By Kerry Clare
I still think it’s strange that as an idea, CWILA is divisive. It’s sort of like when I discovered feminism at age 20 and thought that if only everybody could be so enlightened, then sexism would magically disappear. That the world was just that simple and that other people were likely and looking to change.
It was the same thing with the pie charts, concrete evidence of a vague sense that had been making me cranky for years. Finally! I thought. Now that the problem was named, we would embark upon solving it. Editors and writers, men and women together, pitching in for justice, for representation. The omission of women’s voices from public discourse was a wrong that would finally be righted.
I should have known better. And now I do, but I still will be making a donation to CWILA once again in 2014.
First, because the pies are making a difference. Quite a few people don’t like what they stand for, or don’t like what they’re saying (or something. Truth be told, I don’t really understand, though I’ve tried) but they those pies are changing our publications for the better. The 2013 CWILA numbers reflect a significant change from 2012, writers and editors now working with an awareness of gender representation in what they read, write and publish. And that’s huge. I want to make sure the count continues into the future, is even expanded, and that the “counters” are properly compensated for their work.
Second, because the numbers don’t speak for themselves, at least not to everybody. And to that end, CWILA is about more than just pies. Their website is vibrant and full of information, they publish timely essays and blog-posts to give their numbers context, and the critic-in-residence program is a fantastic initiative. I want to get behind that.
Third, because the conversation has gone beyond the CWILA website and even vitriolic Facebook threads. Between CWILA and VIDA, a real shift is occurring in the critical landscape. 4/5 of the top fiction books of 2013 were written by women, according to the New York Times. Lilit Marcus wrote about having only read female authors in 2013, and I appreciated her insights on the experience. Ayelet Tsabari has been inspired to only read writers of colour in 2014. Roxane Gay is curating a series at Salon for feminists of colour. I loved Pasha Malla’s recent piece in The Globe and Mail about how he has read with an awareness of gender this year, and how his reading experience has been enhanced accordingly. Note: he didn’t mention negative reviews, Michael Lista, Jan Zwicky or even CWILA in his piece, but his example is why I donated to CWILA in the first place, way back in 2012. Without CWILA and VIDA, it’s unlikely that Malla would have had the epiphany that led to him writing his piece, a piece which is CWILA’s mission in action. It’s a piece that suggests that people are more open to change than my cynical self might appreciate. More women writers are being read and considered in criticism. I want this trickle-down effect to continue.
And so this is why I will be donating to CWILA again in 2014, which is the privilege of a brand new year. Because we’ve come so far but there is so much road left to travel, and because it’s the right road and we have absolutely no reason to stop.
Kerry Clare is editor of the essay collection The M Word: Conversations About Motherhood, which is forthcoming in April. Her book reviews have appeared in Canadian Notes & Queries, The Globe and Mail and The National Post. She blogs about reading and writing at Pickle Me This and is editor of 49thShelf.