Thursday, April 29, 2010

code like a girl

Mooching around online as one does (reculer pour mieux sauter) I find

a) a somewhat unfocused piece on the PEN website on a recent conference session, originally entitled Women, Sex, Fiction, renamed Gender, Translation, Diversity, contemplating the fact that women are 80% of readers of fiction but are underrepresented in the Library of America (3%) and win fewer literary prizes.

b) a piece in the Guardian by Kira Cochran on women and depression


c) a piece in the Guardian by Zoe Williams on a successful class action against Birmingham County Council for pay discrimination

The tribunal's finding is this: women employees have been systematically underpaid and discriminated against by this council, for as long as the Equal Pay Act has been in force. Female staff on the same pay grade as men (cleaners versus bin men, for instance) could expect to earn much less, to start with, and go on to be paid much less in bonuses. The starkest example given was one case of a refuse collector taking home £51,000 in one year, while women on his level received less than £12,000.

Paul Doran, of the firm Stefan Cross that successfully brought this case, told me: "The bonuses were a sham, there was no monitoring, they were paid simply for men turning up to work, doing their jobs properly."

I've always been partial to the theory that depression is suppressed rage.

With regard to literary honours, the question seems to me to be not merely whether the women nominated are unfairly treated; there is a larger question relating to obstacles confronting ambitious women writers. If we look at the last three women to win the Nobel Prize, Lessing, Jelinek and Müller are all strong, angry, aggressive - and it does seem to me that ambitious work calls for a certain ruthlessness. The culture of publishing, especially American publishing, selects for niceness - this applies to men as well as women, but behaviour that is perceived as hostile and confrontational in a woman would not necessarily count against a man, and polite requests from a woman get waved aside. Loyal readers will remember the great copy-editing saga, in which the hapless author made two trips to New York to try to avert possible problems, politely reminded everyone of the terms of her contract, and had the copy-edited version reinstated behind her back...

My impression, unfortunately, is that both men and women feel more comfortable asking women to make allowances when family life interferes with work -- agents, editors, producers, directors, lawyers tell me they will take care of something, don't, then explain that they couldn't get around to it because they were having a baby, or had just had a baby, or had to do something or other with their small children, or had to go out of town on long weekends to stay with a retired parent, or, you know, just had to leave the office to take their dog for a walk. It's one of the things one has to bear in mind when one thinks of publishing an ambitious book: the more demands it makes on other people involved, the more vulnerable it will be, and the higher the requirement for niceness reserves.

1 comment:

mk said...

behaviour that is perceived as hostile and confrontational in a woman would not necessarily count against a man

That is the case in most non-publishing realms as well, sad to say.

"bitchy" + testicles = "hard charging"