“We don’t publish poets; we publish poems.”
Jane Ciabattari: Women who write in the 21st century have wider opportunities than in the past. (At one point women wrote under male pseudonyms or used initials to disguise who they were. At one point literary magazines were filled with stories by and about men and no batted an eye) But we are not in a post-feminist world. If anything, there is a bit of a backlash against the “favored” aspects of affirmative action (Which is too bad, because the point was to restore equity, not swing back). Gender roles, if anything, have shifted back to the more traditional.
I suspect one reason the major raves for the new Jonathan Franzen novel rankle some women writers is that Franzen is writing a relatively traditional nineteenth-century domestic novel, a form perfected by women over the past century, and the response he is getting seems out of proportion.
Sometimes I think on some levels it boils down to empathy. Women in this culture have tended to be raised with a dual perspective, seeing both male and female points of view, and are educated to read and give critical responses to literature by men with primarily male protagonists (we all read Moby-Dick, right? and the major war novels) as well as books by and about women. Most men in this culture are not raised to have this gift for empathetic flexibility, nor offered the idea that books by and about women are of equal intellectual weight.
What we need, I think, is to open the doors of imagination wide rather than favor a few authors who write about a narrow economic niche. I’ve been excited over the past year to read the work of newcomer Tiphanie Yanique, short story master Yiyun Li, the amazing Lily Hoang, who breaks the mold and puts it back together again, Jennifer Egan, who is pushing the limits of fiction in new ways with each book, and I consider them on par with the male writers whose work seems fresh and exciting to me this year.