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You have normal, and then you have normalette

So according to Wikipedia, you have American Novelists and then you have American Women Novelists, and no the first does not include the second – the two are intended to be separate, though the separation hasn’t been completed yet.

Gee, what a brilliant idea. You have normal, and then you have normalette. There are the Smurfs, and then there’s one Smurfette.

The intention appears to be to create a list of “American Novelists” on Wikipedia that is made up almost entirely of men. The category lists 3,837 authors, and the first few hundred of them are mainly men. The explanation at the top of the page is that the list of “American Novelists” is too long, and therefore the novelists have to be put in subcategories whenever possible.

Too bad there isn’t a subcategory for “American Men Novelists.”

Well you see being a man is what’s normal, so there’s no need to say it, while being a woman is weird and abnormal, so you have to say it. The condition of being female is marked, while being male is unmarked.

People who go to Wikipedia to get ideas for whom to hire, or honor, or read, and look at that list of “American Novelists” for inspiration, might not even notice that the first page of it includes far more men than women. They might simply use that list without thinking twice about it. It’s probably small, easily fixable things like this that make it harder and slower for women to gain equality in the literary world.

Professional victim! Drama queen! Diva! Sisterhood of the Oppressed!

I looked up a few female novelists. You can see the categories they’re in at the bottom of their pages. It appears that many female novelists, like Harper Lee, Anne Rice, Amy Tan, Donna Tartt and some 300 others, have been relegated to the ranks of “American Women Novelists” only, and no longer appear in the category “American Novelists.” If you look back in the “history” of these women’s pages, you can see that they used to appear in the category “American Novelists,” but that they were recently bumped down. Male novelists on Wikipedia, however — no matter how small or obscure they are — all get to be in the category “American Novelists.” It seems as though no one noticed.

I did more investigating and found other familiar names that had been switched from the “American Novelists” to the “American Women Novelists” category: Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ayn Rand, Ann Beattie, Djuna Barnes, Emily Barton, Jennifer Belle, Aimee Bender, Amy Bloom, Judy Blume, Alice Adams, Louisa May Alcott, V. C. Andrews, Mary Higgins Clark…

…and Smurfette.

Comments

  1. iknklast says

    This is why I dislike women’s studies, women in history, or a book I recently was assigned for a course I’m taking – women in American theatre. It makes the men feel better to shunt these out of the “regular” courses. They don’t have to learn about them, they don’t have to poison their minds with the thoughts of women, and they are able to relegate it to a different, inferior category. The instructor who was teaching the women’s studies classes at our college refused to teach them any more, because no men had taken them in the several years she’d been teaching.

    The entire category of women’s studies, designed with the idea of normalizing women, has done the opposite. It’s segregated us into our own little worlds, and allowed the men to further marginalize us. Same with black history – black history, women’s history, is just plain history. It belongs in the regular history courses, not shunted out as though it’s something shameful, irrelevant, or trivial.

  2. great1american1satan says

    Disagree with ya there, iknklast.

    The kyriarchy did the segregating. Women’s studies, Black History Month, etc. are meant to be supplemental – to provide additional information because mainstream history etc. don’t have enough focus on oppressed groups as it now stands. Changing that is going to be a lot harder than adding awareness programs.

    Wikipedia SHOULD have a women novelists page. But those women should also be included on the main novelist page. That way they are appropriately honored as real novelists like they should be, but can also be highlighted when someone wants to see a list of freakin’ women novelists. There’s good reasons to want that.

    There should also be a lost of Pacific Islander novelists, if they can find some, so Pacific Islanders who want to know don’t need to sift through 50,000 white guys to find that info. Dig?

  3. says

    Women’s history and black history do belong in the “normal” history books and courses, it’s true–but they’re not there right now, for the most part. So, we have this in the interim.

    I just think it’s funny, this thing with Wikipedia–guess what, Wikipedia editors are mostly men. Obviously someone intended to be sexist, but a lot of them did not intend it, but still didn’t notice when the active sexists were mucking about and messing things up for everybody. This is why having gender- and race- balanced staff/panelists/writers/whatever is important.

  4. rrede says

    @Iknklast: I teach marginalized literatures in my department (along with creative writing and critical theory)–now I’m in English, not History, but the shift in the two disciplines are fairly parallel.

    I didn’t get a degree in anything with “women” in the name of it (I graduated before those programs really got going) which meant that most of my courses in my undergrad and grad programs (Master’s) were dominated by male authors (and male faculty dominated in the department–all white, of course–including the two women out of eighteen faculty members). I got radicalized along the way, and stomped away from academia, and spent the next five years reading nothing but women authors (contemporary and historical) (amazing how many people thought that was sexist!). Then I picked up Alice Walker’s THE COLOR PURPLE and realized DOH I’d only been reading white UK and US authors…and started more reading–and then returned for a Ph.D.

    I’m currently teaching a women and sf course in my department’s women writers (which was started in the 1970s by The Department Feminist, who retired a few years after I was hired: she started it because the men in the department–there were only two or three women faculty, sigh, and yes, everybody was white, and almost everybody straight) taught only male authors. I sort of took over as Large Mouthy Department Feminist after she left.

    I also teach the African American literature course, and I teach some sf classes. THe survey courses tend to go for the Big Canon (although that canon is more diverse NOW than it was two decades ago).

    But I don’t teach in a women’s studies programs (only the biggest universities ever got those programs): it took a colleague in anthropology and me EIGHTEEN YEARS to get a little 18 hour gender studies minor approved here (last year)–the then president kept vetoeing it because girl cooties.

    So, yeah, consider me in the trenches in rural Texas. I teach the graduate gender theory course, and no, men do not take the classes (they’re not required).

    However, the women who take them are amazing.

