Prizes

Is There No Gender Equity in Nonfiction?

By posted at 6:00 am on October 1, 2014 37

When the National Book Awards Longlist for Nonfiction was released this week with only one woman author out of 10 nominees (and only one person of color), I thought, wow, the jury (two of whom are women) must have completely missed the increasingly vociferous discussions over the past few years about the lack of gender equity in the literary world. Then I read the Slate essay in which Katy Waldman calls nonfiction the “patriarch of the book world.” As the author of a forthcoming nonfiction book, a biography, I have become aware of how male-dominated the field of biography is. But why all of nonfiction?

Last year’s longlist wasn’t much better: only three women out of 10. Prior to last year, the National Book Award announced only shortlists, which look pretty good since 2010 (two or three women out of five) but for much of the 2000s were dismal (mostly one or even no women out of five). A recent study in Mayborn also showed that among all of the major prizes in nonfiction over the past 20 years, only 20 percent were won by women and five percent by people of color. The study also found that these results don’t simply prove jury bias; the percentage of books by women submitted to the major competitions was only 30 percent last year. (The study also found the awards skew towards East Coast writers nurtured by institutions that are predominately white and male.)

Are fewer women writing nonfiction, you might ask. I suppose it depends on what you call “nonfiction.” According to the last few years’ NBA juries, it is mostly history (preferably about war or early America); biography (preferably about men, especially presidents); or reportage (preferably about war, the economy, or non-Western countries). Even within these parameters, there were some notable, well-reviewed books by women that didn’t make this year’s list:

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Two books in science, a topic which attracts surprisingly little attention from NBA juries, should have been strong contenders this year (along with E.O. Wilson’s The Meaning of Human Existence, which did make the list):

covercover

There are other nonfiction genres, however, in which women are prolific—namely memoir and the essay—which get short shrift from the major awards. The only book by a woman on this year’s NBA longlist is a graphic memoir by Roz Chast called Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?. It is also the only memoir on the list. Of the past 50 nominated books, Waldman points out, only four have been memoirs (three of them by women—one of them won, Patti Smith’s Just Kids in 2010). Women’s attraction to memoirs and essays, many of which focus on the issues unique to women’s lives, may in fact have much to do with their low profile. Memoirs and essay collections by women that deserved the judges’ attention this year include:

covercovercovercovercover

Then there are those nonfiction books that defy genre. In 1976, when Maxine Hong Kingston won the National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction with The Woman Warrior (her China Men won the NBA in 1981), it seemed as if nonfiction had experienced a seismic shift. Unfortunately, in recent years, the major awards have not reflected much of an interest in works that defy category—whether it be in their play between fiction and nonfiction or simply in their interest in combining elements of subgenres within nonfiction (such as history, biography, literary criticism, and memoir). There are a number of compelling works published this year by women that inject memoir into these more conventionally objective subgenres. I would conjecture, in fact, that women writers are more likely to investigate how their own lives intersect with larger issues—such as great books, our nation’s founding documents, or returning soldier’s PTSD—as they did in these works:

covercovercovercover

This year’s NBA nonfiction longlist is disappointing not simply because of its dearth of women writers but also because of its unwillingness to think beyond the male-dominated forms of nonfiction that have garnered the most gravitas in the past. We can keep hoping, however, that the subtle biases that govern out understanding of literary value—why is a great work, as Ron Charles points out, called “seminal” rather than “ovular”?—will gradually become as quaint as those 1950s videos instructing women in how to become the perfect housewife.





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37 Responses to “Is There No Gender Equity in Nonfiction?”

  1. Ed Bast
    at 9:19 am on October 1, 2014

    Is it possible that the judges selected the best books, in their opinion, without giving credence to gender?

    I get that equality is an important issue. But these sort of articles get a little tiresome, because they never offer a theory nor a solution.

