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Who was Cassandra?


  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.

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February 03, 2011

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Beth, is this the first time the word "schlong" has appeared on your blog?!? (If so, it doesn't surprise me that Dave would be the one to say it.)

I can't help but wonder what Virginia Woolf, herself an editor, would say about this. Apart from the issue of finding "a room of one's own," do women also need like-minded, sympathetic publishers? Or do women writers self-select by basically avoiding those publications where they notice a predominance of male contributors?

Hah! Yes, Lorianne, I think it's a first, and who better than Dave to inaugurate it? (I'm sure there've been penises, dicks, and cocks before.)

You bring up good questions. I think all writers deserve like-minded, sympathetic publishers! There's a danger, though, in painting women writers as being more fragile, sensitive, and emotional than men -- I'm not sure that's true. In working with visual artists as well as writers and knowing many as close friends, I think there's very little difference in how sensitive the two sexes are when their own creative work is the subject. They may express it differently, or be willing to put up with different types of behavior, but I don't think the underlying angst is very different, or the appreciation for being treated kindly and respectfully.

I don't know if I'm speaking as a woman as I say this, or as a person who considers herself still an outsider to the discipline, but qarrtsiluni has gotten my submissions because I feel that they will be considered seriously, and because I know the people who are involved in making the decisions. I can't say that about the other publications - indeed, they seem to go out of their way to reinforce the idea that they are an exclusive club for the already successful. If I want to be published, I'm likely to not even bother with those sorts of publications, because I don't believe that my work is something that they'd respect, let alone choose to publish.

I guess Beth and I are alike in our anti-elitism. It just bothers me when I see magazines touting all the big names they've published. We could play that game too, I guess, but it would feel so servile. And besides, most of our personal favorites of all the things we've published haven't come from big-name writers and artists. (Which isn't to say I don't get a thrill out of calling up people like Eileen Tabios and Steve Dalachinsky to record them for the podcast.)

Rana, maybe it has nothing to do with gender, and everything to do with wanting to be treated as a human being.

I'm so happy you have posted this! I too saw the report from VIDA, which another blogger friend linked to, and was horrified (especially with regard to the London Review of Books, which has been a big love affair of mine in the past year - and I'm afraid though I probably would have said there were more men in it, I had not noticed the extent of the discrepancy).

You have every reason to be proud of the statistics for Qarrtsiluni and Phoenicia. All the more so because I'm sure this is not the result of any conscious affirmative action, but the natural result of editorial proclivities. Goodness knows, we all want more equal representation of women to become something that happens naturally elsewhere and doesn't have to be fought for, and sometimes that still feels so far off.

I completely agree with you that women are probably not in general more sensitive or insecure as creative artists. The issue is not that women are so different (whether or when the sexes might be different in terms of the creative impulse is probably so complex and varied as not to be susceptible to any generalisations - creativity is a wondrous mystery, anyway), but that we're still so often treated differently.

Having said all of which, I would (and do) consider submitting stuff to Qarrtsiluni, although I haven't actually done so for ages, whereas I don't suppose I would remotely consider submitting to such a fantastic journal, publishing so many amazing and not a few very successful wrtiers and artists, if it wasn't for the fact that I know you and Dave. And I think it's probably still the case, and a self-perpetuating situation, that a lot more men are in the elite position of personally knowing editors and publishers.

What fun! It's always pleasant to be held up as an example of anything positive! I am loyal to "qarrtsiluni" partly because of editing the Insecta issue with Ivy Alvarez, partly because I like you and Dave, partly because I like the whole concept of the magazine (the daily taste, the comments, the changing editors) and the way it works to bring writers and readers together. One does have a sense of a little qarrtsiluni-world that loves words and is generous with them.

I do think writers (and in my experience men can be very tender and vulnerable when it comes to their mental progeny!) must cultivate a kind of hide against criticism and rejection that often seems at odds with the work they do. And perhaps that is especially true now, when an ill-read person with what Austen would call "little understanding" can get on Goodreads or Amazon or some such and just be senselessly mean or uncomprehending in words, often in some misguided attempt to be humorous. Without a sense of the worth of the work and an armor of some sort, writers can be embittered and wounded, no matter the sex. I have seen many writers fall away because of these things; I've also seen them walk away because of a distaste for big-house publishing.

Some years ago I noticed that genre editors were being open about posting and discussing male/female numbers. Not sure if they led the way, but I certainly saw them doing it a long time ago. Of course, that effort was spearheaded by readers bringing disparities to the attention of editors.

Thanks for this great comment, Marly! (And for your generous words about qarrtsiluni - much appreciated!) "Growing a hide against criticism" is unfortunately part of the artistic life, and one that some people seem to manage better than others. I think we are all become hurt, deep down, and carry those hurts with us, but some of us seem more able to engage repeatedly with the more rough-and-tumble aspects of the publishing world.

My feeling, looking at both the difficulties of "getting known" in traditional publishing and at the comments on the gender gap in online ventures like the Wikipedia or the more contentious types of blogs/online forums is that women are more likely to walk away, while men are more comfortable with aggressiveness, competitiveness, and volatility. The community/supportive aspect of certain online forums is more appealing to women but may not matter as much to men.

