We started with the longest pause yet at the top of a #FutureChat session. Crickets.
“#FutureChat is open for your comments,” I announced. “The floor is yours.”
Beat. Beat. Beat.
And then, after a couple of minutes, several folks braved the Twitter silence, editor Dan Benton finally easing the tension by suggesting that 2018 “Year of Publishing Women” would “quickly get an alternate name, ‘A Year of Men Self-Publishing.'”
As it turned out, humour was one of the most helpful aspects of our weekly chat on Friday (5th May). We were eventually joined by both Nicola Griffith and Kamila Shamsie, the key players in a new round of gender-balance concern in publishing and both clearly convivial, smiling chat companions. If some had feared glowering intolerance, they found none of it in#FutureChat.
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My colleague Sarah Shaffi has a selection of reactions at The Bookseller in Trade has mixed views on Shamsie’s Year of Publishing Women.
And in our chat, Shamsie certainly held her own, easily and good-naturedly. Her articulate proposal (for theWriters’ Centre Norwich for The National Conversation) of a year in which only women would be published — has caught the attention of the industry. Griffith, of course, had preceded Shamsie’s essay with her development of research indicating that books either about men or written from a male perspective win far more major literary awards than those about women or written from a female perspective.
Griffith has gone on to follow that piece with Help count women’s voices, in which she calls on all concerned to bring in new data of their own, in order to give us a better picture of the issues at hand:
If, say, you count the manuscripts submitted to your publishing imprint, what percentage are written about women and about men (and then the percentage of each that’s eventually acquired, then supported, then submitted to awards) and if someone else is counting what’s being submitted to a particular award (and long-listed, and short-listed, and chosen as a winner) we get a sharp and useful picture of what’s going on.
‘Positive discrimination’ may not be an oxymoron
“All new titles published in that year should be written by women.”
Shamsie’s vision for 2018 immediately raises a dilemma of new discrimination chasing old. As I wrote in my walkup to our #FutureChat:
The positive effort, of course, is the focus on women. But many, as we very well know, will see it as a denial of our male colleagues and their place alongside the women of publishing. Will we be comfortable with this? As Shamsie so wisely asks, where will that leave us in 2019?… Do we honestly promote and celebrate the needs and genius of women in publishing by practising any form of reverse exclusivity against men? Is that who we want to be today? Or in 2018? Is that how we value and honour women?
Helpfully before #FutureChat opened, I’d heard from a great and smart friend who wanted to say that he has seen “positive discrimination” produce good results in certain instances. He couldn’t join us for #FutureChat but I take his input seriously. Not having had a chance to see an instance of positive discrimination work well, I can rely on my faith in this friend’s thinking to put some weight into that side of the argument. And the term positive discrimination is a good one to get well in mind as we go forward in our conversations about this. That is what Shamsie is talking about in what may not seem a fully practical suggestion but is obviously, as I said to her, undoubtedly a timely one — a nerve has been touched quite expertly here, and we owe her and Griffith our thanks.
The tension inherent in a concept of positive discrimination was echoed over the weekend by the author JJ Marsh, who offered a new proposal of her own — a Women in Literature Festival (WiLF), to originate in London next year. In her explication of the idea, A Year of Publishing Only Women?, Marsh writes:
I applaud Shamsie for making us think harder about how best to take affirmative action. But I cannot agree with a year of publishing only women. I believe the way forward is not by excluding, discriminating or preventing any group of people from publishing their work. When faced with a wall, you have more options than knocking it down. Scale it alone, make your own door, tunnel under or do what women do best. Lift each other up.
Dear Publishing-House Award Nomination Committees:
Of everything that has come out of the “Year of Publishing Women” discussion so far, what strikes me most forcefully is the question of where the challenge begins. Well, not quite where it begins: we know it begins with several millennia of inexcusable oppression of women by men. But I’m talking about a more actionable question about which mechanisms in place right now — quite possibly without conscious operation on anyone’s parts — keep re-upping old imbalances.
By Porter Anderson
The FutureBook: ‘A Year of Men Self-Publishing’: #FutureChat recap
Read the full post at: TheBookseller.com/futurebook
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