    So I have to ask:

    1. Do you think the NBA jury (3 men, 2 women) actively conspired to exclude women from the non fiction longlist?
    2. What is your solution? Do you want to see a longlist quota for women writers? There would also, then, need to be a quota for minority representation. Perhaps there should be several NBAs, one for each gender and race?

    The gender disparity in awards, NYT reviews, etc, has been exhaustively documented at this point. Everyone understands (should understand) the problem. I don’t think we need to commission more studies on the issue. I would, however, love to read articles that demonstrate the intellectual rigor required to determine the root cause of, and put forth potential solutions to, this complex problem.

  2. Anne Boyd Rioux
    at 9:51 am on October 1, 2014

    I agree that we need to get at the root of the problem, although we still very much need to document it as well. The more we call attention to it, the less likely that juries will continue to ignore it in the future. The kind of in-depth discussion of roots, causes, and remedies you are looking for can be found in the Mayborn study I link to in the piece. They do a great job of beginning to dig behind the numbers, although it is clear that it will take some time to reach solid conclusions. Thanks for reading and thanks for your comment!

  3. Janelle
    at 10:05 am on October 1, 2014

    The fact that woman dominate in memories but men write about economics and war reminds me of when men were bankers and women worked as secretaries, teachers, or nurses. Eventually those lines blurred and then shifted, so perhaps we’ll see more of that in the literature world soon. I think awareness is the first step, so the more we talk about gender roles and raise points about equality, the sooner we’ll start seeing real change.

  4. Josef Zeko
    at 11:53 am on October 1, 2014

    Well, the study linked to calls for a quota system.

  5. Kathy
    at 12:06 pm on October 1, 2014

    Excellent piece! Thanks for bringing attention to all of the wonderful works of nonfiction written by women this year. It is a shame that more of these were not nominated for prizes.

  6. My god
    at 12:29 pm on October 1, 2014

    “why is a great work, as Ron Charles points out, called “seminal” rather than “ovular?” … Ugh… But leaving that aside…

    So clearly, women are writing good non-fiction, getting published, and getting readership (I have read, just by happenstance, 2 of the titles held up as good work by women). This article is about prize winning in the “non-fiction” category.

    So here’s the thing then – the arguments made here have nothing to do with women. It has to do with whether or not memoir and essays, the forms that women seem to gravitate toward, should be awarded with equal probability to biography, history, wars, science, etc.

    So we’re not talking about equity between men and women writers, we’re talking about equity between non-fiction genres. And why should this be true? Should “Capital in the 21st Century” really be ranked next to a book of essays about female friendship in your 30s? Okay, if the latter is *really* awesome and insightful, sure, but why ASSUME that equity between genres is the natural state of affairs?

  7. timble
    at 7:24 pm on October 1, 2014

    @my god

    The mission statement of the National Book Awards is “[…] to celebrate the best of American literature, to expand its audience, and to enhance the cultural value of great writing in America.” Given that criteria, I see no reason why awarding “a book of essays about female friendship in your 30s” could not accomplish this mission, except under the assumption, widely held even to this day, that great literature is generally a male occupation.

    Incidentally, ‘Capital in the 21st Century’ would not qualify for the NBA or a Pulitzer.

  8. My god
    at 9:59 pm on October 1, 2014

    @timble – fair point about “Capital…”as it is originally french, not American, non-fiction, and therefore would not be eligible.

    Since you seemed not to comprehend my point, let me restate with a clearer example.

    Do you think that, on average, non-fiction awards should be equally awarded to books on “male friendship in your 30s” and those on World War 2?

    If you can’t see that some “genres” of non-fiction are *statistically* (ie, on average) more serious, you need to look again. Why should those that concern “women’s daily lives” suddenly be perfectly identical to the events of 1776?

  9. timble
    at 3:23 am on October 2, 2014

    “Do you think that, on average, non-fiction awards should be equally awarded to books on “male friendship in your 30s” and those on World War 2?”

