thought provoking-it’s changed the way I view sci-fi. Great post!

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  5. This is super thought-provoking! I’d always thought I read more books by women than men, but I started keeping track of various reading stats this year and found almost 2/3 of the books I read are by men. Those books are still quite good, but I do think there’s plenty of sexism in the publishing industry! Other female authors I’d recommend are E.L. Konigsburg, N.L. Shompole, Sarah Dessen, Touya Mikanagi, and Nora Sakavic!

    Ellie | On the Other Side of Reality

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