International Women’s Day
And what it has to do with books, stories, readers & writers
Hello, dear BookLoves.
I’m late with this for a couple of reasons. One being a tech shift that took a bit longer than I expected, and the other being that I debated whether to acknowledge International Women’s Day here or not. I believe in it, don’t get me wrong. And I fully endorse in the UN motto for this year: “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow.”
But what does Women’s Day have to do with what I write about here anyway?
Quite a lot, it turns out.
At the last Wayfarers Book Club meeting, members pointed out that—for the first time in 14 months of reading together—we had just read a book written by a man.
Did I intend to omit male writers? No.
Did I purposefully set out to include more women’s voices, just as I wanted to offer a diversity of perspectives based on race, country, genre, theme, culture and more? Yes, absolutely.
Among other reasons, because women are vastly undervalued in publishing. Over 80% of the most-read novels of all time are written by men and it's a similar stat for major prizes.
In “Why Are So Many Men Still Resistant to Reading Women,” Mary Ann Sieghart takes the literary gender gap even further. In this article, she shows how informal studies, anecdotal evidence and formal research all point to men reading fewer books by women, plus prevailing differences in what is considered “good” or “worthy” when they’re written by a man versus a woman.
I experienced something similar at a writer’s conference a few years ago when I sat on a panel with two men. Our qualifications were similar in terms of “renown,” number of publications and years in the industry.
(I don’t want to veer too far off topic here, but I was there as a literary translator, which automatically bumped me down a few notches on the status pole… Even though translations are far more difficult to publish, the books were already an international success and all of my titles were with major traditional publishers, which arguably equals more of a coup that should have bumped me up a few notches... But this authority gap is another topic for another day.)
Regardless, there I was, my five-foot-nothing female frame in between two significantly “larger” men, with my quiet, calm demeanor, trying to keep the puffing feathers on either side out of my mouth and nose. :)
More germane to this story, however, my perspective on writing went against predominantly patriarchal norms, and that fact slid me all the way down to the bottom of aforesaid pole.
One of the participants asked for advice on what to do when feeling blocked or disinterested in their current project. My fellow panelists’ advice was to set a daily writing goal, sit down in the chair and reach that target before he got up again.
My advice? If you’re not feeling it, if you’re exhausted or blocked or disengaged, take a break. Walk away. Acknowledge what you’re feeling and allow that to just be. Give it an hour. A day. A week. Hell, give it a month if that’s what you need.
(I hadn’t yet read Wintering, by Katherine May, but oh, when I did, my approach made even more sense! We can’t always be in full summer bloom.)
Mine was not a popular viewpoint. Puffing of feathers turned to loud squawks of derision from my fellow panelists, to emphasize the exact opposite view: push through at all costs.
I certainly felt disheartened and lesser-than, and then had a little laugh inside when I observed just how wrong they had to make me. I must have really pushed a button.
So, back to the pertinent question: what does any of this have to do with International Women’s Day, and what does a day meant to promote equality have to do with the stories we tell and the ones we read?
Mary Ann Sieghart argues that pervasive inequality around women’s writing has consequences for all of us.
I wholeheartedly agree. Anything that sidelines a whole sector of humanity cannot be good for humanity.
For me, International Women’s Day and the explorations here offer an opportunity for all of us to notice, reflect and perhaps reorient ourselves toward a broader view, one that encompasses a multiplicity of perspectives.
Let’s do a little experiment…
What are the last five books you read? How many of them are by women?
If two or less, let this be an opportunity to shift out of what may be an unconscious pattern and make a conscious, deliberate choice to include more female-identified writers.
Or vice versa.
Me, I’ve made a mental note to tip the scale toward balance by including more male authors. You’ll note below that I have two on my list right now.
(You can, of course, broaden this even further to include any aspect of diverse lit!)
Now, here’s to you, to the books you read, to the intention to strive for equality and a more sustainable tomorrow for all genders, in all ways.
P.S. That tech shift I mentioned means a couple of things for you:
You can now like this post, share it or leave a comment! I’m soooo excited about this. All letters, including this one, are meant to be an exchange. You know it’s no fun to write and never receive a reply. (Speaking of which, as always, you can also reply directly to me if you prefer.) Whichever method you choose, I sincerely hope you’ll engage. I LOVE hearing your perspective.
If you initially signed up to receive ONLY Afternoon Delight notices, please update your subscription at the link in the footer. I’m sorry you had to do this again and thank you for your patience!
Lisa Carter is Founder and Creative Director of Intralingo, helping authors and translators write and readers explore stories. Lisa brings two decades of professional literary experience, including nine books and multiple other pieces published in translation, and nearly as many years of contemplative and compassion practices to her work. Her inclusive, engaged, caring presence inspires people to share their stories, create new ones and feel truly heard.
More, for you. (On a new website! Take a peek via the links. :)
Afternoon Delights - Free, monthly online gatherings, because we could all do with a little more delight in our lives. We’ll contemplate a theme, connect with one another and get creative with words. (Next session: Sun Mar 20 at 4 pm ET. Zoom link to attend will be sent here a day or two in advance.)
Wayfarers Book Club - An opportunity to travel around the world through the pages of a book; pay what you choose, starting at $10 per month.
Wayfarers 360° Experience - An intimate, leisurely-paced, six-week group experience to a explore a novel through body, heart and mind, with curiosity and contemplation. (Next session begins April 9th.)
Book Coaching & Editing – Need help along your writing journey? I’m here to help.
What I’m reading / have recently read…
Walking the Bowl: A True Story of Murder and Survival Among the Street Children of Lusaka, by Chris Lockhart & Daniel Mulilo Chama – Oh.my.goodness. This work of non-fiction written to read like fiction is powerfully good. I’ll offer a short reading on the podcast soon and am sure to talk about it more when I’m done. (ARC graciously provided by Hanover Square Press.)
The Chrysalids, by John Wyndham – Classic sci-fi from the 1950s that is (almost scarily) relevant to today’s world.
Winter in Sokcho, by Elisa Shua Dusapin, translated from the French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins – Noir set along the border between South and North Korea, this is our March book selection for Wayfarers.
We often receive free books from publishers, authors and/or translators, and will always identify when that is the case. Recommendations are never paid. They are offered only when we genuinely want to share a book with you. Any links to the Intralingo store on Bookshop.org are affiliate links and may earn us a small commission on your purchase, at no extra cost to you. Bookshop is currently only available to US customers.