    No. They should go to the best work. The subject matter is irrelevant. I don’t see why a book about a historical event that has already been exhaustively explored is more “serious” or of more cultural worth than a book about the experience of being alive right now, about depression or the immigrant experience or friendship. There are certainly many non-fiction books about very important, serious topics that do not engage seriously with them, and are probably already forgotten. Which do you think will survive: 1997’s NBA winner, ‘American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson’ by Joseph J. Ellis, or 2005’s ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ by Joan “writing about my feelings” Didion?

    What, in any case, constitutes the superiority of “serious” work? Do you really think “Capital in the 21st Century” is a good example, given that it is a work of popular economic theory loaded with supposition and contradiction? Are you simply stating that a work is only serious if its subject matter is thought serious, even though a book about a seemingly frivolous subject, such as “female friendship in your 30s”, can be unquestionably serious, as in Sheila Heti’s “How Should a Person Be?”.

    I comprehend your point perfectly well. I don’t take it for granted that anyone should give a shit about the War for Independence.

  10. Ed Bast
    at 9:08 am on October 2, 2014

    timble

    I get your point, but you lose me re: “Capital”. Are you suggesting a 700-page book on economics based on decades worth of research encompassing hundreds of years of global economic data is somehow not serious? It’s loaded with data (the opposite of supposition) and can’t recall a single contradiction in it…and “popular economic theory”? Sounds like you are confusing it with a Malcolm Gladwell book.

    But “they should go to the best work” – agreed. Does that work with a quota, though? And do we think that the current judges are conspiring against the best work and instead focusing on “serious” subjects because they are more likely to be written by a man?

  11. My god
    at 1:40 pm on October 2, 2014

    @timble – “No. They should go to the best work. The subject matter is irrelevant.”

    Aye, no one could possibly disagree. My point was Melville’s: “To write a mighty book, one must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring work has ever been written on the flea, though many have tried.”

    Of course some things that look like fleas turn out to be elephants, etc, but surely, on some statistical level, one could distinguish between rich non-fiction topics and poor non-fiction topics.

    Your denial that the import of subject matter *ever* influences how good a non-fiction book is a great example of the kind relativism that slips into narcissism.

    “I don’t take it for granted that anyone should give a shit about the War for Independence.”

    Ah, but books about you! Now those are the books!

  12. timble
    at 4:08 pm on October 2, 2014

    @Ed Bast

    Yes, I am suggesting that a 700-age book on economics is not serious. Economics is about as serious as astrology.

    @My god

    The import of subject matter is entirely relative. To a scholar of American History, a book on the War for Independence could be of great importance. To a cultural anthropologist studying the early 21st century, a memoir engaged with contemporaneous life and relationships would be more valuable.

    I’m not sure why you think writing about life experience is not writing on “a mighty theme”. I have read many books on the history of World War II but that education would be utterly incomplete without “The Diary of a Young Girl” or “Night”. Is a book about “female friendship in your 30s” the equal of those? Obviously not, but that’s your straw-man, not mine.

  13. Ed Bast
    at 5:10 pm on October 2, 2014

    timble

    “Economics is about as serious as astrology.”

    Zing!

    Okay, let me try a joke:

    “Sheila Heti’s “How Should a Person Be?” is about as serious as spaghetti.

  14. My god
    at 7:17 pm on October 2, 2014

    My favorite part was when timble totally agreed with me.

    “I have read many books on the history of World War II but that education would be utterly incomplete without “The Diary of a Young Girl” or “Night”. Is a book about “female friendship in your 30s” the equal of those? Obviously not, but that’s your straw-man, not mine.”

    Yeah – you can break it down further. Within the category of “personal experience” you could have serious non-fiction (Night) and less serious (essays on cooking).

    My ONLY point is that such asymmetries exist, and if they do, one might expect that those asymmetries would show up in which books, ON AVERAGE, win awards.

