Saturday, 13 April 2013

And another thing…

This is a little idea that’s been percolating in my brain for a few days, since I had the wonderful gig at Castlemaine Word Mine, wherein Simmone Howell and Kirsten Krauth and I got to bang on about YA literature, and genre, and writing process, and anything else people in the audience suggested we have a crack at.

Now something that made me look up was that the first question we were asked is Why don’t more men write YA?  Which Simmone and I (being the two YA authors on the panel) found kind of curious, because between us we could list about a dozen male authors of YA off the tops of our heads – I mean, there’s John Marsden, who’s probably the most famous YA author in the country, and John Flanagan, and Scot Gardner, and Barry Jonsberg, and Tim Winton, and Markus Zusak…  And then we could list other non-Aussie YA authors like Jay Asher, James Dashner, Charlie Higson, Michael Grant, Shaun Hutchison, David Levithan, John Green, Andrew Fukuda, Nick Earls, Patrick Ness, Philip Pullman, Scott Westerfeld, Cory Doctorow, James Pattinson, Christopher Paolini, Derek Landry, Walter Dean Myers, Lish McBride, Mark Haddon, Darren Shan, Robert Muchamore…

Basically, we found this question confusing.  Well, I found the question confusing.  Although I can see how the question may have arisen.  It’s true that the numbers of female YA authors are higher than male authors.  Also, many of the big name YA authors are female – I’m thinking of Stephanie Meyer and JK Rowling and Cassandra Clare and so on here.  But it’s not like male authors are non-existent.  In the most recent list of ‘100 best YA books’, while women took out the top 3 spots, the ratio of male to female authors was almost 50/50.

But this issue of gender bias in YA may have come about because of a few other things:
*a perceived bias in YA towards female authors, as perpetuated by articles like this one in the NY Times as analysed in The Mary Sue (about how YA has become ‘too girly’) and a strange understanding that seems to have emerged that boys’ interests are not being met in contemporary YA literature
*peoples’ tendency to think of boys as more ‘action-oriented’ and less interested in reading during adolescence (which may be a combination of both reality and stereotype, and no doubt does them a disservice)
*a lack of equality in both education syllabuses and in the broader field of literature and literary review, which means that if female authors are included, they ‘stick out like dog’s balls’ (as a male friend likes to colourfully say)
*a pre-existing societal trend towards male authors and male-centred stories that focuses attention on men’s literary contributions to such an extent that if women begin to attain popularity in a category or genre, then there’s an impression that the field has been ‘swamped by women’

Anyway, we didn’t point all this stuff out, merely pointed to a large number of male YA authors that we knew who had a wide readership.  So people, like, knew they were there. (If you want a silly version of this, go check out ‘The Dudes of YA’ article in The Weeklings)

But the idea persists that YA is a field dominated by female authors, writing stories aimed at teenaged girls, and largely excluding the needs and interests of boys.  Which I sometimes get cranky about, because y’know, it’s dumb.  In YA awards since 2000 (see this article in lady business), the ratio of male/female authors is almost equal – 44/56.  Male authors get a pretty fair shake.*

Also - so there’s only two fields of literature that have a higher proportion of women than men?  (I’m including romance writing here.  Some people would argue that crime writing is edging in)  And…this is a problem?  Why exactly?  I mean, I grew up on a diet of male authors – in school reading lists, on library shelves…  Most women have.  (See Maureen Johnson’s take on this) So is it okay if we have a category of literature that has a strong representation of female authors now?  God, I hope so.  That would make a nice change.

Anyway, what was interesting about this was that it serendipitously came to my attention soon after that people have been talking for some time about the ‘state of women’s writing’.  I knew this, but specifically I read an article by Deborah Copaken Kogan, about all the crap she’s had to deal with while trying to attain distinction in the literary field.  She’s just been shortlisted for what used to be called the Orange Prize, and is now called the Women’s Prize for Fiction (UK).

And a number of other women have been sending shout-outs to her, and to the world in general, about the pitiful situation made obvious by the VIDA statistics from 2012, which emphatically displayed what most female writers in the lit field have known for some time, that women reviewers are more conspicuous by their absence, and that by and large, books written by men get the lion’s share of reviews/awards/publicity.**

And I started to think about it.  My first thought was, ‘Hey, I’m really lucky that I’m writing in a field that has a more equitable balance of male and female writers – phew, thank god I’m not trying to write lit fiction’.  And then I thought, ‘It’s lucky too, that the field I write in enjoys strong popular support, and female writers have a solid fan base and enjoy access to good reviews/awards/publicity’. (Which is still curious to me, that a field where women authors out-number and outrank male authors, why is the award business split almost 50/50?  What’s that about?)

And then I thought, ‘Hey – is YA the only vaguely equitable field of writing, where women and men can stand side-by-side on their merits?  That’s cool.’

And then I thought, ‘Good grief – in a world where Cassandra Clare can get awesome reviews and enormous fan support and movie deals and stuff like that, and lit fiction authors like Deborah Copaken Kogan get shafted…why the hell doesn’t Deborah start writing YA?’

Damned if I know.

*  See ‘List of Male Authors’ above – and these are just the big name ones.  Also check out the myriad books written by female authors who have male central protagonists eg: Melissa Keil’s gorgeous Life in Outer Space, Fiona Wood’s Six Impossible Things, Holly Black’s Curseworker series, Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood series, Susie Hinton’s Outsiders etc etc etc…I could make a longer list but it would be very long and would take all day…

** These are execrable statistics, btw.  So shocking…so not surprising.  Which I think means that the original question should have been something like Why don’t more women get published generally?

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