A Room of One’s Own*

Every time I teach any gender-related course in which feminism comes up in discussion, it is inevitable that a few students—both male and female—will vocalize an unwarranted need to continue any feminist activism. Because, these students argue, girls can do anything boys can do.

In theory, this is true. In practice . . . meh. Not so much.

If you are still arguing the point that men and women have achieved equal status (and many of you still are), you might want to consider this:

From Amy King at VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, “Best of 2009” tracks women’s efforts in publishing by breaking down the book awards and ‘best of’ lists of 2009 (originally posted at SheWrites).

Amazon: Top 100 Editor’s Picks 2009
77 Men
23 Women

Christian Science Monitor: Nonfiction
18 Men
4 Women

LA Times
16 Men
9 Women
19 Men
6 Women

Library Journal: 31 Titles
19 Men
10 Women

The National Book Awards
Fiction: 1 Man / 0 Women
Nonfiction: 1 Man / 0 Women
Poetry: 1 Man / 0 Women
Young People’s Literature: 1 Man / 0 Women

New York Times
43 Men
12 Women
Fiction and Poetry
25 Men
20 Women

Publishers Weekly
71 Men
29 Women
Top 10
10 Men
0 Women

Washington Post
69 Men
17 Women
57 Men
27 Women

The Nobel Prize for Literature: 1901 – 2009
91 Men
11 Women

The Pulitzer Prize
Biography or Autobiography, 1919 – 2009
63 Men
5 Women
Fiction 1948-2009
40 Men
16 Women
Nonfiction, 1962 – 2009
36 Men
11 Women
Poetry, 1950-2009
44 Men
16 Women

U.S. Poet Laureate, 1937-2009
36 Men
10 Women

* “In order for a woman to write fiction she must have two things, certainly: a room of her own (with key and lock) and enough money to support herself.” — Virgina Woolf


24 thoughts on “A Room of One’s Own*

  1. As an aspiring journalist, the “LA Times, “The New York Times,” and “The Washington Post” figures really jumped out and stuck with me. Although the gap between men and women writers is closing, these statistics show there is still a long way to go.

    And throwing sports journalism into the mix? I’m sure the difference between the numbers would increase. I’m in the midst of applying for summer internships with sports and news publications, and I’m struggling to decide if I should highlight or downplay the fact that I’m a female who’s interested in sports. To some, gender plays a role. Technically, I’m a “minority” in this institution (sports and sports journalism), but I think company executives would be hesitant to let a female into the predominately testosterone driven, butt-slapping “man’s world.” Just think of the whole locker room discussion we had on the blog—what if I were denied entry into the Yankees’ locker room and couldn’t conduct an interview with Derek Jeter solely because I’m a woman? My written expression might be equal to or better than that of a male reporter, but now, my gender affects my job performance.

    This says a lot about the culture of sports journalism as well: When I think of my favorite sports reporters – Selena Roberts, Bill Simmons, Ricky Reilly, Tom Verducci, S.L. Price – all expect one are men. However, I think this has to do with the institution of sports and, by extension, sports journalism. Male athletes receive more coverage than their female counterparts, which parallels the overwhelming gap between male and female sports writers.

  2. Sarah Canavan says:

    I don’t think it’s possible to legitimately argue that women are on equal footing with men. Michele’s data is just a tiny sliver in all the possible statistics out there that could support the argument that men still dominate in most areas. In all fairness, men have had about a 40,000 year head start, and women have only just begun being recognized. However, I would like to point out that in the 40,000 years that homo sapiens sapiens (the species we consider modern humans) have walked this earth, it is the last century that has made the most advances in EVERY aspect of life–social, political, scientific, technological, economic, the list goes on. And, it is the last century that saw the true potential of women–and started utilizing it. So, let me say that another way. Men moseyed along inventing things sporadically for about 30,900 years. Women put their collective foot down, and in a mere ONE hundred years, humans as a species have advanced more than in the 30,900 other year’s combined (basically). I’m not saying that the evolution of women’s rights was directly responisble for medical advances, the invention of the internet, or the iPod, but… Well actually, yeah. That’s what I’m saying. So thanks for fire, men, but we’ve got it from here.