  15. timble
    at 8:31 pm on October 2, 2014

    Obviously some books have more value than others. I’m not going to claim that some imaginary book about friendship is worth as much as the diary of Anne Frank (a book which is mostly about relationships, feelings, and introspective personal experience). I’m sure you’ll agree that the autobiography of Sarah Palin is not worth as much as that of Benjamin Franklin.

    What I do not assume is that the non-fiction work of women is asymmetrically inclined toward “non-serious” subjects, compared to that of men, regardless of genre. You appear to be saying that if someone writes a book about history, it is automatically serious, whereas if someone writes an essay about cooking, it is automatically not. Here I’m torn between pointing out that Melville wrote a whole book about fishing, and simply asking you to (oh, this hurts) consider the lobster.

  16. My god
    at 10:11 pm on October 2, 2014

    @timble

    Oh no timble you were so close to following the line of argument but then you veered away!

    Btw fishing is not whaling. And your conflation of the two is the perfect metaphor for what you are unable to grasp.

  17. timble
    at 12:17 am on October 3, 2014

    The perfect metaphor for what you are unable to grasp is Moby-Dick himself.

  18. Theodore, Especially
    at 10:48 am on October 3, 2014

    Good stuff, everyone, I’m actually enjoying this comments argument!

    Fwiw, I think both sides here have valid points. I agree with Timble that enormous historical tomes aren’t inherently more valuable or “better” than personal memoir. On the other hand, I agree with My God inasmuch as the NBA judges seem to find it so, and it’s probably not a case of female authors being deliberately overlooked.

  19. Josef Zeko
    at 1:10 pm on October 3, 2014

    It is entertaining. It’s like a recreation in miniature of the 1980s culture wars, and coming to the same conclusion.

    Is it me or am I wrong in thinking that, had this article and discussion taken place last year about this time it would have gone to 100+ increasingly enraged comments by now?

  20. My god
    at 1:40 pm on October 3, 2014

    @Theodore, Especially

    Aye, they may not be “inherently” better, but isn’t it possible they could be *on average* better?
    And before throwing around accusations of sexism at award committees, the author could have considered the fact that maybe Smith’s “Just Kids” is just not quite up there with Wilson’s “The Meaning of Existence”?

    And instead of the award committee changing their standards of what is important non-fiction maybe women authors could start tackling deeper issues – indeed, as the author herself appears to be doing by writing a biography of a writer?

    That is, we all know that it’s stupid to compare absolute women’s salaries versus male salaries. The relevant statistic is what they make when they *do the same job*.

    Here men and women don’t seem to be doing (on average) the same job, but instead of asking why that is or giving a recommendation about it, the author of the piece merely assumes that memoirs vs all other forms of non-fiction are of *average* equal important, which is not obvious at all!

  21. timble
    at 3:08 pm on October 3, 2014

    “the author could have considered the fact that maybe Smith’s “Just Kids” is just not quite up there with Wilson’s “The Meaning of Existence”?”

    This is our fundamental disconnect; you assume that because Wilson is explicitly writing about a Big Serious Idea like the meaning of existence, his work is of greater importance. However, it is really just a personal preference on your part. Some people like Rembrandt, others like Basquiat. Some people try to glean the meaning of life from Wilson’s book, and some may try to find it in Smith’s. The obviously flaw in your example is that neither book actually contains the meaning of existence.

    It’s also just a weak argument. I mean, what actually offers the meaning of existence, Wilson’s book, or the Bible? Well, to a Christian…

    (You’re also comparing a professional writer to a musician, which seems “stupid” because they don’t “do the same job”; Smith is an outlier on the NBA list, and not because she’s a woman. I would personally place “The Year of Magical Thinking” above Wilson’s work, because it actually seems to contain some measure of an answer to the questions of existence.)

