The Writers’ Gender Gap: True or False?
Do you think that there is a gender gap in the publishing industry? Just by reading a few sources off the internet, I found women writers claiming that they get more responses from publishers when using a male pseudonym, suggesting that the publishing industry and society in general do not take women writers seriously.
Not that women never had a prominent position in literature; if you look back, some of the earliest poets in history were women. Consider Akkadian/Sumerian poet and high priestess, Enheduanna (2285–2250 BCE), who—historians generally agree—is the first female poet, if not the first in the world. And of course we all have heard of the famous Ancient Greek poet Sappho (c. 610–c.570 BCE). Another female poet, Al-Khansa (575 to–645), was said to be the greatest Arabian poet of her time.
Other female writers over the course of history include 11th century Japanese novelist Murasaki Shikibu, Byzantine 12th century author and historian Anna Comnena, Italian-French Christine de Pizan—the first professional female writer of the late 14th century. However, like the female poets who came before them, these women were from affluent circles or have a strong connection to them.
Even though the 18th and 19th century saw the presence of some notable women writers, such as Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, many women still chose to write anonymously or under a male pseudonym. There were women reformers who were avid writers and who were getting published, such as English philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft, and later, American novelist and lecturer Charlotte Perkins Gillman. But generally speaking, the fact that most women writers tend to hide behind male or gender neutral pseudonyms indicates that it was harder for women to be accepted as authors.
The Victorian Era, with its ideology of separate sphere, contributed much to the challenge women writers face as women writers were, well… considered silly, because men (even those who were ruled by a queen) thought women lacked intellectual capacity. However, the use of pseudonyms was instrumental for women writers to gain entrance to the publishing industry. Anonymity also made it possible for women to contribute to quarterlies on conventionally male subjects such as politics and economics, while female novelists can write without being confined to the feminine literary tradition. Nonetheless, the double standard did rule. Tuchman and Fortin’s 1989 analysis of the Macmillan publishing archive from 1867 to 1917, tells us that men enjoyed higher acceptance rate and that by the 1880’s, women were being paid less (Alexis Easley in Linda H. Peterson, 2015).
It is interesting to know that even today female students and academic writers have confidence issues as they struggle in a male dominated academic world. The “confidence gap” is experienced by many professional women, according to The Atlantic (2017). I also once read that JK Rowling was told by her publisher to use her initials because boys wouldn’t read fiction written by women. Similar to what women in the academic field face, the female writer experience of harder acceptance may be a result of a gender gap that has long existed in society.
I’ve heard some say that the issue is not of any discrimination of some sort, but just the fact that there are less talented women writers. Even if this is true, we will have to ask why and any sufficient answer would need to look at issues in the education system as well as gender socialization and stereotyping. But then again, you will have to admit that some forms of sexual discrimination are just so subtle and difficult to prove even if you know that they truly exist. This may be the case with the writers’ gender gap. Just saying.
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