Think the Publishing Industry Is Genderblind? Think Again.

By the time we reach a certain level of professionalism, most of us would like to believe that our work speaks for us. Sometimes this is not the case, we reason—like when the hiring manager is an old nemesis from high school—but it’s largely what we do, not who we are, that determines our success. Although I am well-aware that not even men can get by on their merits these days, I also know that women absolutely cannot afford to navigate the working world with this rose-tinting philosophy.

Why? Because we’re still stuck in high school; society at large still treats us the same as the crude, ignorant, and even loathsome young men with whom we were forced to attend classes. All of the awful things we heard back then are still being said, except now the words come from the mouths of hiring managers instead of halfbacks. Most unfortunate: some of our fellow women hold on to gossipy, vindictive, and self-hating mentalities as well. The lack of personal growth in these people leads to the monolithic and interconnected institutions that foster and maintain their attitudes: a vicious cycle.

Look up an advice column pertaining to women’s workplace dress codes and you’ll find a series of contradictory statements: dress for your figure, but don’t show off your body; you should look professional, not vampy or matronly. A man might be judged on the cut of his suit in an interview, but a woman’s hair, nails, makeup, jewelry, and purse are all under intense scrutiny. And because of the cultural stereotype that portrays women as rabid, shoe-obsessed shopaholics, following these rules means setting ourselves up to be dismissed as frivolous.

Before I researched this article, the last place I expected to find this kind of sexism at play was the publishing industry. After all, the last four blockbuster film series all were based on books written by women. In the back of my mind, I knew J.K. Rowling changed her name—even going so far as to adopt a second initial when, in reality, she has no middle name—because she was advised that boys would not read books with female bylines.

But surely, I thought, surely that must have changed by now. After all, everyone knew she was a woman after her first book was such a success, and the fans kept reading, male and female alike. Then I remembered Rowling writes and publishes her new crime series under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith; her professional name is androgynous, but her nom de plume is wholly male.

Rowling obviously isn’t alone, but the fact that she dove under the cover of an even more masculine pen name for her Cormoran Strike series speaks volumes about the state of the publishing industry today. Saying even more is this year’s VIDA report, which found a 5:1 ratio between men and women published in major literary magazines and journals. Five to one. The numbers are depressing. I don’t want to look at them. The worst part comes when you realize that this gender bias is driven by the exact same patriarchal philosophy that tells me to show off my curves, only to use the next breath to castigate me as a slut for doing so.

So, what’s a woman writer to do? Whatever she damn well pleases. I’m judging the industrial stereotypes, not the individuals. If writing under a male pseudonym feels right, then do it. There are so many variables at work in that decision that even a flow chart wouldn’t work to navigate it, so far be it from me to sit in my ivory tower and make your career choices for you.

But, I implore you, don’t buy into the myth that boys will only read books by and about other males. Women don’t just write vapid fairy stories about frenemies and shopping and vampires. We don’t leave the writing of literature to men.

Have a story about sexist workplace discrimination or publishing bias? Think I’m wrong about all this? Leave me a comment!