  3. Tom Michaud says:

    I never really thought about this before. But all these freakin statistics are making me realize that, even in such a small part of life (books), that we really aren’t equal at all. I’m not saying I thought they were before, but its just in every category the men had more winners. Is it that their books really were better? Probably not, at least not with all these examples. Literally across the board the men won more than the women. That just screams discrimination to me. Its like they have a set number of women they can allow to win, while the men get to fill the rest of the list. I’m sure that very many books were written by women that were never even considered for an award based on the fact that it was written by a woman. I have no proof of this but this is ridiculous that they cant even do a 50 men,50 women split in something that rates on the top 100 or something. Why is this kind of rejection of women still occurring? Writing is writing; to me, it doesn’t matter what your sex or gender has anything to do with how good your book is. At least let your award selection process really be equal. Only then do I think women will get equal respect in this aspect of life.

  4. Erin Meehan says:

    As an English major this post relates closely to my life, especially as I embark out onto the world. I have never been involved with fictional writing of my own, (but I am taking my first creative writing course next semester). I tend regard novels and fiction as more of “feminine” occupation… which I now see is a form of my own gender ideology and also false. Reading this post I am saddened to see women’s lack of recognition as recent as 2009 in the publishing world. Before taking this course I was one of the young ladies who believed that “girls can do anything boys can do”, looking at these statistics now I do not know what to think.
    Throughout my college career I have found the opposite of what is shown above. I at times joke with my girl friend who is an Econometrics major that I should take some of her classes to meet boys. She is one of the few female Econ. majors. I on the other hand have found that every English course I have taken is dominated by women in size and overall discussion. From my experience on the school newspaper as well, most of the writers and editors are female. Thus, if there is such a dominant presence of my gender involved in writing on campus, why are they so under-represented in the professional world. Clearly women are receiving english educations? Aha could it be the infamous “glass celling” I have been hearing about the past four years but never actually acknowledged?
    It could be. It could also relate heavily to Virginia Wolfe’s quote. I recall in my Southern Fictions course reading The Awakening by Kate Chopin and discussing Wolfe’s statement. The novel articulates a early feminist novelist living in the south. She appreciates that to write a woman must have the means and life outside of the role of traditional housewife and mother. To write fiction one must possess an imagination and space where they are able to pursue it away from the world. Men are automatically provided this “space” or “room” women are not. Do these 2009 publishing statistics show that this is still true today? I hope not because at school and home my room has always been my sanctuary. I refuse to give it up!

  5. Merrill Amos says:

    I think definitely a large contributor to these statistics is the fact that journalism and printed word in general is very much structured to be a “man’s world.” A lot of the time I find myself in a similar situation in the music industry — being pat on the head being told “oh, you’re so cute; you play guitar and write music of your VERY OWN!” *barf* A lot of women (in both music and I presume publishing) have to find their success through various niches, or even just self-publish. The IndieGrrl Conference in Knoxville, TN I went to over the summer was FULL of independent female musicians (hundreds of us) — and damn good and successful ones at that. These women are the ones who have written songs for the likes of Miley Cyrus and Brad Paisley; they have their songs playing on shows like the Real World but just haven’t received the recognition — so really you could argue that these “unrecognized/unnoticed” women are the backbones of their industry; they’re what’s driving it forward and keeping it prosperous.

    As far as these successful and recognized authors…they’re not doing all this on their own. They have writing assistants and secretaries, ghost writers, and even buy rights to others’ stories or research (much like in the music industry) and I’d be willing to bet that women are large contributors to many of these authors’ success.

    While I was at the conference I mentioned earlier, I learned a lot about royalty collection. Before going to these seminars, etc. I really wasn’t sure how I felt about licensing my music for others’ use and thought I would lose ownership over it, but the way someone put it to me was that I could (in theory) be sitting on a beach somewhere while my song is collecting royalties and I can still go perform it that night no problem — and I thought ya know what? Maybe that’s enough recognition for me. So maybe what these statistics show is the (stereotypical) male tendency toward competition and recognition-seeking. Is it then that women are more widely content and fulfilled without striving for those big awards and acknowledgments?

