The problem with Matthew Lane's comment is not that he (I'm assuming he?) disagrees with me. I've been having an enlightening, ongoing discussion with Richard about various aspects of that post (and others on my definition of the canon), where we tend to disagree on a lot. But our "arguments" are of the kind where we make our claims, try to back them up, and learn from each other. It's exactly the sort of discussion I had hoped to foster on the blog. The problem with Lane's comment isn't even that he's rude (which he most definitely is). I'm not going to lie - I was hurt by some of the remarks about my writing, particularly regarding a piece I worked very hard on. But I'm also not going to pretend like it's the main problem with an extremely problematic comment. No, the problem with Lane's comment is how very, very wrong he is.
There is no "perceived lack of women writers", there is a distinct lack of women writers (I encourage Lane to read my previous posts in the Women in Translation series). Furthermore, the conclusion from the articles Lane himself quotes is the exact opposite of what he claims: Julie Crisp writes explicitly that the conclusion from the bad submission rates by women should be that something needs to be done about women's submission rates. To say that "fewer women are interested in writing" is hilariously backwards, and simply wrong.
But I want to focus on one particularly point that Lane insists on, which is so, so oblivious that it actually deserves its own half-post rant.
And that is, most firmly: I do not believe in quotas. I say it explicitly in the piece, and then I get told: "let's be honest here, that's EXACTLY what you're pushing for". No, it's not. If anyone wants to hear what it's like to push for quotas, check out the London Book Fair panel on Women in Translation. Actually, check it out regardless - it's brilliant.
But I, writer of this blog Biblibio, do not support quotas as a solution to the problem of women in translation. Here's why:
- Quotas create the impression that something undeserving is getting attention, over a more superior work. This is the exact opposite of what we're trying to prove. Narratives are important.
- It incites people like Matthew Lane who think that there is legitimacy to the argument that men are being oppressed by feminism. Which is of course ridiculous, but goodness, why would we make our lives more difficult?
- The most important first step is to increase awareness of the problem, not to isolate it.
So far, increased awareness of the problem has led to Women in Translation month - it's a self-imposed awareness, more than a quota (one that is, I believe, working quite well). And this is what frustrates me. Readers being aware of their reading is not the same as imposing quotas. Readers coming at their options and saying, "I want more of this" is not the same as saying, "I HAVE to have only this". I think the same is generally true of publishers. The response so far from everyone participating in WITMonth has been absolutely phenomenal in my opinion - we are showcasing many brilliant women writers, some famous and others significantly less so. No matter your position on how else to fix the problem of women in translation, I think we can all agree that what's happening here is a good thing.
You can call this increased awareness "quotas", but it really isn't. It's a request for readers to recognize their various personal biases, and try to overcome them. Try to move beyond bad marketing. Participate in this dialogue. Think about what you read, think about what you don't read, and try to understand external forces in play.
And seriously, if you're going to criticize me about the topic, at least give your criticism some foundation...