In the interest of fairness I should point out that several of the panels I attended throughout the two days of the festival had only female authors, and others focused on the topic of diversity in children’s books and had suitably representative panels. But still … no funny women? Not a single one? I asked the guys that question and after some shame-faced seat shuffling they started to throw out names of funny women writers and titles of their books to reassure me that yes indeed women writers can be funny. That wasn’t really what I intended — I know there are funny women authors. I was hoping they’d start a discussion about what message kids might take from an all-white, all-male panel on humor, but they weren’t willing to take it on. It was a light-hearted event -- they had the audience in stitches most of the time -- and so perhaps they just didn’t think it was a suitable venue for such a heavy topic.
Does this matter? you might ask. Yet more carping from a woman on the topic of gender discrimination, you could say, rolling your eyes. But when the session was over a woman who had two mixed-race teenaged girls with her approached me and thanked me for raising the issue. Her girls were interested in writing and illustrating books and she said they needed role models who looked like them. Another woman thanked me too and said she wished the panel hadn’t skirted the issue, that it was such a big topic, that it sends the message to boys that they’re the funny ones and girls don’t rate.
Lately, there’s been much talk about gender bias in the publishing industry (such as reviewers reviewing more books written by men than by women, such as the number of times the Caldecott medal has been awarded to a male rather than a female illustrator, such as male authors getting bigger advances), but not much sign of change. If we want things to change, we have to keep asking the awkward questions and raising the issue.
Read More (click the bold text):
The Horn Book on the Caldecott Awards.
Route 19 Writers blog about the Caldecott Awards.
Shannon Hale's blog post about her experiences at schools where boys were not allowed to attend her presentation because she's considered to be a "girls' writer."
And the School Library Journal on the same topic.