The Tiny Mechanisms of the Gender Gap

The 2013 VIDA count has arrived – it’s a mixture of good news and bad – and its arrival has me thinking back to something I noticed over the holidays, as we all looked back over the last year of writing and reading.

Best-of lists abound as the year draws down, of course, but this year I also spotted people dodging the difficulties of creating a theoretically objective, definitive list by instead rounding up the best work their friends had done that year. One prominent magazine writer spent a morning tweeting out links to a dozen or more stories by his friends, and another group, a small collective of writers, posted a list of books their friends had written on their website.

Here’s the catch: Every single link tweeted out and every book included on that list was written by a man.

I’m not here to tell anyone who to include in their inner circle of friends, but it’s worth noting the probable ripple effects of this stuff. That magazine writer has a five-digit Twitter following, which certainly includes a healthy array of assigning editors, literary agents, and other people in positions of publishing power. He no doubt thinks he’s just shouting out his buddies – there is no malice here – but he’s doing so from a valuable platform. And when his situation is repeated over and over again across the industry – most prominent magazine writers, after all, are male, and many of them have predominantly male friend groups – the end result is a lot of exposure for male writers, and far fewer chances for people in power to lay their eyes on women’s writing.

Like I said, I’m not here to demand that male writers go out and form fast friendships with female writers (although it’s not the worst idea in the world). I’m just trying to parse one of the tiny mechanisms by which the gender gap gets perpetuated every day – and to ask everyone to stop and think, once in awhile, about the last great piece they read by a woman.

Once a week, or once a month, ask yourself: What have I read, and loved, by a woman?

And when you’ve dug it up out of the mental archives, why not share it with your friends?


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