Recently, my friends and I went to a reading at which five finalists for a literary award presented some of their work. Three of these finalists read snippets of fiction, and the other two read selections of their poetry. Four of these finalists were women, with one man standing among them.
Two women started off reading poems, and then another read selections of her fiction. All three were clearly strong writers, and I wouldn’t have questioned why they had all made it to the final round of consideration. They set a high bar.
Then, this man stumbled up to the stage and pushed the bar all the way down to the floor.
For starters, he acted out the reading in the most childish way possible. But I’ll ignore that. More importantly, the quality of his prose was appalling. While the women who read before him had clearly spent hours carefully choosing each word, he could have slapped his work together a few minutes before the reading started.
To be clear, it wasn’t just that I found the content of his prose disagreeable, although I did. It was basically a real-life fanfiction self-insert about how he fell in love with some racist biker girl who he could not have objectified any more if he had tried (I think every other sentence was about how big certain parts of her were).
But also, just the quality of his writing was cringeworthy. It really read like something an angry high school boy might have posted to a Reddit thread after getting rejected by his crush, except it went on for pages and pages.
It got me thinking: Why was he able to stand there alongside those powerful, talented women and read such utter bullshit?
This is a problem that comes up all the time in literature. Studies have shown that publishers tend to favor manuscripts with male names over those displaying female names. Men are used to the low standards that they’ve created for themselves through their domination of the industry.
We need to stop rewarding men for their mediocrity, because at some point they just get in the way. If it had been an open mic, I would not be complaining. Sometimes, people just need a place to debut some unrefined work.
But this was not an open mic. These were all finalists for the same award, and this intolerably weak writer probably took that finalist position away from someone who deserved it just because he’s been able to coast by on his poor writing for his entire life.
Of course, this reflects a larger problem that pervades a lot of industries — and society in general. Women have to be much better than their male counterparts to get the same recognition, and it’s time for that to change. Whether they are lazy, drunk or just plain bad, every man who gets undeserved recognition takes that recognition away from someone (read: some woman) who is more qualified.
The same can be said of many male-dominated industries. The women in these industries must push themselves far beyond anything their male colleagues can imagine. They work harder and longer and produce better content, but the men in the industry will act as though they should be happy with a fraction of the recognition.
I will admit, seeing four women and one man nominated for an award is great. But think about how much harder those women had to work, how much better their writing had to be, just to be published in the first place.
Saying that women shouldn’t have to be twice or five times as good as men to get the same recognition is fine, but that takes away from the fact that they are out here producing some amazing content.
Instead, let’s stop rewarding men for their mediocre work, and let’s shift the industry standards to reflect the quality that the minority of female writers are producing.
Publishers need to get their shit together and stop prioritizing manuscripts from men. Whoever was judging the submission for that award needs to reevaluate the candidates closely, as do the judges for awards all over the world who are more likely to favor a man’s manuscript just because it has his male name on it.
At Hopkins, we need to stop favoring male writers in Writing Seminars classes, adding Mary Flannery O’Connor as an afterthought and then acting like we’ve put together such diverse syllabi.
It has become increasingly clear that men can get by on mediocrity, while their female counterparts are held to impossible standards, and we have got to stop allowing this.
Jacob Took is a sophomore Writing Seminars, English and Russian major from Denton, Texas. He is a News & Features Editor.