    All this argument really captures is the subjectivity of the merits of literature. You think the seriousness of a work is of prime importance in judging non-fiction; I think the literary value and cultural significance of the work should be weighted more. The thing is, if awards went to more memoirs, I don’t think the representation of women would increase very much, because I do believe there is a deeply entrenched gender bias in the literary industry. Why exactly that is, I have no time to investigate, but I think this is a clue:

    “…among all of the major prizes in nonfiction over the past 20 years, only… five percent [were won] by people of color.”

    Is that because black people write memoirs? Or is it because of something rather old-fashioned and insidious, related to education, discrimination, and access?

  22. Anne Boyd Rioux
    at 3:21 pm on October 3, 2014

    I too am enjoying the debate going on here. Let me point out, however, that there are many books that I mention that would qualify as “serious” as the term is being used here. My point was not that women are writing only memoir and therefore being overlooked. On the contrary, they are tackling many weighty issues, such as climate change, Tiananmen Square, the Declaration of Independence, and the Civil War. My point was also, however, that the field of nonfiction is a large one, and if we broaden our perspective we can find an even more diverse field (in terms of writing as well as gender and race) and have a much more interesting list of finalists to talk about. The judges did select one memoir (a graphic one at that), so they recognize the value of the form. And there is absolutely no reason why history or biography are inherently more valuable than essays or memoir. Great writing can come in all of these forms.

    On another note, I would like to say that the books I list here are not a complete list of the worthy contenders women have written this year, nor was it intended to be. There is a wonderful list of books being compiled on the Facebook page FemNonfictio2014 at https://www.facebook.com/pages/FemNonfiction2014/1475575582707294. And I encourage people to add more titles there and in the comments here and tweet them with the hashtag #FemNonfiction2014.

  23. My god
    at 3:45 pm on October 3, 2014

    Thanks Anne for commenting.

    “My point was not that women are writing only memoir and therefore being overlooked.”
    Well obviously. But your point was that women write memoir far more.

    For the women who are writing about “climate change, Tiananmen Square, the Declaration of Independence, and the Civil War” more power to them, but you don’t advocate more women writing about those things. You advocate changing the standards of what we find important, or worthy of award. Instead of urging women on to the goal-posts, you want to pick them up and move them somewhere else. I’m merely marking my disagreement.

    @timble
    “This is our fundamental disconnect; you assume that because Wilson is explicitly writing about a Big Serious Idea like the meaning of existence, his work is of greater importance.”
    Yeah. It’s definitional. Writing about a Big Serious Idea is more important, objectively, than writing essays about cooking. That’s what “Big Serious” means.

    “The obviously flaw in your example is that neither book actually contains the meaning of existence.”
    God save us from people who took philosophy 101 and then stopped.

    “You think the seriousness of a work is of prime importance in judging non-fiction; I think the literary value and cultural significance of the work should be weighted more.”
    No, my point is that they cannot be DISSOCIATED. Not hard to understand. Listen, as long as ANY connection between weighty subjects and being a good non-fiction book exists, it’ll show up. And it’ll show up especially at the tiptop of the field, i.e., awards.

  24. justaphotographer
    at 4:38 pm on October 3, 2014

    timble, will you marry me?

  25. timble
    at 5:19 pm on October 3, 2014

    @My god
    “Instead of urging women on to the goal-posts, you want to pick them up and move them somewhere else.”

    Which begs the question, who set up the goal-posts in the first place, and did they put them in the right spot?

    “Writing about a Big Serious Idea is more important, objectively, than writing essays about cooking.”

    I know you believe this is true, because you keep saying it, but that does not make it objectively true. Being about a serious subject does not make something important. For example, here is a sentence about something serious: “When the death row prisoner was executed, he made a poopy in his pants.”

    “God save us from people who took philosophy 101 and then stopped.”

    God save us from people who think reading The Meaning of Existence makes them versed in philosophy.

    “Listen, as long as ANY connection between weighty subjects and being a good non-fiction book exists, it’ll show up. And it’ll show up especially at the tiptop of the field, i.e., awards.”

