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Rebecca Bates: Guernica and the Gender Debate

September 29, 2010

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By **Rebecca Bates**

rsz_bates.jpgBy now, most readers know that Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner—whose novels feature families, feelings, and cover photographs in soft focus—got up in arms a few weeks ago over the New York Times’s star treatment of Jonathan Franzen’s latest novel Freedom, arguing that fiction by women tends to be regarded as merely commercial—not “literature with a capital L” as Weiner put it in the Huffington Post—and therefore overlooked. Slate, in an effort to determine if the NYT is really a “boys’ club,” made a count of just how many books from June 2008 to August 2010 had, like Franzen’s, been reviewed once during a weekday and again in the Sunday Times Book Review. Is it a boys’ club? Maybe (though I do think Picoult and Weiner need to just chill their dicks a little). Out of the 101 books NYT reviewed in that period, seventy-two were authored by men (after consulting my calculator for a tough bit of subtraction, I discovered this leaves twenty-nine books by female authors).

Other publications have followed suit, turning a keen eye to their own stats. And because they desperately want to fit in, my editors made me do the same (even though you’re probably sick of reading about the male-female literary battle). So, are we perfect? Equal playing time for men and women across all the magazine’s categories? Er, not quite. By my count—the count of a female who was never good at math—the Guernica Daily has published the work of 106 male writers and sixty-eight women. About 60 percent-40 percent. Could be worse. And, as the new HBICOTB (head-bitch-in-charge-of-the-blog), these statistics may improve as I work to expand our roster and bring more lady issues to the site where relevant.

Of those interviewed in the magazine, seventy-four have been men and only thirty-four have been women. Yo editors, what’s the haps? Are we not, like, fun to talk to? The discrepancy in the male to female ratio of interviewers is less, however, with thirty-one male interviewers and twenty-one female. Obviously, there are many repeat interviewers, but I feel the need to point out that Editor in Chief Joel Whitney has hogged a whopping thirty-three interviews for himself. As for poetry, we come in at about eighty-seven male poets (including some really ancient and really dead Chinese dudes), but only fifty-one female poets. Fiction was slightly better with seventy-six men and fify-nine ladies. We’ve also published the artwork of sixty-seven men, but only twenty-seven women. It’s worth noting, however, that what we lack in content by female writers, we make up in young, attractive female interns.

But let’s not get petty. After all, Elizabeth Bishop would remind us that “art is art and to separate writings, paintings, musical compositions, etc. into two sexes is to emphasize values that are not art.” Maybe it’s more important to look at how a publication acknowledges gender issues than to make a tally of male and female writers. And does Guernica do that? I mean, we aren’t just about war and genocide and failing economies and oil spills and mean corporations and shrinking ice caps and stolen Guatemalan children and Noam Chomsky and sad things that make us cry, right? Yes and no. It’s true that of the interviews that appeared in the magazine this year, only a few are directly related to women’s issues. In April, we published an interview with Alice Walker, who discusses the term “womanism,” a more proactive form of feminism. That same month, we posted footage of a PEN event organized by Guernica—a conversation between a group of writers, moderated by Claire Messud, on why only eight women where named to the Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels of the Twentieth Century list. And in March we interviewed Judith Butler, who steps outside her normal mode as gender theorist to talk about nonviolent activism. But in general, our interviews section does a good job of evenly presenting a wide range of topics without privileging one issue over another.

Our features section could be better, though. It seems like only within the last year has Guernica tried to pinpoint those places where feminism intersects with the world’s greater narratives, like Rafia Zakaria’s recent piece on how Sharia and feminism aren’t always mutually exclusive. We’re improving, but we could definitely stand to be less of a raging left-wing anti-war mind fuck and more of a let’s-look-at-all-perspectives kind of mag. But maybe it’s just about printing the best story as it presents itself. After all, it’s journalism, not genitalism.

Copyright 2010 Rebecca Bates

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Rebecca Bates is a blog editor at Guernica. Read her latest recommendation “here”:http://www.guernicamag.com/blog/1989/rec_room_rebecca_bates_lucinel/. Read her Q&A with Tim Hetherington, co-director of Restrepo “here”:http://www.guernicamag.com/blog/2041/rebecca_bates_qa_with_tim_heth/.

To read more blog entries from GUERNICA click HERE .

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One comment for Rebecca Bates: Guernica and the Gender Debate

  1. Comment by Amy DePaul on September 29, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    Fun to read!

    Sorry that my own Guernica interview wasn’t cited, being a two-fer… that is, female interviewer, female interviewee…

    http://www.guernicamag.com/interviews/326/the_black_glove/

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