Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Do Male Voices Dominate in Your School Reading?

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Flickr Credit: Izabela Pawlicka
I realized right before I started to write this that I should make sure this isn’t a question already answered on Google. Okay, I Googled it. I was not satisfied. This will be a short post—but get your typing fingers ready. I’m curious about what you have to say about this subject.

I am in my second semester of college now, and I love it. It’s fun to be in an environment where there is always learning and always questions and always books. I like the community and I like what I do there.

Even so, life is not perfect.

It’s niggled at me a little. Every now and again, just a thought—the times when I maybe don’t like what I am reading at that very second and so let my mind wander into the critical. And in my criticisms, I have noticed this:

We don’t read as many books written by women in college. 

I mean, yeah, I’ve only been around two semesters, but I don’t think I’m completely off-base here.

I took a look at my reading log to recall my AP Literature class, which I took last school year and is the most comparable course for this discussion, and all of the books that I’ve read for school during this semester and the last. And I have read fewer full texts by women in college.

For my AP Literature class, we read 10 full-length texts. Of those texts, six were written by male authors and four were written by female authors. If you like ratios, the female/male ratio is 0.66; if you like percents, 40% of all the texts were written by women.

Also, as I scour my reading log, the beginning of the year was top-heavy with male authors, but after that, the authors’ genders switched off. One of our books was a choice novel, so that isn’t how it worked for everyone, but that’s how it turned out for me.

Thus far in college, I’ve read 21 full-length texts. Of those texts, 14 were written by male authors and five by female. The f/m ratio, 0.36; the percent of the total, 26%. And I’m on the cusp of finishing two more books, also written by men.

And... I have had classes where we read no books by women at all.

That is a 14% drop in full-length books written by women that I’ve read for school since enrolling in college. This isn’t a representation of all my school reading material—in both scenarios my classes often included short stories, excerpts from textbooks, or articles written by various men and women. These are of course important sources we rely upon, but I only count books I’ve read cover to cover on my reading log. What’s more, books we are asked to read cover to cover generally receive a greater focus in the curriculum.

And now I don’t really know what to do with that.

I don’t have any desire to change my classes from the way they are. I’m not an enforcement agency. I’m motivated to read more women’s voices outside of class… but there is every chance I might have done that anyway. And mostly I just have this observation.

Since it’s only my observation, I decided to bring it to you.

Tell me about what you read at your school. You don’t have to be as specific as I was, but give me your guesses! Do you think your academic reading hails from more male or female voices? Why do you think that is?


As for me, I have no answers. But I am planning on finding them. Until then, I stalk my prey…

20 comments :

  1. YAAAAS THIS IS TRUE. Most of my YA reads are by women but most of my school reads are by men (we've studied six texts so far, ALL SIX ARE BY MEN, although we are doing Sylvia Plath very very soon). It also makes me so detached from the books ... not necessarily because I'm consciously aware it was written by a guy. I just find them all sooooo boring and unrelatable, and I think author identity has to factor into that. Thinking of writing a blog post to expand on this, actually -- you wouldn't mind if I linked to this post, I hope?

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    1. I agree; not even just my YA reads but books I read for fun in general tend to be written by women, even if they're like memoirs or something. THAT IS SO MANY THOUGH, PERCENTAGE-WISE. D: (Oh, I am studying Sylvia Plath next week. What a coinkidink.) But yeah... I don't think I'm incapable of identification, but there is definitely a lack of resonance that I really miss when my curriculums are so male-centric. And I'd love to hear what you have to say on the topic further! (By all means, link me. :) )

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  2. I have never really thought about this before, but wow, you have a really good point. We've read five, soon to be six, books in AP Lit so far and all of them were written by men (although one was Hamlet so I would have been surprised if we hadn't read Shakespeare). I actually don't think any of the excerpts we've read from have been written by women, either. That's slightly depressing. Interesting how your high school reading worked out, though, compared to your college.

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    1. Yeah, I think in general Shakespeare is just a given—and not a bad given, in my opinion. But still. It is kind of depressing when women don't get as much voice in education. Thanks for reading, Nev. :)

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  3. Oh yeah, men totally dominate our school reading. This year in AP english language I've read 5 full legnth texts, all by men (and 3 were white american men; one was white british and one was Indian). But then for choice texts, I've read all women books. And last year for world literature it was pretty equal, though more ment I think? You're totally right; if books in school are the only books you're reading (for some people they are) it needs to be WAY more equal. I've hardly thought about this before, but it's totally important. That said, when reading for fun, I read way more women; this year i've read 47 books by women and five by men.