  6. Kathryn says:

    This post really reminds me of some of the work I am doing in my independent study concerning gender discrepancies and the “anxiety” of female authorship. I am reading The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination by Gilbert and Gubar and it outlines the challenges women faced when first breaking into the male-dominated literary world. From the pen as a phallic symbol to women having “nothing worthwhile to say” (a popular male ideology of the 1800s, as women were only homemakers), women have surmounted enormous obstacles in a very short period of time, as Sarah wisely pointed out. It was considered not only inappropriate but also unnatural for women to to move from the realm of objects to subjects, creating work instead of serving as one-dimensional archetypes within stories. Women had to face ostracism because of their desire to write, and the image of the madwoman scribbling away secretly in the attic became a popular depiction of women writers–they were abnormal/mentally diseased and their work was simply a product of their hysteria.

    Linguistically speaking, the question of men’s language vs. women’s language also arose during this time period, because women were faced with the decision to assimilate into the literary world and “copy” male writers or rebel against them and create their own “language.” Of course, as we have read in previous weeks, women were doomed: if they tried to assimilate, their work was a mere second-hand copy of a man’s superior work, if they rebelled and created something new, it was preposterous, crazy, and dangerous. Years later, we have made major strides toward erasing this stereotype and leveling the playing field, but old ideologies die hard, and as the statistics show, it’s still a man’s world when it comes to making a career out of writing.

  7. Allison May says:

    I definitely agree with Sarah’s response that yes, men have had an earlier start, but this past century, women have certainly stepped up their game. As an artist, I can’t help but think about these statistics when it comes to famous artists of the past. Rack your brain for the names of artists (yes, even those of you who have never stepped foot into an art museum). What names come to mind? Picasso,Van Gogh, Degas, Matisse, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, etc…etc. I feel like very few people can name prominent women artists. Even in exhibits today, the number of pieces by men DRASTICALLY outnumber the pieces by women. I know that, like literature, this has to do with the fact that men had a tremendous head-start, but it still drives me crazy that in the art world, very few female artists throughout history are recognized. I wonder if Gertrude Stein, when holding her salons, would have to say about this. Did she ever feel the absence of female artwork? Looking at the artists whose work she displayed most often, I don’t see ONE female name. And considering the kind of woman Stein was, this deeply saddens me. Why couldn’t you scope out female artists like you did Picasso and Cezanne? I mean, come on…you pretty much discovered Picasso and exposed his work..I’m sure that there were many struggling female artists whose work we will never know about because they were never given the chance.

  8. Erin, you bring up an excellent point about the Herald. Thinking of our consistent staff members, I can only name three or four men. Women comprise the rest of the team. (I’d guess an average of 15-20 total contributors per edition.) It’s interesting to look at the NY Times or the WSJ because the opposite is true: It’s a little more challenging to find a female by-line.

    Extending this observation a bit, I think women are more likely to be involved in college organizations. Don’t get me wrong—there are plenty of men who actively contribute to the HWS campus. However, I think a lot of William Smith women relate to Courtney Martin’s article titled “Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters.” In the piece, she discusses the role and the importance of the “quintessential brand of female perfectionism.” While the generation before us was told they could accomplish anything, we feel like me must accomplish everything. I definitely feel this way. With all of the opportunities we have today – many of which our mothers and grandmothers did not possess – how can we not capitalize and seize the day?

  9. Sarah Drapela says:

    As a women going into science I am all too aware that men are still have the upper hand when it comes to being recognized in the professional world. But even with this understanding I was surprised by some of these statistics. I guess I am just too much of an optimist. I see the progress that women have made when it comes to being accepted in different types of jobs and it is easy for me to convince myself that the little bit of progress we have made is the same a success. However, these statistics just go to show how wrong I am in thinking that women are today totally equal to men. Clearly we are still the victims of ideologies that men are better and more capable than women and this post really helped but that back into perspective for me. It is without a doubt a success that women can get jobs in a variety of fields but that does not mean our fight for equality is done. We barely have one foot in the door and we have a long way to go if we are ever going to be seen as truly equal to the men we are working with.

