Picoult ’87, Weiner ’91, Eugenides fight over gender remark
In the letter, bestselling authors Picoult and Weiner expressed their disappointment in Eugenides, a Pulitzer Prize winner, for not acknowledging the statistics that show the underrepresentation of female writers. Picoult and Weiner specifically refer to a comment Eugenides made in a long interview with Salon on Sept. 26, in which he accused Picoult of “bellyaching” by pointing out the gender disparities.
Eugenides was asked if his novel “The Marriage Plot” would have received different coverage if it had been written by a woman.
“I didn’t really know why Jodi Picoult is complaining,” Eugenides responded in the interview with Salon. “She’s a huge bestseller, and everyone reads her books, and she doesn’t seem starved for attention, in my mind — so I was surprised that she would be the one bellyaching.”
Picoult said in an interview with The Daily Princetonian that she took issue with his use of the word “bellyaching” to dismiss a very real phenomenon. She pointed out that according to VIDA, an organization founded in 2009 to explore critical and cultural perceptions of writing by women, female authors face a bias in the number of books that earn reviews from top publications.
Last year, The Atlantic reviewed 12 women and 24 men, The New Republic reviewed 21 women and 71 men, and The New York Times reviewed 641 women and 968 men.
“Professor Eugenides spoke without knowing the statistics,” Picoult said. “I wish he had them.”
Picoult and Weiner said they tried to contact Eugenides via email after the Salon interview but before they published their letter in the ‘Prince.’ Picoult said Eugenides initially recommended that the three of them meet up for a beer so he could explain his comments but that he later cut off contact with them.
Eugenides, meanwhile, said in an interview with the ‘Prince’ that he did not believe there was any real conflict among the three of them and that Picoult and Weiner were blowing his statement out of proportion to promote their own agenda.
“The only disagreement I’m aware of between me and Ms. Picoult and Ms. Weiner is their absurd assertion that I don’t care about my female students,” Eugenides said. “Like the editors of Salon.com, Ms. Picoult and Ms. Weiner are taking a single word out of the context of a long discussion and using it as a headline to their own ends.”
Picoult and Weiner expressed special concern that Eugenides, as a University professor, was teaching female students without being aware of the challenges they faced.
“The women Eugenides teaches will graduate into a world where their work is less likely to be acquired by publishers, where their books are less likely to be reviewed and where they are less likely to write for important publications,” Picoult and Weiner wrote in their letter to the editor.
Weiner said in an interview with the ‘Prince’ that she suspected that Eugenides chose to mention Picoult as an example of a commercially read woman who got a significant amount of attention, which was true but obscured the systemic inequality women confronted.
Picoult said she had never met Eugenides before, though she greatly appreciated his writing and did not know why he singled her out.
“It’s not nice to be singled out,” Picoult said. “It’s especially very unfortunate to be singled out by the professor of a program I graduated from.”
English professor and director of gender and sexuality studies Jill Dolan shared Picoult and Weiner’s view that the debate about gender inequality shouldn’t center on particular female writers that are successful but instead discuss the entire cultural climate facing female authors.
Picoult and Weiner both expressed hopes to visit the University sometime this year to talk about the different treatment female writers receive. Picoult returned this past spring for her 25th Reunion.