?

Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

By now, I imagine many of you have seen Publishers Weekly’s roundup of the ten very best books of 2009, a list which just happens to only include male authors.  Sure, the girls made it into some of the secondary lists, but the ten best?  All boys.

I would also check out Lizzie Skurnick’s response at Politics Daily, which included this bit from PW: “We wanted the list to reflect what we thought were the top 10 books of the year with no other consideration . . . We ignored gender and genre and who had the buzz . . . It disturbed us when we were done that our list was all male.”

So here’s my question: What should PW have done when they realized they had come up with an all-male list?

We pause now for the predictable response.

“You keep your quotas off of us, you damn, dirty PC police!”

Right.  Moving on, the thing I don’t get is that the folks at PW say they were disturbed by this, but they don’t appear to have done anything about it.  Did they ever take that next step and ask, “Why, if we were truly ignoring gender, did we still come up with an all-male list?  We’re talking less than a 1 in 1000 chance of this happening purely at random*, which suggests maybe we weren’t as gender-blind as we thought.”

Our own biases are hard to face.  It’s easier and safer to turn the blame outward or make excuses:

  • It’s just one list, and we have girls in some of the others!
  • Maybe more men published good books this year.
  • It’s the story that counts, not the gender/race/etc. of the author.
  • Women helped to make this list, so it can’t be sexist!
  • Maybe women should be proactive and start writing better books!

I could go on and on listing reasons that basically amount to “It’s not my fault,” and “I’m not sexist!”  We could spend the whole month debunking most of those reasons.

But in the end, Publishers Weekly published this list.  They were aware enough to recognize something wasn’t right, and I give them props for that.  But that’s much easier than actually taking responsibility.  We can say, “Oh look, a list of all men.  That’s gonna be a problem, because those bloggers are going to raise hell that we didn’t include a token woman.

Or we can stop making excuses and try being accountable for our own choices and behaviors.  We can say, “I tried to be  gender-blind about this, but ended up with an all-male list.  Huh.  I didn’t consciously try to pick only male authors, but maybe I’m not as gender-blind or unbiased as I thought.

Nobody’s asking for quotas.  Me, I’m just asking people to grow up and take responsibility for their choices.  Yes, we’re talking about an industry-wide issue that affects publishing on many different levels.  But the industry is made up of individuals, and every one of us, myself included, has our own biases and prejudices. We can ignore them and make the same tired excuses, or we can face them and try to do better.

We all mess up.  I just wish more folks would own up to it when it happens.


*Assuming a 50/50 breakdown of male and female authors.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Tags:

Comments

( 130 comments — Leave a comment )
Page 1 of 3
<<[1] [2] [3] >>
sigelphoenix
Nov. 9th, 2009 05:17 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this breakdown - particularly the reminder that you can believe that you're unbiased, but still perpetuate the bias unconsciously. Too many people seem to think that "I don't want to be biased" or "I try not to be biased" equals "I'm not biased." We need to acknowledge, as you do here, that intent doesn't preclude failure, especially with something as ingrained as cultural biases.
jimhines
Nov. 9th, 2009 05:23 pm (UTC)
Yes. I'm so tired of hearing intention used as defense. I didn't *intend* to be sexist, so it doesn't count.

And I think it's good that we're generally not being consciously or deliberately discriminatory. But so much of this is learned habit, it's the stuff that we don't think about because it's so automatic. Then we get so defensive that someone dared to accuse us of being sexist that we never make the effort to examine our behavior and really think about all of those underlying assumptions and habits.
wendigomountain
Nov. 9th, 2009 05:22 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure why there is a problem with this list? Other than all the books look like they suck ass anyway. If I was a woman with a contender to be on the list, I'd breathe a sigh of relief I didn't make the cut. SSDD.

And when, oh lordy WHEN, are publishers going to realize that these meta books about writers and journalists are getting really damned old. It's amateurish, it's lazy, and it's a one-trick pony among fledgling novelists. If I was an editor, I would say, "Neat story about a writer. Now, why don't you write another one which actually uses some imagination. Hmm?"
cathshaffer
Nov. 9th, 2009 06:35 pm (UTC)
Oh, god, yes. I won't ready any books about writers. Ugh.
(no subject) - sixteenbynine - Nov. 9th, 2009 07:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Nov. 9th, 2009 07:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sixteenbynine - Nov. 9th, 2009 08:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Nov. 9th, 2009 08:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sixteenbynine - Nov. 9th, 2009 08:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
suricattus
Nov. 9th, 2009 05:29 pm (UTC)
I understand that sometimes the stats are what the stats are. But if the editors did realize that this was not a Good Thing or a desirable thing, then they should have made a point of it when the lists were realized and made a Learning Experience out of it, rather than whistling past the graveyard.

