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Sexism on the Shelves

Director and screenwriter John Waters once said: “If you go home with somebody, and they don’t have books, don’t fuck ‘em!” Wise words, but I’d add: Especially if they don’t have books by women.

This article had me examining my bookshelves before 9am. I would not diagnose my bookshelves as being sexist. I actually had as many female authors as I expected, ratio-wise, and even found some books I thought were written by men were actually written by women!

I don't pick books by their authors unless they're on my list of names I actually know (and like). I have a set of favourites, but most of the books on my shelves are by authors I don't know, and I can't list them to you unless I can see their whole name on the spine... in letters big enough to read without leaning over.

Actually, glancing over, there are far more men with their full names on the spine than women. And that makes me sad, because it means women don't tend to be more forthcoming as authors - or (I assume this is more likely) their publishers don't tend to be more forthcoming to carry women authors.

But yeah, it's not usually the author I pick when it comes to perusing the shelves for a random new book not on my pre-approved author list. I judge books by their covers. And their titles. And friend suggestions. And most recently, a catchy promo video with illustrations by a friend. And if a friend actually wrote and/or illustrated it. Catchy title or fun cover usually does it, though.

There were authors with questionable names I had to look up - all of which turned out to be men. There were books I pulled off the shelf that I expected to be written by men that were actually written by women.

I have one shelf with mostly women on it, and I thought, weird separation there, but then realized they're all hardcover and needed the extra height that shelf offered.

My tallies covered my bookcases and my Kindle. I left out my comic book case and my Nook (which didn't have many authors not on the other shelves anyway).

Women authors on the shelf: 50
Men authors on the shelf: 100

Women on the Kindle: 25
Men on the Kindle: 45

Grand total of women authors: 75
Grand total of men authors: 145

(edit: got my Nook to work. 2 more women, 4 more men)

So damn... it's about a 1/2 ratio.

Edit again: Decided to do the comics (graphic novels) anyway - a highly competitive industry for women, but the number on my shelf runs much closer, counting anthologies for who edited the whole thing.

Women: 28
Men: 38


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 18th, 2015 07:30 pm (UTC)
I did the same (not for all the books, I have six bookcases in all) for the bookshelf I have next to my desk. The results were:

Books by men: 68
Books by women: 19

What I noticed was that a lot of the historical fiction and non-fiction books I have are by women, whereas the vast majority of the sci-fi and fantasy books are by men.

But like yourself, I don't seek out books by male authors, and I'm certainly not put off by a female author. In future though, I might make more of an effort to locate interesting female science fiction authors.
May. 18th, 2015 07:52 pm (UTC)
Cherie Priest is good. So are Kelly Link and Ursula K. LeGuin (but I think those might be the head honchos of women-written sci-fi/fantasy).
May. 19th, 2015 10:59 am (UTC)
Ah yes, I have the Earthsea books! Cherie Priest and Kelly Link's books look interesting, I'll keep an eye out for them. Thanks for the recommendations!
May. 20th, 2015 09:44 pm (UTC)
I very much second Ursula K. LeGuin.

If you are interested in a few other sci-fi women - the ones I love are Marge Piercy (esp. "He, She, and It"), Maureen McHugh ("ABC Zhang"), James Tiptree Jr. ("Her Smoke Rose Up Forever"; her real name was Alice Sheldon and she was quite a fascinating person ...), and Kate Wilhelm ("Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang "). Joanna Russ is an absolute classic, too. And while she hasn't published a full book yet, here is an amazing short story by Brit Mandelo that is available for free on tor.com: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16163786-the-finite-canvas

That said, sorry for just adding myself to the conversation. And please don't feel forced to read anything. It's just - I have ~feelings~ about women in SF, so I could not stop myself from commenting :P

Edited at 2015-05-20 09:45 pm (UTC)
May. 23rd, 2015 06:55 am (UTC)
Thank you! That's very useful, I've added a ton of books to my Amazon wishlist. :)
May. 20th, 2015 09:38 pm (UTC)
I have a separate shelf for female authors on goodreads. And yes, it looks sad. It's a trap - I try to consciously read more by women, but because of the very structure of the publishing business and the society behind it, it does not work out to 50/50. Not even close. I read science fiction, which is still men-dominated, even though my own preference go towards experimental and social impact and feminist. I read classics - and don't even mention what things were like 200, 300 years ago.

And then there is also the old trick to let women publish under their own name - but only use the initials. Ursula K. LeGuin wrote a really impactful essay on that. And I ran into the same with V.E. Schwab; whom I still haven't read but whom I assumed to be a man, just from the name.
May. 29th, 2015 04:02 pm (UTC)
Sometimes I can't tell unless I do some research. Like actually open in the book!

Anyway, I have a bunch:
Hunger games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
Tori Amos Piece by Piece by Tori and Ann Powers
Get the salt out by Louise Gittleman
Secret Diary of Laura Palmer by Jennifer Lynch
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Hypocrite in a poofy white dress AND
Undress me in the temple of heaven by Susan Jane Gilman
Anne Franks tales from a secret annex
Ezra pounds abc of reading
When it happens to you by Molly Ringwald

I will say the comics bookshelf are more male writers but the ones on my shelf are real standouts:
Fun Home (signed) and a second book about her mother that's somewhere int he house that I am currently reading by Alison Bechdel
We are on our own by Miriam Katin signed edition

The filmmaking work bookshelf seems decidedly male but really all of the bookshelves are littered with books that just notate the last name of folks on the spine. I can't check them all right now. As I check it feels like several are two authors, one of which is female. Most of the single author filmbooks seem to be male authors.

I'm not sure what all that says about me or if it says anything about the state of authorship opportunities in the current market.

Edited at 2015-05-29 04:03 pm (UTC)
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )