The #readwomen challenge (where you decide to only read women writers for a set period of time) is not new, Lilit Marcus already gave it a higher profile in 2013. However, it appears there is still a need for it to be spotlighted. The recent backlash to the new Ghostbusters movie (co-written by a woman) indicates that creative productions with women in pivotal positions may be met with derision from certain corners of the internet. The only way to move past that, is to move past it. To push these creative productions even harder. To not give in to those denouncing such creations. Female-friendly productions (such as Magic Mike XXL, Mad Max: Fury Road, the Pitch Perfect series) can be blockbusters. All those movies made noticeable profits, most of them with female-skewed audiences. So why is it that as soon as women move in on anything (computer coding, remaking movies, creating transformative fan works, writing in a specific genre), that thing is suddenly beneath men? (We all know why). And the institutional aspect of patriarchy is why the #readwomen challenge is still relevant, even over half way through the year.
I decided to set myself that challenge and only read books written by women for the entirety of 2016. I know for a fact that because of doing this challenge, I’m reading more, I’m reading books I otherwise might not have picked up, I’m discovering amazing stories, and I’m finding voices that I would never have heard. Yes, I mainly pick books in genres I personally enjoy. And yes, obviously a book written by a woman isn’t better than a book written by a man solely because it is written by a woman. There are some truly horrible books by women out there. I myself have read some of them. The thing is, without this challenge, it is more likely than I’d really care to admit that I wouldn’t have read any of them. Good, bad, horrible, and amazing alike. And that is a shame.
So, I changed my reading behaviour as a personal challenge and exercise. Then I went to a panel at Waterstones Piccadilly about feminism in YA, and one of my main takeaways was that readers have the power to influence the agenda of publishers. If readers are vocal about their likes and dislikes, if they put their money where their mouths are, it is more likely to see a change in the publishing industry. Women are being published, that was never in question. But the manner in which they are published, reviewed, promoted, all contribute to their reach. In this regard, I believe the publishing industry is in sore need of a change. Executive positions are still largely held by men, and the industry is overwhelmingly white across the board. How then can we expect these books to reach their desired audiences. Keeping that in mind, I decided to keep track of my progress on a blog. That way, I can share these books with whoever wanders by, and this personal challenge might actually exert some kind of influence as well. On this blog I also share resources to diversify your reading (in many different ways), and I joined the #diversebooks2k16 challenge, where each month has a different goal (e.g. reading books written by women of colour, or set in a less popular area, or about mental health issues).
Rather than limiting myself by eliminating so many writers from my reading this year, I feel like I have been opening myself up to so many unheard voices. And the great news is: there are always more voices to listen to. J.K. Rowling especially has experienced the two sides of that specific coin – she is generally lauded for having a black actress cast as Hermione in the new stage play, while many American voices found themselves ignored in her American-based magic school, and the world she created for it. The ways we tell stories are changing. The ways we share stories are changing. The ways we engage with stories are changing. And all of those changes mean there are more platforms and more ways for more voices to find an audience.
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