July 15, 2005

When it comes to winning or even making the shortlist of prizes in fiction, poetry, art, architecture and music, women fare poorly. Why? Are professional women artists less talented than their male colleagues or are women simply being denied equal opportunity?

Somewhat relatedly, a prof at Bar-Ilan U. in Israel has come up with an algorithm that he claims can tell whether a given piece of writing was written by a man or a woman. (Not recent news; my apology to those who've seen this before.) You can learn whether you writer like a girl or a boy using the Gender Genie.

  • writer = write. d'oh.
  • On balance, I think you're probably right with less talented.
  • Some kind of... patriarchal conspiracy?
  • Hmm... could be. Like, women are not very good at writing the kind of stuff the patriarchy views as deserving of awards. Sounds plausible, Pleg. In America, that's solid enough to publish above the fold.
  • What gender are the judges who nominate and give out these awards?
  • We need some decent data, really. Is it that women don't write; don't get published; don't get published in the right kind of fields; don't get nominated for awards; don't win awards; or all of the above? Lionel Shriver here seems to be contrasting her own feisty assertiveness with the deference of other women; I don't really see how personal assertiveness influences a literary competition. It doesn't seem to have done her any particular good through the early years of her career either (nor does adopting a man's name, incidentally).
  • I was a literature major in college and the white male canon really bugged me. The only women writers we encountered were British women (and Jane Austen really, really bugs me). I was personally more interested in the work of non-British women writers than most of what we read. I think the make-up of panelists for artistic prizes has a huge impact on who is awarded. Even if there is a proportionate number of women on a panel, I think their education would play a role in what they consider quality. Obviously this is a very tangled subject, but I think the "less talented" assertion on something so subjective is hooey. This discussion is not just limited to the arts either. There has been a lot of controversy surrounding this topic in the tech fields as well. Women aren't getting invited to tech conferences nor are they attending, and women aren't getting nominated or recognized for tech awards. There's a debate about whether the primary responsibility of this rests on the heads of the people organizing the conferences and awards (primarily men) or on women for not forcing the issue more than they have or for not actually being as talented or influential as men.
  • It is pretty simple: women read either male or female writers. Men almost exclusively read male writers. At leat that's what a study says. I don't read at all, so what do I know? On the subject of the other arts? Maybe women are too busy creating babies to create other works of art?
  • Data here would be helpful in making informed comments. As it is, all I can do is wonder about: How many women film directors are there whose names you can think of versus how many male? How many ballerinas versus male ballet dancers? How many roles are there for older actresses/older actors? 20th century poets? PLaywrights? Painters? And so on... By ananlogy to other areas in which men still get larger salaries, and so forth, it's tempting to conclude Yes, it's probably true. But until there are some actual figures it's only guesswork or opinion.
  • Wintermusik once a red vixen with high leaps I got what I wanted grey I am now grey rain I travelled as far as Greenland in my heart. a stone shines on the coast on it is written no one returns the stone shortens my life, the four corners of the world are full of suffering. love is like the breaking of the spine -- Sarh Kirsch, transd Wendy Mulford and Anthony Vivus
  • Bad Boats They are like women because they sway. They are like men because they swagger. They are like lions because they are king here. They walk on the sea. The drifting logs are good; they are taking their punishment. But the bad boats are ready to be bad, to overturn in water, to demolish the swagger and the sway. Thye are bad boats because they cannot wind their own rope or guide themselves neatly close to the wharf. In their egomania they are glad for the burden of the storm the men are shirking when they go for their coffee and yawn. They are bad boats and they hate their anchors. -- Laura Jenson
  • If she don't float, she ain't a boat, But if she ain't a witch, she too, don't float.
  • Women and Children First It's always been so. This makes it worse. Women and children first. First to be hurt last to be nursed. It's always been so. When rumour stalks first to be cursed. And worse. Turned out, inside out. Only safe in the hearse. Women and children first. -- Ingrid de Kok
  • Somewhere I heard a theory that women create children, and men build bridges and write poetry out of a subliminal urge. Women can build bridges and write poetry, too, but they're too busy/worn out with the spawn. *goes to take nap
  • De Kok's a contemporary South African poet and has lived through interesting times.
  • The reliance on a certain "canon" has its strengths and weaknesses. On the one hand it is necessary to have the foundation upon which a field is based, on the other hand if a field doesn't expand its scope it loses relevancy. This is the problem I had with my philosophy classes. I always wanted to study non-anglocentric philosophers but in that field if you're not a European or American you don't exist. As far as the literture awards go, most of the judges are old white males, so it's not to surprising that most of the awards go to white males.