  10. Morgan Gibeault says:

    This data does not surprise me at all. Women have grown so much in the past and have already made a huge leap forwards in different things such as sports, education, politics, etc. I am grateful for what women have fought for in the past, and for the women that are continuously fighting for more rights. Looking at the big picture I still believe women’s rights are a new thing. Although many years have passed since women have gained equal opportunity, it does not equal the amount of time that men have had the upper hand. I believe that eventually women will come out on top. Yes this data shows that the men are leading in a number of things, but it is not all of them right? Women do great things and personally without them life would not go on. So yes in looking at these statistics I am disgusted that there is still and upper hand for men, but in the bigger picture I am amazed at how far women’s rights have actually come since the first women’s rights movement. If we keep fighting and learning about women’s rights then eventually the equality will come, but for now we should appreciate the big step that women everywhere have taken in the past and embrace it as well as keep pushing for more.

  11. Ryan Waffle says:

    Some of these numbers are really striking and eye opening. I never really thought that there would be so much of a discrepancy between literature award winners, but I’ve never really paid much attention to it.

    When looking closely at the data, I sort of noticed a slight trend. It seems that there is a huge gap, from about 1945 ish to around 1990 where women author’s were completely shunned from major literary awards. Looking at the Nobel Prize for Literature, between 1945 and 1991, only one woman won the honor, Nelly Sachs, in 1966 (http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/lists/women.html). Similarly, the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction was given to 7 women between 1945 and 1991, while 9 have received the award since 1991. Meanwhile, 4 of the 6 women to win the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography have won since 1986. Only 2 won from 1917-1986.
    Perhaps the selection board’s were comprised of all men. Perhaps the number of published books by men was far greater than women, making the pool for a male winner much greater. I don’t know. I really wonder as to the reason behind this huge gap where women were almost “restricted”from winning. If someone has any guesses into this, I’d love to hear it.

    However, one problem I have with some of this data is the validity of some of the data. For instance, the NY Times award for Fiction and Poetry. 25 and 20 are much too close to call out a trend. Also, the National Book Awards, using data for one year when there is only one winner is a little far-fetched. That’s just looking for any sort of trend to support your idea, which doesn’t really prove much and isn’t the best data to find.

  12. Isabella Comstock says:

    As a female who is about to be thrust into the “real (working) world” this scares me (more than i already am) to think about. I already don’t know what i want to do and now it seems as though literature shouldn’t be it. But in all seriousness…i was talking to a guy friend of mine a while back and he is a very bright kid who will be a very successful investment banker for the rest of his days (jealous?) Anyway, he makes a comment when i express my anxieties about entering the work force, “what are you graduating with? a Bachelors in motherhood?” now my defense mechanism is laughter so i laughed but should i have been upset? or should i feel relief that a man feels such pressure in the working world that he must make fun of a woman because his insecurity in finding a job makes him jealous that at the woman has options? (I don’t think it is the latter i was just throwing that out there as a comment.)
    These days i think it is scary for anyone to find a job – male or female. And men can calm down because it is now socially acceptable for him to be a Mr. Mom. I think there is a lot to be said for the fact that a woman can be the breadwinner in a family – i know many families that operate this way. That tells us that women are getting jobs with very acceptable wages with which they can support a family. The problem for me is if that wage is comparable to the wage a man in her position is/would be making. I think to say that any field of work be 50/50 is almost impossible without a legal action saying “you must hire one woman to every man”. I don’t know that that makes sense to me (although maybe it would help me get a job?) But i do feel that the number gaps above should decrease. A gap of 16 men – 9 women gap that doesn’t bother me the same way that a 63 men – 5 women gap bothers me.
    But, numbers and stats always make me nervous because there are so many factors that affect the outcome. Maybe instead of just looking at the number of people working at these companies i’d like to see the number of women that applied for the positions and the number that received said positions, in comparison to the number of men that applied and were hired. Were these men (who were hired as well as those who won awards) legitimately better writers then the women or was it indeed sexism? I think these answers would give me something more to respond to.

