Liz’s News of the Books

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The Women and Wikipedia

This always seems to happen–the literary world is as still as a pond, and then right as I start panicking and amassing my ways of insulting various authors of my acquaintance so as to manufacture my own controversy, some idiot somewhere does something. I feel like I’ve been hopping on the feminist bandwagon as of late, but here ya go.

So, Wikipedia apparently has separated out “American women novelists”  from “American novelists.” All the “American Novelists” are now male. Ok, yes, that’s a little bit insulting. But can we all calm down just for a second. While Wikipedia is kicking themselves for taking this step and quickly trying to correct it, it kinda makes sense. There were more than 3900 names on the American novelists list, and that was after taking off the women. Yay for the large amount of American novelists, but that does cry out for some organization.

What should have happened is that there’s no “American Novelists List” at all, or if there is, it’s a page composed of smaller lists: for instance, “American Male Novelists”, “American Women Novelists”, “American Hispanic Novelists”. Look, I’m sorry, if you have a problem with that sort of organization, I don’t know what to say. I admit it does group people by a certain characteristic that they cannot change, but it’s up to you to supply the positive or negative connotation of that characteristic. Wikipedia’s not saying, “these novelists are a minority so they are not as deserving of attention”. They’re just presenting them based on an interest many people might have and an organization many people might ascribe. I mean, would you honestly prefer a list of names? Then sure, do them in alphabetical order. Maybe that’s the fairest, most inoffensive way.

To be honest, I do have a preference for lists. Say I don’t know a lot about a particular group of authors, like Hispanic authors. I might know a few of the big names, maybe, but I’d like to know more. In that instance, I’d be quite happy for a page that groups Hispanic American authors together. It’d be a tool that enhanced discovery instead of fostering discrimination. It’s a tool I used when I was coming out of the closet and trying to find books I might want to read. I will be eternally grateful for the “Lesbian writers” list on Wikipedia in introducing me to Jeanette Winterson and clarifying Elizabeth Bishop’s sexual orientation.

I do understand why people are upset: in the current organization, it looks like female authors are being marginalized, and no subgroup of writers, organized by race, gender or otherwise, should be considered less deserving of attention. But I really, really doubt that was Wikipedia’s motive. Perhaps we’re all just a bit hypersensitive now, in a world still reeling from the VIDA count and reactions to it, and perhaps that hypersensitivity is a good thing. When hypersensitivity interferes with common sense, though, is when you start to understand why some people consider feminism a dirty word.

– Liz Baudler, Blogger

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