    My response to your points:

    This is why I dislike women’s studies, women in history, or a book I recently was assigned for a course I’m taking – women in American theatre.

    I dislike what would be happening otherwise in many places: no focus on women at all or only a short unit at the end “added on” (ditto for people of color).

    It makes the men feel better to shunt these out of the “regular” courses. They don’t have to learn about them, they don’t have to poison their minds with the thoughts of women, and they are able to relegate it to a different, inferior category.

    True, probably, but again–alternative is not lovely egalitarian diverse courses that cover everything–not yet, anyway, not in a lot of schools (my little rural university is a lot more representative of the majority of universities in the US than the big flagships–and even there, especially in Texas, except maybe Austin, I bet there’s a lot of default to the men). I got into a major debate over at PZ’s blog when I was posting early on because, while I do not believe that men cannot be feminists (and know and appreciate some male feminists), I don’t consider it MY important duty to try to teach men about women’s contributions and/or feminism (they are not the same thing) — I’d much rather focus on women who are the ones who take my class. And sure, my work is seen as inferior (not only by some of the students but by certain colleagues–luckily most of the worst are gone nowadays, but I spent five years with no new graduate students in my grad courses because two male colleagues instructed all the incoming cohorts that my work, was crap: I do sff and fan studies and queer theory as well). One of those (gone now) also tried to deny me graduate faculty status (no money or status, just ability to direct disseratations) because he considered my scholarship crap. (I fought it, and got the process changed, and won that one–but it was one of many battles I’ve fought here).

    The instructor who was teaching the women’s studies classes at our college refused to teach them any more, because no men had taken them in the several years she’d been teaching.

    Well, that’s her choice, of course.

    Are all the other courses gender balanced in terms of content and faculty?

    The entire category of women’s studies, designed with the idea of normalizing women, has done the opposite.

    I don’t think that was actually the reason for women’s studies — though discerning intent is always dangerous. I think the impetus of many of the early women’s and feminist studies courses and programs in the United States as to challenge/change the academic world (ditto other programs tied to civil rights movements). I think that purpose has failed (in that academia has changed women’s studies/feminisms more than women’s studies/feminisms has changed the academy), but “Normalizing” wasn’t necessarily part of that earlier generation of feminists creating those spaces in the academy.

    It’s segregated us into our own little worlds, and allowed the men to further marginalize us.

    I get a fairly strong sense of ‘blaming the victim’ here–i.e. it’s all the fault of women’s studies programs that men are marginalizing women even more. I remember the 1970s, and being a student, and I can now look at my department (and again I emphasize my university has NO women’s studies programs) where there are a number of women, and things are very different.

    However, English as a discipline is very much marginalized in an academic culture that values the STEM fields, and multi million dollar grants. So English (not just women’s studies) is marginalized as well–but that has nothing to do with those feminists starting programs.

    Same with black history – black history, women’s history, is just plain history. It belongs in the regular history courses, not shunted out as though it’s something shameful, irrelevant, or trivial.

    It should be that way.

    But it’s not. And if the faculty isn’t careful, women’s history becomes all about white women; and black history becomes all about black men as Hull, Scott, and Christian pointed out way back in 1993: http://www.amazon.com/But-Some-Of-Are-Brave/dp/0912670959

    (A student evaluation in one of my 1990s women in literature courses said flat out that she didn’t expect to have to read works by Black women or Lesbians in a women writers course–students may not like English classes, but they come in knowing what “should” be there–which is pretty much dead white men).

    And the processes by which marginalized populations and histories were excluded from academic disciplines reflect the centuries of marginalization in mainstream cultures–that sort of historic, long-lasting, and systematic discrimination is not overcome in a few short decades.

    But the academy is not a utopia: gender and race discrimination are alive and well there (white women, in my discipline, have disproportionately benefited from affirmative action), in hiring, promotion, tenure, and curriculum.

    The choice isn’t between a curriculum that incorporates women’s, minorities, and labor/class histories and cultures in courses, and the segregated space that we have: the choice is between this space, and nothing else, at least in many places.

  5. says

    As a regular Wikipedia editor, thanks for bringing this up. I have put some of the offending articles on my watch list and will begin to reintegrate what and when I can.

  6. jamessweet says

    So according to Wikipedia, you have American Novelists and then you have American Women Novelists, and no the first does not include the second

    I don’t think this was quite true (it is certainly not true now), and I think the NYT article was a little misleading on this point. Note that the American Novelists category has a bajillion subcategories, of which American Women Novelists was one. The other subcategories do not exclude women. For instance, there is a subcategory for “American children’s novelists” that includes both men and women.

    This is not to say that everything is hunky-dory here, but the NYT article is misleading, as is your post based on it.

  7. jamessweet says

    Yeah, read the post Steve A.E. linked to. It is a very thoughtful and comprehensive examination of the issue, by someone who appears to care very much about gender issues and Wikipedia. As I said: Everything is not hunky-dory here, but nor is the situation anything like what is described in the NYT article. It’s much more complicated than that.

  8. Kate says

    To be fair, sometimes I am specifically searching out female novelists, but I concede your point. I guess they could solve the problem by making male (whatever) lists? Though that also excludes non-binary people, so I’m at a loss.

  9. latsot says

    Well you see being a man is what’s normal, so there’s no need to say it, while being a woman is weird and abnormal, so you have to say it

    Nonsense. In some professions it’s the other way around. For example, nurses, strippers and prostitutes are assumed to be female and it’s the poor males who have to be identified as the outliers. That’s totally the same thing, right?

    Oh, therefore feminazis.

  10. says

    The blogger Steve linked to seems to have some of her facts wrong, as a commenter demonstrated there, and appears to be attempting to debunk the idea that this was the result of a conspiracy by sexist Wikipedia editors, which, as far as I know, nobody was actually proposing.

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