  13. Emily Harris says:

    Usually when we think of careers that are dominated by men we think of math and science oriented careers. Writing on the other hand is not something that I would particularly think to be dominated by men. As Ryan pointed out we do need to be careful of the statistics, but for the most part the numbers are pretty distinct. Not only are men’s wages higher than women’s, the amount of recognition men receive is higher. So where do we draw the line? When do our words become important? Really, though? Clearly the words of women are not as important if we don’t get the same kind of recognition. Maybe there are fewer women that are writing and that’s why we get less recognition. However, I highly doubt the numbers are that different that that more men are being recognized for their work that much more. If our words are so less significant than why do we bother to speak or in this case write at all?

  14. Obi Juan Breton says:

    As I sit her perusing the comments left before my own, the one dude that responded that this isn’t something surprising. I share his sentiments in that this wasn’t much of a shocker to me either. I’m not saying that all of these awards were rightfully given, I’m merely echoing a sentiment that women know, including men, that women have yet to become equal to men in the world. Is this fair? Hell no. Is it the truth? Yea. Are we willing to live with this reality? I’m not fond of it. But the fact remains that I personally won’t do anything, because it doesn’t immediately effect me. But at the same time I’ll agree with the women’s struggle and back it to the best of MY ability. Truth that also remains that other’s share a struggle as well, particularly men. And until people like me and Ryan Waffle are able to conquer this struggle, that is when we’ll have more insight and action against statistics like this.

    • Anonymous says:

      Yes I reluctantly must agree with my colleague Juan. The statistics in this blog are not that surprising to me either. The fact that men have better ratings seems to be about accurate. This is due partly because there are more men in the profession. This statistic does suck though. This is only another set back in what women seek to change. With the continuation of male domination of women there will be no change in the future. The way to change this is by action. This is a call to action not only in the realm of writers but in the real world.

  15. Liz Liebman says:

    This post makes me sad. It really just shows me how much further we have to go to reach some sort of equal footing between men and women. I love books and reading and I’d never really given any thought before to the gender divide that exists in the publishing world.

    I think Kathryn brought up a great point when she talked about how women had a dilemma when it came to their writing style in the 19th century (whether to imitate men or to find a different style). And it makes sense that women would have had a different writing style than men in a time where women did not at all have the same access to education that men had. Men had the opportunity to study writing at length in universities. So, of course women would have a different style. Whether or not men and women’s writing differ, I don’t know. Women are definitely more educated today then they were in the 19th century, but I think there is still a stigma against female writers that has stuck.

    And on a side note, I find it interesting that men seem to be dominant in publishing, but on average, women read more than men.

    I know that there is a large difference between enjoying books and being able to write one, but I still find it intriguing that women seem to have more interest in books.

  16. Colleen Lukas says:

    These statistics are extremely troubling. Reading them got me thinking about other male dominate fields and what some of their statistics may be. As a chemistry major I was interested to see the statistics on the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Here’s what I found, between the years of 1901-2010, 136 men won the prize as opposed to just 4 women. Two of these 4 women won with co-scientists who were both male (nobelprize.org). Statistics like this provide evidence that although women have come a long way in gaining equal opportunities and status in the workplace, we still have a long way to go.

  17. Cory Andrews says:

    I don’t really know how to respond to this. What kind of message does this send? As a few of the previous commenters mentioned, writing (especially poetry) is often deemed a feminine field. So this essentially says that women can’t even succeed in a field that’s been assigned as their domain.

    This also makes me think of something Tina Fey said recently, which was: “I hope that women can start achieving more regularly, to the point where we don’t have to count what number they are at something.” I’ve never really considered that before, but anytime a woman is the first to do something, it really is just a reminder of how far our society has to go in addition to how it has come.

