Sunday, June 27, 2010

Most readers are sad!

Here's a bit of news, at least for some of us, from Russell Smith, Globe and Mail, June 24, 2010, under the heading, "Sex and the Literati." (Smith is writing about the publishing industry in Canada.)
It's an unusual industry: one dominated by highly educated and intelligent women, many of them young. Most of the high-up executives on the commercial side of publishing are still men. The literary side is female. Most of the editors-in-chief of the major publishing houses are women; most of the publicists are women; almost all the agents are women; the powerful CBC Radio programs that discuss books are hosted by women; most of the readers are women; the single powerful bookstore chain in the country is run by a woman. And it is a highly social industry, because social events promote books: Anyone who works for a publishing house must attent, as part of work, frequent evening book launches, book fairs, and literary festivals, and they are all soaked in booze. So are most of the writers....Every female literary publicist has groan-inducing stories about the lecherous male authors she must pick up at the airport, dine with and generally take care of.
(He then goes on to ridicule the male writers who take advantage of this situation, since, as he himself says, as a writer of a recently published novel, "I want these people working for me, making me look good, so why would I be so foolish to take advantage of the situation" while working with beautiful women.)

Pragmatic, and socially and professionally responsible, Mr. Smith surely is. But, it is the culture of the industry, dominated by females (except the top jobs which the women will want, if they do not already)that disturbs. There are other industries that are similarly dominated by women; not that they are not worthy, nor appropriately qualified, nor doing a lousy job. Yet, are there no men willing to step into the fray as editors, or as hosts of "book-talk" shows on radio. I recall one such, Evan Solomon, who has since moved to "Power and Politics" on CBC television. He was both intelligent, and competent and one has to wonder if he "moved on" because of the culture.
There is a difference between an industry dominated by men, because when they arrived, women were not dominating the undergraduate programs, nor the graduate programs and this situation. Men behave differently in the workplace, from women. Men are competitive, solo-flyers, and generally do not take fools kindly. Of course, there are occasional "yes men" whose obsequiousness is obvious to everyone within a mile of the office. However, with women, there is a "pack" mentality, with all women looking out for all other women, almost as a political, cultural, economic movement.
So long as men continue to fly solo, and continue to compete with their peers, and women form alliances, circles if you like, against the enemy "men" the erosion of many workplaces, both in balanced perspectives and in balanced policies and practices will continue. In the short run, there are some significant advantages for women; however, in the long run, this "victory" in numbers will come back to haunt the society because as one U.S. college senior co-ed put it in the Altantic article, this week, entitled, "The End of Men," ...
"Men are the new ball and chain!"
Some ball, some chain! I competely reject her assertion, because if that is the summary of the attitudes of the kind of women who dominate the literary industry in Canada, the non-drinking male authors will refuse to deal with the industry as it exists. Can anyone imagine a talented male writer submitting his maniscript to a herd of female editors, like the senior co-ed from the U.S. quoted above? I can't and likley neither can you!
Let's re-examine, "Most of the readers are women!" from Smith's article.
This is a scathing criticism of the school system that produces so few male "readers". This is a social phenomenon the implications of which are tidal. It is true that books (novels, plays, poetry and short stories) are about relationships, since there are so many women interested in examining every nook and cranny of every relationship. And it is time that men began taking an interest in this very important and potentially life-giving subject,relationships, especially when, as a man, he can fully appreciate its nuances, its multiple complexities, its many gifts and it many opportunities for him to get to know himself, as never before, not to mention to get to know his partner, and his children. When fully engaged in a relationship, he will come to be "known" in ways never before even contemplated given the uniqueness of this time in his life.
And without reading, and without curiosity, and without stretching his imagination, all of this will pass over him like a rainbow over his "dazed eyes", without stirring a ripple in his consciousness. And he will blindly go out to his next design, or deal, or hiring or firing...confirming his agreement to be slotted under the file, "FUNCTION" if he were a human "doing" not a human being!
I recall a set of proposals for a newly generated board of directors for an arts non-profit with which I was involved. The instigator of the new board laid out a set of objectives for the first year of the board's work. One of the members, a male accountant, read the few pages dealing with "establishing and enhancing relationships" and commented, "You don't want us to do anything about this do you?" as if to say, board's deal only with money, and certainly not with relationships....Needless to say, that was my last meeting with the group. Without relationships being built, re-built, enhanced and sustained, the organization was going nowhere fast. Yet the accountant had no capacity to comprehend that concept, and he was not amenable to learning it.

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