Also "we ignored who had the buzz?" Oh, bullshit. Unless they were doing a blind testing, which is impossible with books for obvious reasons, they were influenced by the buzz, by the conversations, by their own preferences... that's why it's branded list, because it reflects the tastes of that brad's editors. Nothing wrong with that, but that means owning up to the biases that come with said tastes and said brand...

jimhines
Nov. 9th, 2009 06:40 pm (UTC)
Thank you once again for putting it so succinctly after I babbled on for 500 words or so :-)
(no subject) - suricattus - Nov. 9th, 2009 06:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
mtlawson
Nov. 9th, 2009 05:36 pm (UTC)
Blech.

The only book I'd consider getting from that list is the Age of Wonder, and that's being kind.

This reminds me of the top ten lists you'd find in Games magazine or any other publication where they fail to provide details on how the list was selected. Trying to avoid hype and hoopla and gender and genre isn't the same as actually doing it, and if you fail to put your selection criteria on display then you ought not be taken seriously.
skylarker
Nov. 9th, 2009 05:43 pm (UTC)
It does make me wonder what criteria they were using, and whether the criteria tend towards factors that male writers tend to evince more strongly. Do they favor more overt physical conflict? Less touchy-feeling content? Car chases? What is it that they think makes for the best novels?
barbarienne
Nov. 9th, 2009 05:51 pm (UTC)
May I respectfully point out that your criteria here for defining male-written books are a stereotype. Can I please assume that you were being tongue-in-cheek when you said "Do they favor more overt physical conflict? Less touchy-feeling content? Car chases?"

(NB: I am female and I write stories chock full of overt physical conflict. I loves me my fight scenes!)
(no subject) - skylarker - Nov. 9th, 2009 07:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - barbarienne - Nov. 9th, 2009 10:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
jhetley
Nov. 9th, 2009 05:43 pm (UTC)
Perhaps the compilers of that list are biased against good books?
rosefox
Nov. 9th, 2009 06:20 pm (UTC)
Ouch, Jim.
(no subject) - jhetley - Nov. 9th, 2009 07:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rosefox - Nov. 9th, 2009 08:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
orlacarey
Nov. 9th, 2009 05:45 pm (UTC)
So if they ignored gender and buzz and all that other stuff I'm really interested in knowing what their evaluation critera was. I doubt it was sales. Was it three guys sitting in a room deciding which books they liked this year? And if so how many books did they read to come to that conclusion?

It's all well and good to say "we ignored such and such" but if your list turns out all male (or all female or all dogs for that matter) then you need to figure out what it is about your evaluation that's influencing the results.
(Anonymous)
Nov. 9th, 2009 05:57 pm (UTC)
I believe PW's core editorial staff comprises three fiction editors, three nonfiction editors, one online reviews editor, and one reviews director. Four men, four women. Not that the latter stat is relevant, since women are just as capable of unconscious bias as men are.
(no subject) - orlacarey - Nov. 9th, 2009 06:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Nov. 9th, 2009 06:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
onceuponafaun
Nov. 9th, 2009 05:45 pm (UTC)
I believe that the problem is that most of the books that are highly hyped, pushed by the publishing companies, well advertised and supported are by male authors. I believe I've read an article to that effect, though of course I can't find it. If only male authors are hyped and supported by their publishing companies, then naturally any list of the most hyped books of the year will be by men.

What this list should have woken up is a notice to the publishing companies that they're promoting very unequally. News outlets can hardly be blamed for this.
barbarienne
Nov. 9th, 2009 05:53 pm (UTC)
Yes, this. There almost certainly is a hidden bias in the judges, but they are further subjected to the bias in the editors.

It's entirely possible that the judges were perfectly neutral, but the selection pool was radically weighted in favor of the boys. (This is, of course, highly implausible, and the more reasonable explanation is that both pool and judges have biases.)
rosefox
Nov. 9th, 2009 05:52 pm (UTC)
I'm one of the staffers who compiled the list. I can't really comment on it or reveal anything about our process, but I can certainly confirm Ms. Ermelino's mention of our meetings about the list being argumentative and contentious on several levels. (Among other things, I was the one "kicking and screaming" for a genre book to make the cut.)

