When my story about gender bias on NPR ricocheted through Twitter, I
received a tweet from @HashHags letting me know that they didn't fit
the bill. Hash Hags,
a weekly NPR radio show hosted by authors Julie Klam, Ann Leary and Laura Zigman,
is broadcast in New York and Connecticut and has a healthy online following.
What's more, 95% of their guests our women. I gave them a call last week.
ME: What do
you make of the review bias against female novelists?
When this whole discussion started, I didn’t really understand it. I sort of
thought, what are these women complaining about? As a person often
accused of writing chick-lit, I didn’t understand the issue. More recently, I
understand it more. . . There really is this discrepancy in the numbers.
LEARY: First of all, being slightly narcisistic, we
thought of ourselves [when we read your story] because we have mostly women on
our show. It was also not a conscious decision. . . We book someone if we think
they'd be a compelling guest, and it just so happens that we think women are
really funny. It’s much easier to talk to women about a wider variety of
was surprised of the numbers you had in your piece [about NPR gender bias]. We
were talking earlier about whether there was some kind of unconscious,
collective thing we do in a society. People have observed teachers who say that
they’re not biased, that they're actually feminists, but unconsciously they
tend to favor the boys: they call on boys more, they give the boys more
affirmation, and they tend to have the boys sit in the front. It's often
because boys sometimes don't behave as well as girls. When I read your piece
about how this thing is going on with NPR and the New York Times and
different reviewers, I was wondering if maybe male writers aren’t a little bit
more forward, not aggressive, but assertive. Somebody else may
have raised this issue the first time around, but I thought that was a really
interesting point because most book buyers are women.
ME: How do you feel when your books get pigeonholed as chick lit?
It never bothered me because I don’t care about a lot of things like that; I
was always just glad to have my book published.
was always a derogatory term, but now it’s a super-derogatory term.It's an
insult. Somebody on Twitter was writing to me because she really wanted me to
write for her blog. She thought [chick lit] was a compliment. She was like,
“You know, I read your book and I really liked it, and I don’t normally read that
kind of stuff.” I’ve never unfollowed her, but I've never written for her
again. That's when it insults me. It’s not that we see shame in it, but it’s
the way people have come to use it to say [something] isn't literary writing.
I was a publicist in the 80s and 90s at Knopf and
Random House, and I remember when the Jonathan Franzen happened with Oprah’s
Book Blub. Even before the Franzen thing, there was this sense about Oprah
picks -- like, ew. I was offended by that sense [that] there are books
that are acceptable. People are reading; let them read what they want. What
business is it of ours to tell people what we think of what they're reading?
ME: When you started this show, were you trying to address
We tried to address the need for a funny show. We all met on Twitter. When we
got together, we noticed that the three of us didn't talk over each other;
there was really good balance and I think that was a sign from the Lord. We
have a lot of fun doing it, and I think on a small community-based radio
station, there’s not a lot of restrictions. We have a lot of freedom, and
that’s what makes it fun for us.
ZIGMAN: Our Twitter feeds are full of really interesting women.
There are way more female writers on Twitter than big best selling male
writers. Our feeds are filled with hilarious, interesting, sometimes whiny
Actually, I would be interested in knowing if men
social network as much as women. I know I’m all over Facebook and Twitter, and
my husband [Denis Leary] sold a best-selling book of his tweets, and he honestly doesn’t
know how to get on Twitter. He writes them and his assistant enters them in.