Wednesday, June 21, 2017

gender + Spanish-language literature

para los profes de literatura/cultura:

I’ve been studying about cultural phenomena in Barcelona for almost half my life and in the last years it’s become more and more obvious and bothersome to me that the ideas and images I have about the city (and much more--about myself, others…) come from a male perspective, from authors, artists, etc. "La ciudad de los arquitectos" is actually the city of male architects. For a city that is abundantly documented (in painting, literature, film…), very few women have documented it.

Anyway, today I returned to La Central bookstore on C/ Mallorca. La Central is, I'd say, Cataluña's most important regional bookstore. It’s known to have a wide selection of books and it's a place that involves the surrounding literary community.

I go to the long table of Literatura Contemporánea Española y Latinoamericana. Their selection in this category is not exhaustiva, but it's good, they generally carry what you're looking for. The last couple years I noticed that the display area in this section is very masculine. Today I was extra bothered by it and so I decided to count to see if I was just imagining things or if my annoying feeling was justified. (When it comes to equality issues there’s always the unfortunate logic that credibility depends on quantitive evidence.)

Hypothesis: The majority of the books on display were written by males.
Pop-up methodology: Count the books and assume typical sex and general first name association (i.e. Ignacio = male). Use google or the about-the-author pic for unfamiliar names (i.e. Harkaitz).
  total books on display for Spanish and Latin American literature: 112
  male sounding names: 80 (71.4% of the books)
  female sounding names: 31 (27.7%)
  VVAA edited book with a variety of authors: 1 (doesn’t matter %)

For me what’s most troublesome is that, being relatively familiar with this bookstore and knowing some people who work there, I’m pretty sure that they did not deliberately, intentionally, decide to exclude women writers. Most likely they select the books that they think their patrons will find interesting. It’s not even a super capitalistic bookstore (La Central doesn't advertise, they offer free public events, and there's little pressure to buy--people go in there and sit for hours reading books without buying them). My guess is that they and most customers don't notice the gender imbalance (I don't have any numerical evidence!). So there’s this element of naturalness, randomness, just is-ness within a "progressive" intellectual venue where one wouldn't expect to see such male domination. Which means, at least, that the origins of this are really deep and buried.


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