Sunday, December 11, 2005

Sexism among the Bookshelves?

Working on my article about men not reading books by women and a stray thought hit me like a brick.

For years now the nice Mr. Raman has been introducing me to books I've very much enjoyed by authors such as Kundera, Vikram Seth, Bulgakov, Orhan Pamuk, R.K. Narayan and Saramago.

But I can remember only one instance when he recommended a book by a female writer! It was Bharati Mukherjee's The Middleman and Other Stories (shortly before the author came to do a reading) and he said it was incredible that Mukherjee is able to get right inside the mind of a man. Which is true of course.

Raman was not interested in publishing a little piece I wrote for him for his "literary magazine" on A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, despite the fact that it was longlisted for the Booker, I think it's excellent and know that others would enjoy it. (And I was of course giving the piece to him for free!) I wonder if he did not want to take my recommendation seriously because the novel's by a woman and must therefore be fluffy and unsubstantial??

Interesting question - how many women writers does he feature in his lit mag? Take a browse through the archives and tally up.

13 comments:

Sharanya said...

Agree with you about men not reading books by women. I'm sure some subconcious or even overt sexism plays a part in this choice for some men, but I venture to say that isn't the case for all... I myself read books almost exclusively by women alone (with a few exceptions -- but by and large, even in terms of browsing in bookstores, I have a tendency to pull out only books with a woman's name on them). I don't think that this is a sexist preference - I read women's writing because I am a writer who is a woman, and because I somehow identify close with female authors and their work. Men, I'm sure, feel the same way about male authors.

Interestingly, there is evidence that men's writing and women's writing is fundamentally different, in terms of style, syntax, and other technical things. In a writing circle that I use to be a member of, we once conducted an exercise where we read pieces "blind" and guessed the writer's gender. We concluded that aside from factors like subject matter, there are certain giveaways. Some of them are instinctual or work on an intuitive level, but also -- women used more variations for colour (e.g. woman - mauve, lavender, indigo; man - purple), men are more economical in their use of language, women use more dialogue than description etc.

On that topic, check this out: http://www.bookblog.net/gender/genie.html . How accurate are your results? It said I was male on two out of three counts!

bibliobibuli said...

sharanya - hope your reading went well yesterday and sorry i missed it ... thanks so much for this link i love it so much it demands and entry for itself!

amir said...

You know what, I never really thought about this author's gender business until you guys brought it up.

Gaiman once wrote that stories have genders. He sees that some stories he did as being effeminate while others are more masculine.

Jodorowsky, the guy who did The Incal and Metabarons also spaced his graphic novels in a male-female-male sequence.

For instance, the first, thirds, fifth and seventh issue of Metabarons, according to him, would be female versions.

The second, fourth, sixth, eight would be male.

Or maybe vice versa.

I'll go back and reread the comics and see how the issue folds in Jodorowsky's head.

bibliobibuli said...

what an intersting concept, amir - am intrigued to know more!!

Nizam Zakaria said...

It is interesting to note that the majority of Malay books found in bookstores today are written by female writers! I wonder if this is because most Malay readers are female and are reluctant to read books by male writers.

bibliobibuli said...

interesting! Maybe some of the writers are men writing under a female pseudonym ... as many Mils and Boon writers are ...

Krishna said...

In my humble opinion,speaking as a man,while some overt sexism may exist in a man's choice to exclusively read books by male authors,I think the main issue is how much a writer writes FOR an audience and how much of what is written includes or excludes the reader.I read a healthy selection of books by either gender(am unsure if there are books written by transvestites or transsexuals else I'd have given them a go as well) and for me,books that work best are ones where the writer's sex does not intrude.I love Agatha Christie not only for her mastery at reader deception but also,not once in all her 90 plus whodunnits did I ever feel I was reading a book "written by a woman" nor felt excluded for being a man,that "Oh,you won't get this cause you have a dick" kinda writing.Which is why I hated "Secret Life Of Bees" by Sue Monk Kidd.It was written by a woman for women with virtually nothing in it a man(at least a straight man) could relate to.All that "Let's share our innermost thoughts while we hug and cry and celebrate the Feminine Mystique" crap make most men gag,not because we are averse to showing our feelings,but because that is NOT how we choose to do it(a few exceptions include our favourite football team winning the Champions League).Monica Ali's "Brick Lane" similarly left me cold for its relentless male bashing in its quest to potray female emancipation from a "tyrannical,patriarchal society",a topic done to death.Men were either divide neatly into the "Clueless,arrogant,chauvinistic brute" camp or the "sensitive,caring,good looking bonk" group.I concede that some male writers are equally guilty of such stereotyping.So perhaps the key to get people to be a little more homogenous in their reading tastes is for more writers to keep their genitals out of the pages and tucked neatly inside their pants.

bibliobibuli said...

kumar - beautifully said, of course! agree with you entirely about the bee book (and have you seen how it's being hyped in the bookshops at the moment??) but i did enjoy brick lane (tho' i can see what you're saying) ...

but you are a very enlightened guy when it comes to books (and to sitting and discussing therm with a whole bunch of crazy women) ... not every man gives books written by women as much of a chance ...

syed syahrul zarizi said...

interesting indeed

bibliobibuli said...

kumar - just thought - genitals are in the head as much as in the pants!

Krishna said...

I agree Sharon.Maybe the ability to stay "gender-neutral" is a skill only few writers possess.Or..depending on the subject matter,some writers often project their own sexuality on their creations.Writers of hard-boiled fiction like Mickey Spillane and James Ellroy write male characters who are tough,vicious and sexually voracious which, to paraphrase someone else who posted a comment earlier on another topic,gives one the impression that these guys grip their pens like penises,ejaculating testosterone-fueled prose on the page(Hah!Wonder if that qualifies for a Bad Sex Prose award!)These tough as nails heroes probably embody many of the character traits their writers wish they had themselves(note the ease in which many of these fictional heroes bed numerous women!)Uma made an observation that male writers write about tough guys because male readers dislike reading about weak men.Interesting comment with more than a hint of truth.Perhaps it's the same with women writers as well.Some women writers I'm sure do a similar projection onto their heroines.Makes you marvel in awe at writers who can get into the heads of characters who are of the opposite gender to them.Let me know what you think of Larry McMurtry's potrayal of women in Lonesome Dove.He is supposed to be one of those writers who can get "into the head" of a woman.I agree after reading 4 of his books but I'd like a woman's point of view.

bibliobibuli said...

am going to enjoy lonesome dove and will let you know how mcmurtry does! there are many male writers who can think themselves into a woman ... i think caryl phillips does ... and dh lawrence ...

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