men reading men

pet peeve: men reading men.

More precisely, based on highly scientific studies of (a) watching what people on public transit read; and (b) reading & listening to interviews with people about their reading habits, I conclude that men (in a general, statistical sense) love to read other male authors and rarely read women authors. Women, in my experience, read both. Sure, it may just be my observational prejudice, but i actually think its men’s gender-bias in selecting reading material, i.e., sexism.

to wit:

salon: What have you been reading recently?

JS: Well, a little [Michel] Houellebecq. Did you ever read that guy? I can’t spell his name. That French guy. He’s one of these fucking great maniacs. And, you know, the usual. David Foster Wallace. Bruce Wagner’s new book is great. There’s a lot of amazing writing out there right now.

salon: Which Wallace book?

JS: I love “Oblivion,” and one of my favorites is “Brief Interviews With Hideous Men.” And “Infinite Jest” is one of those books you’re always three-quarters through till you keel over at 80, you know. It’s just genius, man. It’s like maybe if you wave it over your head some of it will rub off.

salon: I keep hearing people saying, “Oh, no, it’s not a time for novels anymore; this is a time for serious books and nonfiction.”

JS: Yeah, it’s like people announcing the death of irony. You know, there are people who make their livings by making declarations. But from where I’m sitting, just as a guy who reads, it seems like there’s a lot of great stuff out there. Sam Lipsyte has a great new book coming out. There’s a guy who couldn’t even get his book published in America, you know. Now Farrar, Straus and Giroux is publishing it, a book called “Homeland.”

— Books Interview w/ Jerry Stahl
“All my heroes were dope fiends” [ 12/6/2004]

Four for four.

Needless to say, such sexism could have a variety of interesting effects, some of which will amplify others:

  • male readers limit their exposure to female perspectives.
  • this becomes a self-reinforcing tendency if there are gender-affects in the writing beyond the subject matter — such as style, perspective, gender of narrative voice. if male writers are read 3 times more often, then the male affects become the standard, the norm, against which all writing is measured. it becomes difficult to evaluate quality when the work is different in ways that the reader has become accustomed to. so men go looking for “good writers”, and they naturally pick and like writers who hew more closely to writers they’ve previously recognized as “good writers.”
  • male reviewers who pick and choose among writers may choose to review male writers, thus either creating gender disparity among those writers reviewed, or gender segregation between writer/reviewer pairs.
  • glass ceiling effects. To the extent that women are glass-ceilinged out of prestige reviewing slots, prestige editorial slots, prestige publishing decision-making slots, then men’s bias towards men’s writing will result in gender bias in publishing and reviewing along a prestige axis.
  • awards which flow from publicity [don’t all awards ultimately flow from publicity?] will be skewed towards men. awards which have men on their awards committee would be statistically likely to demonstrate bias.

at this point i’ve almost worked myself up into a rant about a sexist self-important literary community talking to itself and a bunch of boys all talking about each other (“Oh, he’s a genius.” “No, he’s a genius among geniuses.”) … i almost feel inspired to do it … but i won’t, not right now, because i’m at work and have work-stuff to do, and the rant needs more thought than i have time to give it.

but i do think i’m going to make a new category of boys-reading-boys and pay especial attention to everything that proves my point. i will also attempt to ignore everything that disproves my point, of course.

… my real point is that i wish more self-defined non-sexist men would self-define as anti-sexist. in other words, while i’m being a bit flip here, i do think this particular form of sexism is a real, observable phenomenon. And i wish guys who would like it not to be real would (a) check themselves to see if they do it, and (b) engage in a little positive affirmative action with other guys, in the name of men fighting sexism

subsidiary points that are not really points but preventive self-defense:

  • yes, i know a lot of good, anti-sexist men who are already conscious of their own biases and fight them, and do indeed make sure that they are as open to reading female as male writers. but i also know a lot of men who think of themselves as non-sexist — or even as feminist — but ignore their own biases in action.
  • no, this is not to say anything bad about the writing of Wallace or Wagner or any of the other boyz who are so loudly proclaimed to be geniuses. they may well be geniuses. or not. but if male writers get read 75% of the time and female writers get read 25% of the time then genius male writers are more likely to turn up. [and of course they become the standard … so recognition of genius outside of what male writers are doing is trickier]