Oh, that an obnoxious patriarchy exists in the publishing world exists cannot be denied. The aged group of white, button-down, Presbyterian men who lunched with luminaries such as Bennet Cerf still cling to some semblance of control (and their oxygen tanks) whilst trying to instill their antiquarian views on their sons and nephews, but their days are undoubtedly numbered. They matter little and are on the official Endangered Species list even as I type this.
What matters - and what women authors such as Gay and Wolitzer and Messud tend to forget or altogether ignore - are factual statistics. According to multiple surveys taken in the United States, Britain, and Canada, men make up only 20% of the fiction readers market (See NPR article). That's right. 20%. This would be why author Ian McEwan once said, "When women stop reading, the novel will be dead."
Is it any wonder that the marketing departments of the great publishing houses created the so-called Chick-Lit genre? Dear God in heaven, bankruptcy would have ensued had they not desperately catered to their largest market: women. Whether a woman prefers literature (Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, Barbara Kingsolver, Louise Erdrich, Jennifer Egan), mysteries (P.D. James, Janet Evanovitch), romance (Nora Roberts), historical fiction (Hilary Mantel, Diana Gabaldon, Sarah Waters, Geraldine Brooks), Fantasy (Margaret Atwood), Sci-Fi (Ursula Le Guin), or Non-Fiction (Mary Roach, Laura Hillenbrand), as an author I'd sure as hell want my work sub-categorized as "Women's Fiction" so the damned thing would sell to the one audience who is buying......WOMEN.
Is it more important to be publicly lauded by a questionable human being such as Franzen than it is to out-sell the bastard? Do we really - as a gender - need validation from men to feel important? I'm left feeling worse than when I simply thought women were being held back.
As a woman who works in an industry fraught with misogyny far worse than the publishing industry, I understand the underlying frustration expressed by Gay and her fellow authors. Really, I do. But after over a decade fighting it, I've also learned this: a woman has to learn what it is she is fighting against. I don't think these intelligent, bright women understand - at least not quite yet - what they are fighting against.
Because they don't realize they've already won.