Where are the girls?
In her review of the Edgar nominations last week, the excellent Sarah Weinman bemoans the lack of women in the Best First category. Yeah, Sarah, I know: I was the chair. I also, a year ago when I was putting together the committee, took care to balance it: two men, two women (plus me); thrillers and cozies; Left Coast and Other. And when the ballot came down to it, that’s what we said, too: Where are the girls?
The women Sarah mentions (and do look at her web site, whose address is http://www.sarahweinman.com although I can’t get the Blogger software to create a link on my Mac, another form of discrimination that needs to be addresed) as I was saying, the women she singles out did indeed write appealing books, just not quite as appealing–TO THE FIVE OF US, let it be said–as the books that ended up on the list. And although I admit that affirmative action might work in academia, we couldn’t really feel justified in giving extra points to the women just because they were women. So we gulped, and voted, and that’s the list we came up with.
Now, I don’t want to make a big thing out of one Edgar list–next year it might be all women. But how long has it been since that happened? Just glancing over the last ten years of Best First nominees (see the MWA website–and I agree, this lack of linkability is a pain) I see none that have more than three of the (usual) five, and it’s generally one or two women among the boys.
I know that women can write as well if not better than men. And I know the mystery world is one place where women have been given free rein since the Thirties. Women write about half the mysteries out there, give or take a percentage point or five. So why don’t we win half the awards?
We can’t even blame the publishers for not submitting books, since our committee actively asked booksellers for their recommendations and were alert for any positive review for a purported first novel, hunting it down and ripping it from its publisher’s reluctant hands. A thing that not all the committees did, I agree, hence the number of Law and Order nominations.
Women have the skill and the heart to write on a par with men. But there’s also the undeniable fact that we women in general spend our energies in a lot more directions then men do. I’ve been a professional writer since 1993. During that time I’ve also done the bulk of work when it comes to raising kids, keeping a house together, organizing a family’s lives, and all the rest–I’m even the household handyman. I can’t help wondering if my books might have been just a bit better, more focussed, more intense, if I’d been able to concentrate on nothing but the writing stuff during that time. As, I’m afraid, a lot more boy writers do than girls.
All of which seems to come around to the topic that I worked on with my very first novel, Why are there no female Rembrandts?
Maybe we’re just not big enough bastards to tell the world that our time and our needs are more important than theirs.
What do you think?