    Are these books awarded because they are weighty, or are these books weighty because they are awarded? You say chicken, I say egg, and we are not going to agree.

  26. Josef Zeko
    at 5:23 pm on October 3, 2014

    “Some people like Rembrandt, others like Basquiat.”

    There are problems with this entire style of thinking, not just this line (which I picked as representative of your point). The biggest and most glaring is that, in a post-Fox News/Iraq War world, we all know that one can’t just ride the Post-Modern train and get off at whatever stop we want. EVERYONE can play that game. The end result of this strain of thought leads us to Dan Brown and Stephanie Meyer getting the Nobel Prize for literature because, let’s be honest, that’s what the majority of people would say if polled.

    We should caveat all of this by saying that what is at discussion here is the inclusivity of the snob table… or is everyone already in agreement with that statement?

  27. timble
    at 5:49 pm on October 3, 2014

    @JosefZeko

    The point is, Dan Brown should not be ineligible for the Nobel prize because of the genre or topic or perceived seriousness or lack thereof of his work. He should be judged by the same criteria as anyone else; for the Nobel, that is the author who has produced “in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction”. It is interesting that the Nobel committee awarded Alice Munro last year, a writer whose primary material is the mostly uneventful rural or semi-rural lives of young women who ride trains, go out for dinner, work in shops, and deal with pregnancy (and cooking). Perhaps they saw a luminous importance revealed in her humble subject.

  28. My god
    at 6:10 pm on October 3, 2014

    @timble –

    timble you keep repeating the same notion, that the best book should win. But you are assuming what you seek to prove. Denying that there is any connection between genre and how good the book IS pure relativism, as @JosefZeko is pointing out.

    As you say, “being about a serious subject does not make something important.”

    OBVIOUSLY. But you seem to be unable to grasp the notion of a statistical trend.

    Having a serious subject does incline the book to greater import more than a non-serious subject, yes? That is, there is a statistical correlation between serious subjects and serious books. That’s the ENTIRE argument I’m making, which you have talked around and around about without ever addressing.

    However, I am arguing with someone who A.) has dismissed economics as astrology, B.) said they didn’t “give a shit about the events of World War II” C.) argued for absolute relativism between all genres D.) has said that a book called The Meaning of Human Existence by EO Wilson has nothing to do with philosophy.

    See, the joy of relativism is that you don’t have to *know* anything to be a relativist. And the joy of somehow just knowing that those 2 women and 3 men who make the decisions for the National Book Award represent the “deeply entrenched gender bias in the literary industry” is based in self-righteousness and paranoia.

    So it all combines for… a certain kind of person.

  29. timble
    at 7:11 pm on October 3, 2014

    @My god
    “That is, there is a statistical correlation between serious subjects and serious books.”

    Sure. And I think memoirs are serious books with serious subjects. For example, menstruation is a serious subject. So is childbirth, and cooking. So we’re on the same page now? Or do you still wanna dance?

    And as for what “kind of person” I am…

    A.) Economics is a facile field where people are continually rewarded for being wrong, and I am not alone or crazy in thinking so. B.) If you are going to put my words in quotation marks, please actually used my words, as I was talking about the War for Independence; nor did I say I didn’t give a shit about it, but that I didn’t assume people should prima facie. I can think of obvious reasons why something that ended two-hundred and thirty-one years ago is not critically essential to human learning, especially if one is already in possession of a grade-school education in American History, which I assume most Americans are (could be wrong about this). C.) Argued for relativism in the approach to genre, because our prior evidentiary findings have been unquestionably biased toward white men and against new forms, that is, we cannot assume biography is more valuable than memoir simply because biography has won more prizes, because of existing historical bias; if we consider memoir on the same terms as biography, and judge it by the same criteria, and it is still wanting, then we may be able to improve our findings. D.) Said that The Meaning of Human Existence does not provide a course in philosophy; I haven’t read it, but it appears to be an evolutionary account written by a biologist that does not contain anything new, merely re-contextualizes existing knowledge in an elegant framework.

