More than two decades after a wave of male-dominated fiction began to take root in the US, women are still a tiny share of the fiction field, a lack that may be making it harder for female writers to reach the top ranks.
As a result, women in the field are more likely to face barriers that contribute to a “glass ceiling” in terms of promotion, said Nancy Bruegel, director of the Women in Fiction program at UCLA.
The lack of female voices in the fiction industry may also be a source of frustration to women in academia who have to deal with a male-majority research and teaching force and, at the same time, the difficulty of communicating to their male peers that there is a female voice in the work that could help them get noticed.
The situation is especially frustrating for women who have spent decades learning to craft their stories in order to achieve literary success, said Kathryn Leinonen, director for literary studies at the University of Texas at Austin. “
I’ve heard from a lot of female academics that they’re really frustrated that they don’t get the kind of respect they want, even though they’re the ones who are really leading the way.”
The situation is especially frustrating for women who have spent decades learning to craft their stories in order to achieve literary success, said Kathryn Leinonen, director for literary studies at the University of Texas at Austin.
“They’re really in a race against time to make it into the literary academy, to get published,” she said.
It’s not only the women who face obstacles in gaining attention and promotion, she said, noting that the authors and editors in her program are often men who, when asked to share their thoughts on the work of a female writer, tend to respond with criticism or outright dismissal.
“And they tend to have a pretty clear idea of what it takes to get into the academy,” Leinen said.
Leinnen has worked with women in a variety of fields, including science fiction, science-fiction, fantasy and popular culture.
“The challenge is that it’s so difficult for a woman to be a writer, to be an editor, to publish, to talk about and be part of a community,” she explained.
“When you have a male writer, you don’t necessarily know how to be that person, or how to get your voice heard in that space, and then you also don’t know what to say about it.”
Leininen said she’s seen many male writers say that they do not want to write about women because of their own gender.
“But I don’t think they’re saying, ‘I’m not interested in that woman, or I don’ want to be in that writer’s shoes,'” she said of the male writers.
“What I’ve heard is, ‘No, I’m not.'”
One common reason for women to leave the field is that they see their work as being “too feminine” and “too masculine,” said Bruegs.
This is often the case because they think it would be “too much” or “too complicated” to write “male characters,” Bruegi said.
That’s not the case, she added, noting the success of male protagonists in literature has come about because of the “benevolent sexism” that women often encounter when they write about gender.
For example, the popular television series “Downton Abbey” has shown how a male character could be an excellent leader and powerful man, she noted.
“Dressing up as a woman can be so difficult, and the thought of dressing up as the woman that you want to have as a character is so challenging.”
“I think for many of us, we feel like we’re not good enough to be published, that we’re good enough, but we just don’t have the right stuff,” Bruesgel said.
She said she also wonders why women are not more successful in the world of fiction, where there are fewer opportunities for women in business and leadership roles.
She’s also concerned that more than half of female authors in the United States have not published a book or novel, a statistic that’s increasing each year.
“Women are less likely to be able to publish their books,” Brügel said, citing the gender gap in publishing.
“We’re not publishing the same number of books a year as we used to.”
This lack of publishing has had a negative effect on women, Brügels said, because they are often not offered jobs that are similar to what they were offered in the past.
“That creates an opportunity gap,” she added.
“If a woman has a story that she’s really passionate about and is really talented and is also ambitious, then the chance of her being offered a position where they’ll be able take a different approach to her career and make it better, that’s going to make her feel more confident.”
This isn’t an all-or-nothing issue.
“You can have a great story and it’s