On the other hand, there is a clubby and exclusive quality in certain types of traditional publishing that isn't being talked about much but I think is real, where the luminaries are set up on a pedestal and fawned over by editors. While there are female divas among writers as well as in the performing arts, the whiskey-drinking, ego-driven, outspoken, life-as-fiction personalities of the literary world have been historically male, and I think we're still seeing a good deal of that; to some extent that system perpetuates itself. But it's not the only game in town anymore, or the only way for writers to be recognized, appreciated, and read.

"I suspect that elitist exclusivity is more to blame than sexism"--I agree with that. And clearly the historical elite was originally male and continues to be dominated by men. Even if you look at popular children's fiction, by the gender of characters you would deduce that the world's population is at least 2/3 male. The typical configuration has a main male character with one guy buddy and one girl buddy. Examples: A to Z Mysteries for grades 3 to 5, Harry Potter for the next age group.

Fascinating, Beth. I see this played out in so many areas, but these charts are still surprising. Recent studies suggest women read more books per year than men (especially fiction). Maybe we (women) need to make more of an effort to search out books written by women, to let market demand send a message to traditional publishers. I would also love to see more women in the publishing business, where they might influence who is considered for publication. I plan to bring up this subject at my next book club meeting.

What about the money? Do male or female authors make more money selling their work? Is the female dominance in the publications you review due to the lack of dollars involved?

It seems that when a profession changes from make to female status and pay are lowered.

Dave says “...elitist exclusivity is more to blame than sexism...”. Given this fact, there is little hope for the gender gap getting reduced through any self-correcting mechanism; the system, as you mention, only “perpetuates itself.”

One way to shift the balance is to put energy “to change this,” but it is hard to see how one can consciously try to do that without becoming, in a way, part of that system.

The other alternative is to ignore the system altogether. This suggestion may sound radical, but it must be made: why do we need journals of any kind? Especially these days when any individual can publish work on a blog, acquire a set of interested readers and also form a community. Ideally, little else should matter. (This option does not preclude scale and popularity - there is almost no limit to the readership one can acquire on the web, and, through links and references, popularity and fame, if that is what one seeks, is also possible - but it does place a limit on critical judgement (of the academic kind): instead of a couple of skilled editors selecting works for well-regarded journals and an army of critics scanning and writing about them, we will have a group of readers on the web “choosing” - by means of links - the better ones.)

We are still in the early days of exploring this alternate publishing medium. (The concept of a ‘blog carnival’ is another example of how such self-published works can be aggregated into a theme and can also “bring writers and readers together”.) The early signs, as your statistics from qarrtsiluni show, are good, and the future of meritocracy in this space looks promising.

"Fawned over" and so on: it's very much like the way the whole big-house concept of having a list but really intending to only "push" a tiny number of books. The rest of the books must sink or swim (mostly sink) and function as a kind of wallpaper on which the "pushed" books hang as trophies.

The point Lilian makes is related to that business about what each sex is willing to read: studies of children's reading tend to show that girls will read a book about a boy, but boys won't return the favor by reading one about a girl. So the threesome of boy-girl-boy may be common because it well knows those sorts of trends. And for adults, the Orange Prize did a study that found that men will simply not pick up books with jackets that look too "female."

Interesting discussion! I had my eyes on another somewhat related issue this week. Numbers came out showing that less than 15 percent of Wikipedia's contributors are women. And yet the site is open to all contributions. There's a few debates around the Web on this issue, including this section of the New York Times:
http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2011/02/02/where-are-the-women-in-wikipedia

@Parmanu - I don't know how factual my assertion is (being male, of course, that doesn't bother me in the slightest :). But in any case, it sounds as if we're in complete agreement about the remedy, as you might have guessed from my approach to publishing my own work, on my own blog to the virtual exclusion of anything else. Thanks for making that point.

More times than I can count I had considered cancelling my supscripton to Harper's. I finally did it. They have coasted along on their prestige for too long.
I am trying to add Qarrtsiluni to my blogroll, along with Exquisite Corpse and McSweeney's, but something is not working. I'll get them on there eventually.

While I whole-heartedly agree that change takes effort, I also want to point out that there are more options than simple "man"/"woman". I also admit the variety of options are not likely to be statistically significant here, alas.

I suspect that the gap goes much deeper (and earlier). One need only look at high school graduation rates, women outpacing men among college graduates, and recently for the first time outnumbering men in Medical and Law School programs. The statistics can only be more skewed in literature; it has been a truism for a long time that women are the reading audience. It has also always seemed to me that girls begin to journal at a very early age; I myself didn't start writing until my 20s. Long term social trends are pretty difficult to reverse. I happen to know that a recent U. Mich. MFA poetry class had not a single male among a dozen students, this at a school that offers full scholarships. This imbalance seems to become entrenched and institutionalized as writers tend, it seems to me, to seek mentors of same gender. I am now touching upon in an essay what has been referred to as men's and women's writing and what is meant when writing is called "muscular," this in contrasting the work of two of Russia's first lesbian poets, Zenaida Gippius and Sophia Parnok. I would very much appreciate hearing any thoughts on the subject, as controversial as they may be; are market conditions in part responsible for these trends, that predominance of women among readers favors women authors? Are there gender-specific characteristics (whether socially conditioned or biologically determined) that differentiate male and female work, perhaps in terms of interiorization/externalization and thus interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships? Any other related questions that need to be asked, or issues being overlooked?

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