Monday, April 17, 2017

"Women's" Stories Less Important Than Men's

In today's LA Times, Sarah Menkedick recalls apologizing to book tour audiences that her book is about motherhood.  Until one day, she thinks, what male author would apologize about writing about, say, war?  None.
"Birth is only, after all, the single most important experience in our lives. Like war, sports, medicine, epic travel, it’s a matter of blood and sweat and gore and suffering, of life and death, of triumphing over the limits of body and mind, except: Only women can give birth. So birth is imagined as an ingenuous, icky realm for the dull-minded."
She writes about two women writers - one whose first work was on motherhood, but then wrote for a men's magazine 
"often writing profiles of celebrated white men.  She is famous." 
Then a reverse example.  Elizabeth Gilbert wrote for the same men's magazine and her first books, Menkedick tells us, included man in the title and won her acclaim.  Then she wrote "Eat, Pray, Love."   She quotes her:

"I came out of the closet as a woman," Gilbert once said.  "Whatever acclaim I had in the world, however I was known, I was not known as a woman who would write a book like that.  Then, of course, I did get typecast.  . . .Like all of a sudden, my whole history disappeared."
"Yet I can’t help but think that in our determination to turn our talents away from personal writing, and to be taken seriously by men, we strengthened an existing paradigm that elevates the characteristically male, diminishes the characteristically female, and emphasizes the distinction."
She writes about how graduate school professors have helped instill in female students that writing about motherhood and other women's issues is a less serious genre.  But she's also hopeful that more women are changing that way of thinking.

I'm not sure what it means, but the print and online titles of Menkedick's piece are radically different.
  • Print:  "Portrait of the artist as a young mother"
  • Online:  "Why motherhood isn't an icky realm for the dull-minded but the stuff of epic literature"

In another op-ed in today's LA Times, Ben Blatt, the author of Nabokov's Favorite Color is Mauve writes about the use of the pronouns 'he' and 'she' in the most acclaimed novels.  As you might guess, he shows up much more than 'she.'  But women are far more balanced in their usage than men.  

That one also has very different print and online titles:
  • Print:  "What writers use 'he' more than 'she'?
  • Online:  "The gender pronoun test: What the ratio of 'he' to 'she' says about our favorite novels"
Based on these two examples, I'm guessing that the limits of print keep their headlines shorter, but, of course, one would have to look at a lot more examples to be sure.  And maybe interview some editors.

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