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    1. XD For some reason your tone of voice amuses me. That is a shame. :( I'm glad that you're choosing something you can enjoy more, though! I totally agree, though... I know some people never read another book after they finish high school. D: HOW DO THEY LIVE? But still. Also, I am in the same boat. Way to keep up your reading by women, Shanti! :)

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  4. I haven't been to college so I caaaan't really say I suppose. In highschool I feel like I was pretty evenly split! I read a LOT of historical fiction, but not so much classics, so those were pretty much written by women! And I think of all the YA books I read, I'd say most are female authors. I actually sometimes search out YA books by guys just to read something with a different perspective. I guess it's interesting that different genders dominate different genres?

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    1. Oh yeah, I think those are two genres that would get decent airtime for both male and female authors, and even more female authors. Also, yes, most of my YA reads are female, too... Funny how all this works out.

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  5. *thinks back to high school* I was actually pretty evenly split if you exclude Shakespeare. And I haven't been to college (and I'm going into engineering so I kinda doubt that we'll be doing many book studies) so I can't comment on that, I'm afraid. I think part of the reason is because for so long it was mostly men writing books while women stayed home and cared for their kids and didn't vote (I'm not saying women didn't write books a few hundred years ago, but it was certainly less common) while men got to go write books. And we tend to read more older classics in school? I'm not really sure. Anyways.

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    1. Ah, yes. Engineering is probably going to ask different talents of you. That should be interesting for you, though! I can see what you say, though—especially going back in time, men had more opportunity to write and a lot of the women who are famous from the classics usually had a somewhat different home situation than most other women. It's just a little frustrating for me because most of the books that I've read for college have been written over the last century, if not the last fifty years, and it just makes me suspicious simply because there were more women writing by then. Maybe not a lot more, but more...

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  6. So far in my AP English Lit class, all the full texts we've read are written by men. Unless I'm forgetting something... we DID do a poetry unit with an equal split, but as far as I know we're not going to read anything by women. I also chose to read two books written by men when there were female options, for various reasons. I've never thought about it before, but this is so true! I've noticed how we don't read enough modern literature, but you're also entirely right about this male-dominated literature texts. This really needs to change. Thanks for this eye opening post!

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    1. Huh, it's interesting that your poetry unit had that split... I mean, I wonder why that is, I guess. It just seems a little interesting. And yes, I do think that reading modern literature would be better for everybody and also if they were written sometimes by girls that would be cool too. Thanks to you for reading, Shar! :)

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  7. Hmmmmm. We don't tend to do text reading until later in the year. But because we tend to focus on New Zealand writers/poets, and a few older ones like (say, W.H Auden, for example), I think the authors are about 50/50 male/female.

    If you were studying math, I would say, yes, your text books etc would be written mainly by males, simply because almost no women go into the field. But English? I would have thought that was more balanced?

    Interesting post :)

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    1. Huh, I guess that's a little odd. In most of my classes, we always have our noses in a book! Still, it's cool that the split is pretty even.

      I would think that English would be more balanced, too, but what do I know?

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  8. This is a great topic to talk about. I'm a second year English major, and I personally find that it really depends on what courses you're taking. During some periods in history, published writing was dominated by men, so that's what you read if you are studying that period. It doesn't mean that women weren't writing, it just means that women writers weren't canonized. In the end, you can't change the past, but we can influence how books are valued now.

    If you're feeling the lack of women writers, I'd definitely encourage you to take a course that looks specifically at how women fit into the sometimes male-dominated world of writing.

    Good luck!

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    1. It's interesting, though, because I was having this discussion with one of my friends, and she was saying that in some cases women and their writing were just as influential as men during certain time periods, and we just don't know about them anymore because they don't get taught. So, like you said, they weren't canonized, when the reality is that choice might have been made by certain historians or academics after the time period in question, and don't necessarily represent the trends of the time. Depending, of course.

      I am hoping to take classes that take a look at the female perspective, though!

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  9. This is such an interesting post, thank you for sharing! I haven't actually given this much thought before, but I know I'll be paying more attention now. I'm on a pretty specific Master's course right now so the reading I do is very different at the moment, but it does tend to be a lot of male authors. Although that's probably related to the way academia still has a lot more men in tenured positions...

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    1. It is true. I have to believe that some portion of the reason texts are divided as they are is because of the people who assign the texts, mostly dudes, in addition to various time periods and stuff. Just one of those things...

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  10. Interesting thoughts! Honestly, this doesn't really surprise me, because up until relatively recently (I mean in the course of history, relatively recently), it was mostly men who were able to write and publish their work. So maybe this trend of mostly male voices in school reading will start to change as we female writers are able to get more and more of our work out there. :)


    Alexa
    thessalexa.blogspot.com
    verbositybookreviews.wordpress.com

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    1. Well, perhaps. It might also be that it was men who got to decide whose work was remembered by their offspring... So there's that. But, I also hope that women will get their feet solidly planted in our curriculum. That would be great.

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