If you’re looking for a new and clever way to announce you’re a feminist try this trick: “Hi! I’m looking for book recommendations, but this year I’m only reading books by women and non cis men. Have any suggestions?”
In reading books by women for a year, I’m taking after Lilit Marcus who committed to spend 2013 reading books by women. As writers, readers and human beings, we need to value and support female authors. The devaluation of female authorship is not a new topic of discussion by any means. Cheris Kramarae and Paula A. Treichler joined a longstanding conversation when they edited A Feminist Dictionary in the 1980s. Kramarae and Treichler compiled a dictionary of women defining the words we use, to “recognize women as linguistically creative speakers–that is, as originators of spoken or written language.” To consciously read books by women is to stand up and say women’s voices matter. The stories women tell matter and need to be heard.
There’s no denying that men have created incredible works of literature. But women have created and are daily creating incredible works of literature and, unless more readers seek them out, these authors and their books will not receive the same renown as books by men. As female readers and writers of speculative fiction, we are especially marginalized within a male dominated field (writing) and male dominated genres (sci fi and fantasy). Strange Horizons conducted a study in 2012 and surveyed 14 speculative fiction magazines in the US and the UK to determine how many women were reviewers on staff and how many books reviewed were written by women. The statistics are appalling. In Analog, out of 48 reviews, only 1 reviewer was female. For Locus, out of 318 reviews, only 15 reviewers were female. Of the 14 journals surveyed, only Cascadia Subduction Zone (a journal dedicated to bringing women out of the margins) reviewed books by women more than half the time. Every other journal surveyed never even touched close to 50% representation. Women are not being represented as capable writers on both ends of the process: we are not reviewers and we are not reviewed.
But we, as writers and readers of speculative fiction, can change this disparity. If we do not support each other, who will support us?
Although reading books by women may not seem like an active solution to the problem, this decision regarding your reading list is an incredible political choice that sends a message. You are making a choice about whose ideas you will digest and ruminate upon, as well as how those ideas will inform your life. You are taking a political stand for equality and greater gender representation. The more we read books by women, the greater the market and acceptance of female authors, now and in the future. The more we read books by women, the more women can believe what they have to say will be respected. Most importantly, reading books by women is a political move which can easily be spread by word of mouth. Go out and tell the world: I read and support female authors.
When I was a freshman in high school my grandfather told me that women weren’t capable of writing great books. Judging from my high school reading list, my grandfather may as well have been correct. We barely read any books by women! We read a bit of female poetry here and there, but book after book after book was authored by straight, white, cis men. Especially in Honors and AP courses, the more in depth you went into the canon the more homogeneous the authors become. I am tired of a homogeneous pasteurized literary canon. Bring on the raw milk! The chocolate milk! The strawberry milkshake milk! If you have the privilege to choose your own reading material, go ahead. Explore.
Read books by women. Read speculative fiction books by women. Read speculative fiction books by women of color and queer women and trans women. Read books by women.
I do not ask you to take up this challenge. I ask you take up this honor. Who’s on your reading list?