Middle Sex

Eugenides’ first response to being asked about whether books by men and women are received differently is to name three women who write well-regarded literary fiction — Zadie Smith, Joyce Carol Oates, and Alice Munro. He’s right, of course, that they’re heavily covered and well-reviewed. But the argument has never been that there are no recognized women writers of literary fiction, so the existence of three isn’t determinative. Both conscious and unconscious bias often don’t lock a door completely as much as make it much harder to open. Those women would exist whether there was bias or not. That’s why you can’t answer a question about racial issues in Hollywood by putting your hands over your ears and yelling “WILL SMITH AND DENZEL WASHINGTON!*

I’ve been thinking something much along these lines myself in regard to country music. Here’s a quiz: Off the top of your head, name as many female solo performers as you can who had their first country top ten in the last five or six years. I’ll give you the first three: Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert. If you can name any others, you’re one up on me (there have been some, but most, such as Sunny Sweeney, have been one-shots who slip quickly from memory). At the same time, there has been a flood of interchangeable male country singers telling us about their trucks, their beer, and their women: Jake Owen, Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, Billy Currington, Eric Church, Justin Moore, Kip Moore, Greg Bates, Dierks Bentley, Brantley Gilbert, Zac Brown, and on and on. Of all of them (and there are a lot more), only Church comes close to the level of talent of those three women. There’s no doubt that women can be successful in Nashville if they’re supremely talented, or a genius. But if they’re just above average or mediocre? Forget it. Only white males get to be mediocre and still have a career. Which doesn’t mean I want the country charts filled with mediocre women at the same levels as mediocre men. I’d much rather get rid of the men. But looking at the top of the heap is never going to give you an idea of the real state of things. We’ve reached a point where, thank God, the best will generally rise to the top, regardless of gender or race. It’s all that room in the middle that needs to be dealt with. You know, the zone where most people actually live.

*I copied this from Katherine St. Asaph’s Tumbler, and you can find the full piece here.