Of course they aren’t when you consider all writers of both sexes. Different? Yes. Some of each sex better than some of the other sex? Yes. The biggest question however, is–should similar writers be treated alike, no matter whether they are male or female? Well, what do you think?
Sara Paretsky thought women crime writers should have the same opportunities as men writing in the same genre. About twenty-five years ago she’d had enough. She wrote: “When I was in my early twenties and read Raymond Chandler for the first time, it hit home with me how fiction, especially American fiction, viewed women. Basically we were either sexual vamps who tried to make good boys do bad things, or we were chaste and virginal, in which case we couldn’t act at all. A lot of times we were just victims and our dead bodies were found horribly mutilated in suggestive places. I wanted to write a woman who would challenge these stereotypes. But it took me a long time–almost a decade–before I was strong enough to actually try writing a novel.”
And, of course, when she did, V. I. Warshawski, PI, was born.
Paretsky then became aware of how lop-sided the playing field was for female writers, especially mystery writers. Women’s books of any kind were rarely reviewed, and in all aspects of publishing and publicity they received much less attention than those of males. In fact, back in the 1980’s it was said you couldn’t be a success as a mystery writer unless you were an American male or a dead British female.
In 1986, Sara Paretsky and a few of her fellow female authors who were writing about strong women. formed Sisters in Crime. The stated purpose of the organization, which now has several thousand members, was, and is: “To combat discrimination against women in the mystery field, educate publishers and the general public as to the inequities in the treatment of female authors, raise the level of awareness of their contributions to the field, and promote the professional advancement of women who write mysteries.”
These efforts have been successful enough that today many female authors coming into the profession haven’t a clue to what struggles paved the way for their success. It’s much like all history. Our great-grandmothers struggled to earn the vote, and now we take voting so much for granted (as women) that we too often don’t do it. And, though women today still haven’t achieved total equity in pay or opportunity, our younger sisters in the United States sometimes don’t realize how hard their predecessors fought for these rights and how far we have come…as writers, as well as in all life.
So, hurray for Sara Paretsky and the sisters who joined her in the struggle for rights as authors that women can enjoy, twenty-two years later.