Those who know me well probably have some idea of how I personally feel about this, but I'm afraid I'm constrained from discussing those feelings in public.
jimhines
Nov. 9th, 2009 05:54 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Rose. I understand it's not something you can really get into in a public forum, but I appreciate the confirmation of Ms. Ermelino's account. As well as your efforts to get a genre book onto the list :-)
(no subject) - arielstarshadow - Nov. 9th, 2009 06:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - barbarienne - Nov. 9th, 2009 06:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Nov. 9th, 2009 07:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sixteenbynine - Nov. 9th, 2009 08:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rosefox - Nov. 10th, 2009 07:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - arielstarshadow - Nov. 9th, 2009 09:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - georgmi - Nov. 9th, 2009 10:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - barbarienne - Nov. 9th, 2009 10:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
a secret process? - (Anonymous) - Nov. 10th, 2009 06:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: a secret process? - rosefox - Nov. 10th, 2009 07:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
janni
Nov. 9th, 2009 05:53 pm (UTC)
If they'd simply said, "This really surprised us, and while we see no way to create a more balanced list now without doing it badly, we're going to spend the next year examining the assumptions that led us to create such a list, and to try to think more about our biases in the coming year," then I might actually have had a little respect for the whole business, you know?

The defensiveness instead ... just looks bad. Really bad.
jimhines
Nov. 9th, 2009 06:47 pm (UTC)
Defensiveness often does. I can understand that gut reaction to defend yourself against this sort of accusation, but it almost always makes things worse.

I would have had a *lot* of respect had they chosen to go the route you suggested. (Even more if they actually followed through...)
jtglover
Nov. 9th, 2009 06:11 pm (UTC)
Taste is subjective and murky, and "favorites" are so very, very closely tied to "favoritism" when made public. I think it's an interesting exercise to pick favorites at any given time--what people most enjoyed reading--but I think it would be productive to drop "best" from the equation, unless included in the phrase "like best," because that's what it comes down to, even if editors, listmakers, or tastemakers feel otherwise. Claiming otherwise is fine if you're divine, but for the rest of us mortals, well...
sylvia_rachel
Nov. 9th, 2009 06:55 pm (UTC)
Yes: it's the framing of the list that bothers me rather than the content per se. Tell us what your favourite books were, by all means; if all of them are by boys, I may suspect you lack imagination or a sense of adventure in your reading, but I won't be angry with you. But don't say THE BEST when what you really mean -- and, given the inherent subjectivity of such an exercise in the first place, all you can mean -- is "the ones we really liked".

The other thing I find really interesting about all these lists is that out of dozens and dozens of books, I've heard of maybe three or four and read, as far as I can tell, not a single one. And I do read quite a bit (two or three books a week on average, I would guess).
(no subject) - jhetley - Nov. 9th, 2009 08:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sylvia_rachel - Nov. 10th, 2009 01:08 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sixteenbynine - Nov. 9th, 2009 08:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sylvia_rachel - Nov. 10th, 2009 01:19 am (UTC) - Expand
cathshaffer
Nov. 9th, 2009 06:40 pm (UTC)
Okay, it has been said before and it must be said again...but the list sucks. As far as I can tell, 5 out of the ten books, a full FIFTY PERCENT, are books of literary fiction. Most people don't like literary fiction. Most people find it dead boring, with the variation that literary fiction is often depressing as well as boring. Several of the other titles fall into the category of narrative nonfiction. So I think we have some clues here. I don't think it's a stretch to say this is a list of books that would please English majors. Given the politics in most university English departments, I think that ending up with an all-male list is something that should be at least a bit embarrassing.
sylvia_rachel
Nov. 9th, 2009 06:57 pm (UTC)
I dunno -- I was an English major at university, and I've never even heard of any of the books on that first list.