    See, the joy of absolutism is that you can just say you’re right, and objective, and that statistics are on your side, without providing any evidence of this. Your life is probably not without its own surprising difficulties, though. For instance, trying to rank all the Presidents, or figuring out which science is the most important of all sciences, or deciding what kind of music is good, and what is bad. Because there are answers, dammit, there’s always an answer!

    But you’re right. I’m clearly an idiot.

  30. My god
    at 7:52 pm on October 3, 2014

    if I thought for a second you knew anything about writing, and could possibly realize that form and content are intertwined, this conversation might be worth continuating, but your total satisifaction in being ahistorical, repetitious, self-righteous, ignorant, and convinced of an array of conspiracies, as well as being unable to make type/token distinctions nor understand a statistical argument, make this the equivalent of debating someone who believes the earth is 6000 years old.

    Also stop copying the form of my posts.

  31. timble
    at 8:17 pm on October 3, 2014

    Yes! Victory is mine!

  32. My god
    at 8:25 pm on October 3, 2014

    You won the moment you implied essays on menstruation should be just as likely to win awards as books on climate change. I was overcome with such sadness at the damage we’ve done to our culture that I could not, and cannot, continue.

  33. Ed Bast
    at 11:15 pm on October 3, 2014

    “I can think of obvious reasons why something that ended two-hundred and thirty-one years ago is not critically essential to human learning.”

    “Economics is about as serious as astrology.”

    We all lose.

  34. Eleanor Rigby
    at 4:48 am on October 8, 2014

    “For the women who are writing about “climate change, Tiananmen Square, the Declaration of Independence, and the Civil War” more power to them, but you don’t advocate more women writing about those things. You advocate changing the standards of what we find important, or worthy of award. Instead of urging women on to the goal-posts, you want to pick them up and move them somewhere else. I’m merely marking my disagreement.”

    I agree. The opposing argument is also unpleasantly essentialist and confining, in aligning women with the memoir/anecdote tendency and men with the “serious” political or survey work. It implicitly makes the landscape for women who write serious non-fiction that bit less welcoming – if even feminism isn’t backing them as much, because they’re taking up an allegedly “male” form – rather than one that probably just aligns with their interests and analytical way of seeing the world as individuals who are defined by a lot more than their gender.

    The “serious” type of book explicitly strives towards a wider relevance by its attention to currents in society, to statistics, to events that politically have an implication for populations. The sort of memoir, such as ‘How Should a Person Be?’, which is often lauded at the moment is relevant to a fairly narrow group that is also rather likely to include Millions readers. Its relevance often comes via identification rather than by making a sociological study of its subject. Memoir should be a category of its own, separate from the types of works which require substantive referencing and academic argument.

    “You won the moment you implied essays on menstruation should be just as likely to win awards as books on climate change. I was overcome with such sadness at the damage we’ve done to our culture that I could not, and cannot, continue.”
    I don’t know whether this is sarcasm or not. If the book on menstruation was a scholarly work, why not. But the anecdotal, this is my one personal experience, hear me roar, type of stuff, this is like the third-wave ‘isn’t it fun and cute to stay in the kitchen?’ idea. With some of us simply disagree with, and hope if does not go much further.

  35. My god
    at 2:31 pm on October 8, 2014

    @Eleanor Rigby

    Not trying to restart this – just clarifying my final comment, as I totally agree with you that in theory, essays on menstruation could be just as good as a book on climate change. My point was that it’s absurd to say that an equal number of awards should go to both topics, and it’s absurd to say there should be “equity” between non-fiction genres or topics. Clearly some topics are more rich, relevant, etc, as are some forms. That is, should books that contain no citations win NBAs with equal likelihood as those with citations? I think not.

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