  18. Maggie Bernay says:

    Yes, these statistics are extremely troubling because it represents the inequalities between men and women today. This would be great evidence for an argument because it is creditable and would support any argument showing that women still have a long way to go. Even though women’s rights have come a long way over time, there is still a lot of women have to fight for. However, I believe women have come so far; women are still learning, fighting and accomplishing equality that it is only a matter of time until these statistics are equal. Instead of looking at this data and feeling disgusted, women should look at this as a challenge that we are eager to overcome.

  19. Jena Ko says:

    Growing up in this era, I’ve encountered so many issues on gender discrimination. I am proud of many of the women who stood up for their rights to get better jobs and better recognition. But to be honest, I am just annoyed of this issue. It is just a non stoping argument about which gender is better. As a big believer of natural life, I don’t see the statistics as gender discrimination, for I see it as the truth about human beings. I believe that men are more capable and initiative about things, if they weren’t we wouldn’t be having feminist movement because their husbands and male coworkers were being unfair and dominating. In the early centuries men dominated because they are a dominating gender. They are bigger, stronger, and probably have bigger brains to think then us; it is genetics. I really feel that everyone should just stop complaining about how unfair things are and just do what individuals do best. If a girl is good at being a CEO, then if she really tried, she will become a CEO, etc. In addition, because of all rage about how women are just as strong makes us actually seem weaker. Why do women have to prove we are just as good or better? Also, it’s very true that there are many things that women have that men can never. Women are sexier, more emotionally stable, and (according to some article) can actually take more pain. If we listed all the things that men could do and what women could do, I’m pretty sure it will add up to be the same number but just different things. There is more to life and a stronger women then just working in office buildings.

  20. Tyler Garvey says:

    Even though these statistics are disturbing, I don’t find them especially surprising, especially because a lot of the categories have records that date way back. (The Nobel went all the way back to 1901) I think that the fact that some of these include old data means that it can’t accurately reflect the state of the industry today, because records from the middle of the 20th century mean that they were from a time when these categories were completely dominated by men.
    However, I don’t mean to say that there is no legitimacy in the data, just that it might not be quite as extreme as it seems. Like in many other industries, women seem to be at a disadvantage. Certainly, sexism is still very present in our society, and I’m certain that many capable female writers didn’t get a job, a publication deal or the public’s respect that they deserved and that’s why these numbers are so skewed. It’s a shame, but it’s also the reality we have to deal with and rectify. Hopefully, these are the stats that we will look back on in 50 years and think about how we used to live in the dark ages.

  21. Wes Traub says:

    Although women in America received voting rights in 1920 via the 19th amendment, they still face many hardships completely unrelated to casting votes. This blog post doesn’t surprise me, and is in fact a perfect example of how our unfair society discriminates against females. Why can’t females win book awards just like men can? In my personal experience with literature, I’ve actually found that female authors are often more interesting than male ones.

    While reading my economics textbook titled “Unlevel Playing Fields,” I’ve learned that women are discriminated against in almost all job markets across the country today. I’ve read about horrifying cases in which woman are denied jobs bases entirely on their gender. This is quite contrary to the numbers that prove women actually work harder and are more successful in college than men are. Why can’t book and magazine critics see through these typical gender roles and look at the real statistics? I bet if critics read authors works without knowing the gender of the author then women would be more fairly represented.

  22. I totally know what you mean in this post there are always a select group of kids that state that and I sometimes may be one depending on the topic. I do think that girls can’t do all things that guys can do but I also know that there are Manu things that’s guys can’t do that girls can sobi am on both sides of this blog

  23. Thank you so much for posting these statistics. I know I’m not the only one who was unaware of the gender discrepancies in the literary world. As an avid reader, I have been very aware of the authors of the novels I read as a child and I can remember almost all of them being women. It was nice to have a women writer to relate to, and it really made me invest in the book. I feel that women are just as capable and well-known as male authors and I think that I’m not the only one who thinks this. I would be really interested to hear from the literary elite about this topic.

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