Friday, August 8, 2014

WITMonth Day 8 - Discourse and quotas | Scattered thoughts

Some of you - whether because of direct messages or in light of my slight Twitter baffle-storm - will already know that last week I received a fairly not-positive comment on my essay about women in literature. One of my policies on this blog is to approve any comment that is not outright spam. This means that sometimes hurtful (or indeed hateful) comments may make their way through. Luckily, the book blogging community is a generally positive one and I have rarely if ever been left comments that were offensive in any way. Until last week.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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...


  1. Thanks for the shout out about the "enlightening, ongoing discussion" you and I have been having in spite of (or perhaps because of!) some of our disagreements. I feel the same way as I think I mentioned to you in an earlier comment. What I rather embarrassingly keep forgetting to mention is that I wanted to thank you for organizing WIT Month and to thank you for your time spent posting and publicizing the event. I have to think that whatever any participant's particular individual goals for this month are, at the very least a lot of good has to come out of seeing a lot of reviews of/posts on underappreciated and/or undertranslated authors coming out and being collated in the same place in the same month. You should--and will be--proud of your efforts by month's end if you aren't already, I'm quite sure. Until then, keep up the good work!

    1. Oh, thank you so much! I'm starting to take quite a bit of pride by now, yes. I really did not expect so many people to take part, and it's just heart-warming to see. It's also just been really wonderful having the opportunity to talk about these issues with a bit of continuity, and I think that by having everything organized it will, a. make things easier for readers to find books in the future, and b. make things more apparent to publishers that readers are aware.

      Oh, and it really has just been lovely having disagreements. It means we're getting somewhere. :-)

  2. Pfft! is what I wanted to say to Matthew Lane's comments. It's the kind of nonsense people say when they don't want to think about problems like gender disparities. I wanted to respond to him, but honestly -- unlike Richard's thoughtful and courteous comments -- I didn't think those comments came from someone who'd be open to reasoned argument. It's coming from a place of defensiveness, not a place of reason.

    1. It was just so interesting to see how he was ignoring the numbers. I mean, it's one thing to debate the sources or reasons for certain disparities, but you can't debate the existence of an imbalance! I just... gah. Yes. Well. At least I learned a bit more about the representation problems in sci-fi as a result!


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