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Essays,  Random

Why #ReadWomen2014 Has Changed Things, And Why #ReadWomen Matters

This year started in the best way possible for us feminist book bloggers: with #ReadWomen2014 a hashtag used on Twitter to promote and support books writen by women. Any genre. Any length. Any kind. The only requisit was that they were written by women. Founder, Joanna Walsh, describes the campaign as ‘A year-long celebration of women’s writing’ on their Twitter profile page, and The Guardian dedicated the campaign an article on an effort to spread the word. They say:

Female authors are marginalised by newspapers and literary journals, and their books are given ‘girly’ covers. Take action against this inequality by making sure the next book you read is by a woman.

Source

As a feminist book blogger this campaign was trying to achieve what I – among many others – try every time we pick up a book, every time we visit a book shop or every time that we come here to write: we want women writers to be recognised for the work they do. But, there is a huge problem for both us and for #ReadWomen2014, and that is that we are fighting a battle that a huge part of our society considers non-existent. Asking literature students about gender equality at my university proves a surprise and a shock every year. Most of first year students will claim that there is gender equality in all aspects of our lives, and they deem feminism old-fashioned and unncessary. As I said before, it’s a quiet and invisible fight that we are fighting. If we are facing a generation who thinks there is no need to fight for gender equality, then, what are the odds that they will question the literary status quo? If in a capitalist system they do not believe there exist a gender gap, why would they question their choices when picking up a book?

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Despite this total negation of sexism and inequality in the literary world, there is evidence of underlying prejudices against women writers, starting with the ‘chick-lit’ and ‘women’s literature’ labels that deem the female experience as alien, an Other that is specifically written for and by women. Because, which man in his senses would like to read about this? Or so they say. However, more and more organisations and people are making an effort to make women’s works in the letters count. VIDA is one of those organisations, and they kindly provide us with statistics on the number of men versus women reviewed in the main literature journals in the USA, even though those statistics are appaling. In 2013, The New York Review of Books reviewed 387 books, and only 80 of those were written by women. Not only that, but out of 264 reviewers employed, only 52 were women. But not everything is so bad for women writers, there are actually journals like The Paris Review and Poetry that show that readers are also interested in reading about women writers. You can check more statistics here.

These statistics beg the question of women’s works quality and quantity. Are there enough women writers to even the percentages quoted above? And do they write as good stuff as men do? Sadly, some people may answer a rotound ‘NO’ to both questions. While the reasons for such an answer are deeply routed in our patriarchal society – there, I’ve said it –  they can also be explained if we questioned people and what they really believe about women writers. Namely, that women write about women’s experiences, and therefore those texts are only interesting for women, or even that they are full of romance, shopping and beauty plots that men are no way interested in reading. The list could go on and on, but I am sensing your anger through the screen, so I will stop here.

For me, reading works by women has never been an effort or something I had to stop and think about. It actually pains me a little that #ReadWomen2014 had to call the attention of the public to this issue, because, why wouldn’t you pick up a book because it was written by a man or a woman? Also, this campaign has made me realise that most authors, publicits and editors I deal with are women. So, why isn’t their job recognised? Maybe because the Twitter and blogging sphere I move in is fighting for women writers’ rights every day, in a quiet way and just trying to make it into the so-called ‘universal’ lists in which men had a right to be, while women still have to win their entrance.

As you can imagine, the aim of this post is to stress the necessity and great work that #ReadWomen2014 has done, from founder Joanna Walsh, to all the readers, bloggers, writers, publishers and editors who have joined efforts to make women writers count. Now, #ReadWomen2014 has become #ReadWomen in an efftor to change the reading habits of millions of people. I am up for the fight, and so are my favourite bloggers, writers and editors, and, I’m 100% sure, all my readers. We live in a world where women’s works and the arts and humanities are not going throught their best moment, but it is our obligation to keep fighting for both.

You can learn more about #ReadWomen here.

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7 Comments

  • naomifrisby

    Great post, Elena. I think that younger people don’t see gender inequality because they aren’t always treated differently by their peers. I’ve heard it from students too and I’ve shown them newspaper reports and Everyday Sexism and so on and they’ve understood it but I wonder if there is a change happening with people younger than us (or whether I’m just overly hopeful!).

    • Elena

      Thank you, Naomi. I can tell you, my brother is 21 and he doesn’t see feminism necessary, because well, he is enjoying priviledges he takes for granted everyone has. The anecdote with fresmen students was told to me by one of my PhD tutors, but I do think young people don’t stop to consider whether there is inequality or not. Let’s see if things change, or if they are really experiencing a less sexist world than you and I, although I’m pretty confident that – sadly, they aren’t.

  • Leah

    Great post, Elena! It’s so important that we treat female writers with the same respect we treat male writers.

    And I think there is hope for the first-year university students who believe gender equality has been achieved. I didn’t know much about feminism and how off-balance things really are when I was 18. It took a few years of reading and actively trying to become more informed for me to learn far we still have to go — and I’m sure I will continue learning. I think (hope) those students just need some time.

    • Elena

      That is a wonderful and inspiring thing to hear, Leah. In my university there are plenty of literature feminist professors, and they are usually disregarded as the feminazis or even worse things though. So sad…

  • John R. Ford

    As a dude who decided to read more women writers this year, I can tell you this has been a wonderful experience. I’ve been exposed to so many great writers that I probably would not have read otherwise. (Marie-Helene Bertino! Gabrielle Zevin! Liane Moriarty!) Not because I was intentionally avoiding women writers before, but bc the default setting pushes men to an extend that I honestly hadn’t realized. So, thanks. 🙂

  • Sam (Tiny Library)

    Lovely post, Elena.
    I tend to naturally read more female authors than male, but I have been gradually coaxing Tom away from the male authors. So far he’s loved The Colour Purple, so I have high hopes for him!

    • Elena

      Oh that is great, Sam! You’ll see my stats for my reading in 2014 next week, but I’m sure it’ll be a mainly female list. And good for Tom, we knew there was hope when he married you 🙂

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