Of course, I spent as much of my degree as I possibly could reading Old English poetry and Renaissance drama, so I'm perhaps not quite their target demographic either ;)
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Nov. 9th, 2009 07:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Nov. 9th, 2009 07:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Nov. 9th, 2009 07:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Nov. 9th, 2009 07:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Nov. 9th, 2009 07:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - thelauderdale - Nov. 10th, 2009 03:49 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - thelauderdale - Nov. 10th, 2009 03:52 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - barbarienne - Nov. 9th, 2009 10:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Nov. 9th, 2009 11:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - summers_place - Nov. 10th, 2009 07:56 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mtlawson - Nov. 9th, 2009 08:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - b_writes - Nov. 10th, 2009 07:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - beckyh2112 - Nov. 9th, 2009 08:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Nov. 9th, 2009 08:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dark_puck - Nov. 9th, 2009 08:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Nov. 9th, 2009 09:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dark_puck - Nov. 9th, 2009 09:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Nov. 9th, 2009 10:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Nov. 9th, 2009 10:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - onceuponafaun - Nov. 9th, 2009 09:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Nov. 9th, 2009 10:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rachel_swirsky - Nov. 9th, 2009 09:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Nov. 9th, 2009 09:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rachel_swirsky - Nov. 9th, 2009 09:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Nov. 9th, 2009 09:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
onceuponafaun
Nov. 9th, 2009 06:53 pm (UTC)
Oh exactly. A list of all women authors would have immediately around suspicions of pandering. No one minds pandering to men though, that's pretty much how the media works.
(no subject) - barbarienne - Nov. 9th, 2009 11:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sylvia_rachel - Nov. 9th, 2009 07:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Nov. 9th, 2009 07:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sylvia_rachel - Nov. 9th, 2009 07:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Nov. 9th, 2009 08:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sylvia_rachel - Nov. 10th, 2009 02:12 am (UTC) - Expand
p_sunshine
Nov. 9th, 2009 07:03 pm (UTC)
Way to throw a match, Jim. =)
Maybe I should go home and count how many female and male authors I have on my bookshelves and find out how my personal buying habits tally. I've never really thought about buying by gender, but this post makes me curious about my own preferences.
I'm curious which books didn't make their top ten. I'm guessing "Her Fearful Symmetry" was the literary ghost story, but I'd like to know what the cookbook and the sci-fi book were.
I'm glad that they were disturbed by the final result and were confident enough to say that they were disturbed by it. I'd like to see what their determining factors were; if there was anything in them that somehow skewed toward the male writers, and if it was, what it was, because it's just as much a stereotype to say that male writers write about x subject in x manner and females don't.
jimhines
Nov. 9th, 2009 07:08 pm (UTC)
I consider myself nice and egalitarian, but a friend of mine was doing a survey a while back and asked us to take a poll of our last four books read, and I was very surprised to discover they were all by male authors.

Looking at a larger sample of my reading, I *think* that was a statistical fluke, but I'm glad for the reality check.

I do know my choices skew heavily toward white authors, which is an area where I'm working to broaden my reading.

And yeah, like you, I'd be very curious to know what sort of criteria were used to compile that final list.
(no subject) - bondo_ba - Nov. 9th, 2009 09:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Nov. 10th, 2009 07:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - deborahblakehps - Nov. 9th, 2009 10:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - georgmi - Nov. 9th, 2009 11:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sylvia_rachel - Nov. 9th, 2009 07:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sixteenbynine - Nov. 9th, 2009 07:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sylvia_rachel - Nov. 9th, 2009 08:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sixteenbynine - Nov. 9th, 2009 08:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sylvia_rachel - Nov. 10th, 2009 02:20 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - p_sunshine - Nov. 9th, 2009 08:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - barbarienne - Nov. 9th, 2009 11:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - p_sunshine - Nov. 10th, 2009 02:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
saanen
Nov. 9th, 2009 07:07 pm (UTC)
Maybe all the really good books by women are being published in November and December of 2009. You know, after the "best of 2009" books list was released.

(I'm not sure if they do this list every year and if they consider books from November of the previous year to October of the current year or something like that. If so, I retract my sarcasm. Most of it, anyway.)
jimhines
Nov. 9th, 2009 07:14 pm (UTC)
Their Best Books of 2008 came out 11/3/08, so yeah, I think it's a recurring thing. Weird, though.
ARC's - kilks401 - Nov. 9th, 2009 07:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rosefox - Nov. 9th, 2009 08:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Nov. 9th, 2009 09:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
Page 1 of 3
<<[1] [2] [3] >>
( 130 comments — Leave a comment )

Profile

Snoopy
jimhines
Jim C. Hines
Website

Tags

Latest Month

November 2019
S M T W T F S
     12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930
Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Tiffany Chow