After reading the remarks by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner, which I mentioned in my last blog post, as well as the superb comments by Laura Lippman over on her blog, I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic. I really wasn’t planning to add anything, as I think these three ladies have covered it well. I also have mixed feelings about getting reviewed at all in the New York Times , because it’s a mixed blessing. Hurray, you got reviewed! But oh dear, those reviews are too often public beheadings in which your blood ends up splattered all over those previously much-coveted 10 column-inches. No, much better to be ignored by the Times and not have to endure the sympathetic silence of your friends, family, and neighbors after M. Kakutani pronounces you the Worst Writer in the World. Getting spotlit by M.K.’s evil eye seems about as appealing as getting caught in Sauron’s terrifying glare.
Then again, I can’t help wondering. What is it about the NYT and women writers? What do they have against us?
I don’t detect this bias in newspapers abroad. In the UK, my crime novels have been reviewed by just about every major newspaper. The UK Telegraph published my article about my childhood experience with murder, and flew out a photographer to take photos. When I look at my English-language review clippings, the majority of the reviews are not from the U.S. but from the UK, Canada, South Africa, and Australia. Is it the old phenomenon of “you’re never a prophet in your own home land”? Or does the NYT (and I’ll also throw in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post here) simply have a thing against women writers?
While I don’t have hard statistics (can anyone help me with this?) it seems to me that UK newspapers regularly — and respectfully — review crime novels by women. If we catch any flak there, it’s usually about our books being too visceral and gory. But that’s simply a matter of taste, not anti-woman bias. I’ve certainly never been slammed with a review like the one I received from the Washington Post a few years ago, sneeringly titled: “Adventures of the Lactating Detective.” The book was VANISH, in which Detective Jane Rizzoli gives birth to her first child and struggles to combine motherhood with her duties as a homicide detective. I don’t have the piece in front of me (and I think I ripped it up after I read it) but I recall that the reviewer (a man, of course) said that you’d have to care about girly stuff like motherhood and breast-feeding troubles to enjoy the book, and he really wasn’t interested in that nonsense. (VANISH, by the way, received the Nero Wolfe Award and was a Macavity and Edgar nominee.) This same reviewer raised a similar objection to Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone series: too much boring stuff about what women think.
While we women fret over the sparsity of reviews, we may actually face a far deeper and more disturbing issue here in the U.S.: an utter disdain for women in general. A disdain for our lives, our experiences, what we think, what we care about. A disdain that makes it acceptable for a reviewer to state that readers don’t care about childbirth and motherhood. A disdain that’s so ingrained in the institution that his editor didn’t call him on it.
If that reviewer had said “no one really cares about what African Americans or Hispanic Americans think”, do you think his editor would have let that slip by?