  • Increased familiarity with eastern literature and philosophy seems to me one of the salient trends of the 20th century. With each hemisphere still absorbing ideas from the other. After absorbtion one looks for integration. For example, in the haiku thread it's evident many have firmly grasped the 5-7-5 syllable structure of Japanese haiku, but nonetheless are less familiar with the ways contemporary poets are trying to integrate the Japanese form into the quite different traditions of English poetry. The United States has to be respected (by left-leaning me, anyway) for trying to remedy so many of the social disadvantages women worldwide experience on a daily basis. Be interesting to see which of these two very different processes gains widespread acceptance first. Or if either does. Suspect the former stands the better chance. Happily, I'm by no means an infallible prognosticator - the world remains full of surprises. And with any luck I'll be proven wrong by time.
  • Goldfinch After Rain Where the gold of your feather, pulled by flame, lifts from its surface and bleeds in the water drop, domes above the body, I see an iris bead, flatten and slip like an eye's final closing. I remember your history, a string tied to your leg tethered you to some wanting child, kept you close to the ground yet somehow flying low enough to entertain. But your body was more than that -- a tongue for what the mouth could not form. How many men painted you clutched in Christ's hand, your feathers spilling from the child's fingers. How many needed to confine your wings in the palm and silence you -- no song, reflected in your eye. I lift you now from the ground outside my house, brush the water from your face, and force my candle closer. I hope to see a need to keep you here; I bury you in the dark. -- Elizabeth Harvell
  • I can understand the desire to study the canon - in a field like history of philosophy, you have to understand the canon to understand the milieu that other dead white male philosophers worked in. Same goes for literature - knowing your greek and roman canon helps explain Shakespeare. But you also have to know your Bible, and maybe some English folklore. And where I get really annoyed is in intellectual history of the 17th or 18th century, where you study nothing but Hobbes or Locke. Those guys are both really important, they were visionaries and incrediably influential - but mostly AFTER the 17th and (early) 18th century. If you want to understand the cultural milieu of the actual 17th century, then you want to read lots of not very canon writers, like all of the not very original ones who were still popular. It's like how studying Aristotlians tells you more about most of 16th century science than Galileo (though he's very fun to read). That said, moving into philosophy outside of the history of European/Western academic philosophy, it would be completely blinkered to not study thinking from everywhere. If you really are trying to think about thinking (and other stuff), limiting yourself to one influence seems so infertile. ----------- BACK ON TOPIC: I agree with Plegmund - I want to know more. So often these kind of issues get tied up with rhetoric from all sides. I think there could very well be some bias against women writers, but it's important to actually try to find out how it works, if it exists. To draw an example from elsewhere, there are few women in Computer Science because few apply - it isn't the fault of the CompSci programs (they really want more women, though with so few women to start the atmosphere may unconciously be less inviting - it's usually a tipping point thing). But girls who are in computer science are also less likely than boys in Computer Science to have had their own computer -- suggesting there are serious societal differences still between males and females. I would like to know - what are the likelyhood of women being nominated? How many women on the long lists? How many women on the short? How many wommen are published at all versus men? How many from the publishing houses which are more likely to be nominated? Do women publish with less pretigious or more genre oriented publishers? Are certain subjects/themes/genres (childhood memoirs, autobiographies, epic novels, stark social commentaries, dreamy magic realism?) preferred or not preferred in these kinds of awards, and are there any gender patterns in who choses to write about what themes? As for the "well, maybe they aren't as good" arguments - perhaps we should eliminate the likely before we start to move to the unlikely. 50 years ago, I'm sure people said women weren't as good as men in biology or medicine, and that's why there were fewer. Now there are more women then men in most biology programs. Which, if one followed the fact to it's illogical conclusion, might lead one to suggest that maybe women are just better at understanding complex systems. Or maybe society has just changed and women now feel more comfortable applying and staying in biology.
  • In thread #12237, jb, we had recent reference to an article on a transgendered neurobiologist who asserts men have it a lot easier in science. All in all, I'm inclined to place some credence in his account, anecdotal though it is.
  • Well, this is anecdotal, but in my experience, women I've met who are in the hard sceinces have told me many stories about bumping into male bias. It is getting better, but that bias still exists.
  • Talent This is the word tightrope. Now imagine a man, inching across it in the space between our thoughts. He holds our breath. There is no word net. You want him to fall, don't you? I guessed as much; he teeters but succeeds. The word applause is written all over him -- Carol Ann Duffy