Top 10 Books of 2009 (Girls Need Not Apply)

By now, I imagine many of you have seen Publishers Weekly’s roundup of the ten very best books of 2009, a list which just happens to only include male authors.  Sure, the girls made it into some of the secondary lists, but the ten best?  All boys.

I would also check out Lizzie Skurnick’s response at Politics Daily, which included this bit from PW: “We wanted the list to reflect what we thought were the top 10 books of the year with no other consideration . . . We ignored gender and genre and who had the buzz . . . It disturbed us when we were done that our list was all male.”

So here’s my question: What should PW have done when they realized they had come up with an all-male list?

We pause now for the predictable response.

“You keep your quotas off of us, you damn, dirty PC police!”

Right.  Moving on, the thing I don’t get is that the folks at PW say they were disturbed by this, but they don’t appear to have done anything about it.  Did they ever take that next step and ask, “Why, if we were truly ignoring gender, did we still come up with an all-male list?  We’re talking less than a 1 in 1000 chance of this happening purely at random*, which suggests maybe we weren’t as gender-blind as we thought.”

Our own biases are hard to face.  It’s easier and safer to turn the blame outward or make excuses:

  • It’s just one list, and we have girls in some of the others!
  • Maybe more men published good books this year.
  • It’s the story that counts, not the gender/race/etc. of the author.
  • Women helped to make this list, so it can’t be sexist!
  • Maybe women should be proactive and start writing better books!

I could go on and on listing reasons that basically amount to “It’s not my fault,” and “I’m not sexist!”  We could spend the whole month debunking most of those reasons.

But in the end, Publishers Weekly published this list.  They were aware enough to recognize something wasn’t right, and I give them props for that.  But that’s much easier than actually taking responsibility.  We can say, “Oh look, a list of all men.  That’s gonna be a problem, because those bloggers are going to raise hell that we didn’t include a token woman.

Or we can stop making excuses and try being accountable for our own choices and behaviors.  We can say, “I tried to be  gender-blind about this, but ended up with an all-male list.  Huh.  I didn’t consciously try to pick only male authors, but maybe I’m not as gender-blind or unbiased as I thought.

Nobody’s asking for quotas.  Me, I’m just asking people to grow up and take responsibility for their choices.  Yes, we’re talking about an industry-wide issue that affects publishing on many different levels.  But the industry is made up of individuals, and every one of us, myself included, has our own biases and prejudices. We can ignore them and make the same tired excuses, or we can face them and try to do better.

We all mess up.  I just wish more folks would own up to it when it happens.

*Assuming a 50/50 breakdown of male and female authors.