Monday, November 8, 2010

Hangin' With the Ladies

It’s no secret that the gender ratio of the publishing industry favors the fairer sex. Because there are so many young ladies walking our halls, and the halls of publishing houses across the city, it’s always fun to have a brave young man dropped into the mix to shake things up. Recently I caught up with Andrew Carlson, one of only two male editorial assistants on our floor, to discuss the perks and pitfalls of being so outnumbered.

Were you an English major?

Yes. You’ve seen me try to do math, haven’t you? Where I make that face like I’m concentrating really hard? The playing guitar face?

I ask because college English departments tend to skew towards the female as well, so I thought you might have some practice in this?

I think the population of my department was pretty evenly distributed by gender. But we sat on opposite sides of the seminar table. Kidding. Kind of.

Had you heard before moving here to pursue publishing that the females outnumbered males by such a wide margin?

I knew nothing.

Has being surrounded by all the bright, brilliant young ladies here given you any particular insight into the female psyche?

I don’t think it has. Do you think it has?

What about the book group we have—have you been surprised at all by the interpretations your female co-bookclubbies have lent to your reading of classic books?

The only thing in my experience I could compare our bookclub to would be a film club that a couple friends and I ran in college. Basically, we’d watch really snooty movies and then sit around and argue about them for a couple hours. The conversations were aggressive. I can’t imagine why our girlfriends ever came along. It must’ve been a horrible, pathetic spectacle. It was fun.

This bookclub you refer to is quite different. Not that it isn’t fun as well. It is. I meant it’s a girl’s club rather than a boy’s club. (Thanks for letting me join anyway.) And I’m fascinated by how the dynamics of the conversation differ. In a lot of ways, it’s what you’d expect. Fewer jokes about phallic imagery. More talk of dating. More talk of chicken. More consideration given to the feelings of other participants—you know, trying to disagree without giving offense. I’m trying to think of ways in which the differences might be unexpected . . .

That has nothing to do with what you asked. No, in short, I don’t think my reading of Ulysses changed in any specific way based on our discussions. Although I always enjoy the discussions, and am very impressed by what everyone brings to the table.

While there aren’t many male editorial assistants here there are a lot of male editors—does the fact that you’re relatively few in numbers bring you closer/foster closer relationships between the fellas who ARE here.

Do men around here bond, if they bond, because there are relatively few men? I don’t think so. It’s not as if I have the sense of being under siege, or something. Of needing to band together for support or huddle for warmth. I’m not aware that anyone else feels that way, either.

Now that you’ve been slogging away here for almost two years, have you gained any insight into why the imbalance exists? We do a lot of male oriented books—what keeps more gents from joining the industry and what about our life here is particularly attractive to the fairer sex?

That’s an interesting question. I think it’d be some sort of fallacy to comment on the industry as whole based on what a novice like me has seen. There may be one or two ways in which our happy family turns out to be sort of different. Is it the case that all other publishers are as skewed? I think FSG—a great publisher—has more young dudes in editorial. But I could be wrong about that. Anyway, that would be purely anecdotal, too. As for why women are still drawn to an industry that over-represents a male point of view—and I agree it does—I couldn’t say. You should ask Larry Summers or Karl Marx. I mean, is there an industry that doesn’t over-represent a male point of view?

I’d throw out, too, that there are other lines you could use to divide this stuff up. We’ve talked about how there are more women than men in publishing and about how, relative to gender distribution in the industry, there are more men in high-level positions. But it seems to me it’s also the case that people of color and people whose families were less well off, who maybe didn’t get go to elite schools where their professors were famous writers or editors, are under-represented at every level. Which is just to say that the Question of Women in Publishing probably isn’t at all specific to publishing, but maybe just throws into relief patterns that you could see variations of elsewhere.

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