Monday, 27 April 2015

More on the Ladies

It's so hard to separate out the chatter in the newspapers and concentrate on the sensible stuff, don't you find? But there have been two articles recently that look at sexism in the German literary world and what happens to women writers and journalists. The first came from Mara Delius and was an opinion piece on why she's a feminist. It rather went under because it was followed up in Die Welt by an opinion piece on why another woman journalist isn't a feminist. And Delius's article isn't exactly ground-breaking; I'd say that's because it's pretty common sense for women to be feminists, but hey, that's just me. What I did find useful, however, was the very last section, in which she mentions some of the horriblenesses that have happened to her at the newspaper and also the fact that there are no women in senior positions in their arts section.

Cut to Dana Buchzik, who caused more of a stir last autumn when she (or the Die Welt sub-editor) suggested that the answer to sexism in the German literary business was a gender quota for awards. Now, I wasn't a huge fan of that idea because I think it would play into the hands of reactionaries who labour under the false impression that women have it easier. But Buchzik actually picks up that idea (calling these people "sensitive young men") and runs with it in an article in the taz last week about, you guessed it, sexism in the German literary world. Essentially, both articles contain the same unsavoury list of discriminatory, sexist and patronizing incidents that have happened to women writers in Germany. Or perhaps it's a different list and the fact that it seems familiar is simply down to all this sexism being such a tiresomely omnipresent phenomenon.

Shall I repeat it? It'll put me in a bad mood. Buchzik writes about sexual propositions and groping, about the dismissal of women writers as inferior or confined to the twee and domestic, about the gender pay gap, the sparsity of women in senior roles in publishing houses and newspaper arts sections, men denying there is a problem, and of course about the disparity of review coverage. There is no VIDA-style count for German book criticism – not yet, she writes, making my mouth water slightly – so we don't know the full extent of that gulf.

In fact, I've been trying to gather statistics on women in German publishing. I haven't found a breakdown of how many books are written by women and how many by men. What I have found is that the Künstlersozialkasse (an insurance institution for artists) has ten per cent more women members than male in its "Word" section, which covers writers, journalists and translators. There's also this study by the BücherFrauen on women in publishing houses. And – surprise! – women make up the majority of staff but tend to hold lower positions and tend to earn less, especially if they've had babies, while fathers earn more. The gender pay gap is one of the largest by industry in Germany.

I'm hoping someone out there will hear Buchzik's call for reliable statistics to back up feminist arguments, providing figures on men and women critics in newspapers, men and women writers, and books reviewed. I'm also hoping that slimy men will stop being slimy, in the German book world and elsewhere, and that I never again see a young writer being introduced in person to a literary prize judge at an intimate late dinner by a publisher (guess the genders here), and I'm hoping all men will be really great and supportive and take women seriously and write decent reviews while trying to forget what the writer looks like and also promote women in their departments and suggest women for jobs and never use the word Fräulein ever ever ever. So that women can just get on with being excellent.

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