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It's not just the award-givers who recognize female talent. Readers do, too. Of the 10 best-selling books of the past decade, eight were written by women, including three by one woman in particular: E. L. James. (Incidentally, three of the best-selling titles have the word girl in them.)
The dominance of women in the book trade is most apparent in fiction. In New York magazine, Hillary Kelly argued recently that female novelists replaced white male authors in the 2010s, observing, “Over the past ten years, it was women who were celebrated for experimenting, women whose work redefined genres.” This phenomenon extends beyond, or below, the elite ranks as well. Flip through a publisher’s catalog or walk through the new-releases section of a bookstore: You’ll notice novel after novel written by women, with the men sneaking in like time travelers from the more masculine 20th century. I published a (not-celebrated) novel last year and never had the experience—so common in the sciences, in government, in Hollywood—of being the only woman on a panel. In fact, I participated in two or three in which the men took on the role of token and were expected to speak for a whole gender’s point of view.
It wasn’t always thus—obviously. Not long ago, it seemed the most famous up-and-coming novelists were all men named Jonathan (Franzen, Safran Foer, Lethem). And fiction, let alone book writing generally, is hardly an all-girls club; the most promising novelist in America is probably a man named Ben (Lerner). This feminizing trend, moreover, would have to continue for roughly 2,000 years to balance out the canon.
Still, the view from New York is markedly different than the view from Hollywood—with New York here being a metonym for the publishing industry, since, oddly, there is no metonym for the publishing industry.
The history of women’s rising literary success has yet to be written, but I suspect it’s an organic consequence of the long-standing fact that women read more than men, and more novels in particular. You have to grow up reading to want to grow up to write. The room-of-one’s-own problem once prevented most bookish girls from becoming authors. We’re only now seeing what happens when that constraint is lifted. Apparently when women have time to write, they find a ready audience.
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Or maybe the real answer is more depressing: Women are succeeding because men are no longer competing. They’re abandoning the field of literature as its commercial prospects plummet. Women read more than men—but Americans in general read very little. They watch TV instead. So writing-inclined men are following eyeballs and money to Hollywood. Michael Chabon used to be considered a great American novelist. Now he’s the showrunner for Star Trek: Picard.
Where all this leaves women filmmakers, I can’t say. But I suppose they can hope that Hollywood will eventually solve its problem by doing once more what it’s done so often before: Adapt a literary success for the screen.