Writing is probably the most equal of all professions. Women can rise all the way to the top; there is no glass ceiling. The pay is equally bad for men and women writers, and women writers who get publishing deals are paid the same for their deals as men. Yet a persecution complex persists among male writers. These writers create enclaves for themselves, with all-female magazines, blogs and prizes.
There are three things that particularly rouse their ire, but as a woman write myself, I believe their ire is groundless and I will tell you why.
- Women Writers Don’t Win Prizes
Women writers tend to feel a bit hard done by when it comes to winning the heavy-hitting literary prizes. So much so that a prize has been specially created for women writers. It’s given a different girly name depending on who’s sponsoring it, and at the moment, it’s Bailey’s. The awarding of this prize has been known to raise eyebrows, with some questioning the necessity of it.
A quick look at the prizewinners of three of the world’s biggest literary prizes, the Booker, the Impac and the Nobel, justifies their view. In the past seven years, three women have won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Six out of the past 10 Booker Prizes have been awarded to women and Hilary Mantel was awarded it twice! Women don’t fare so well with the Impac, the world’s richest literary prize. Only two women have won it in 18 years. Still, women writers can take a crumb of comfort from the fact that last year’s winner, was translated by a woman.
- The pink book syndrome
Many women writers of commercial fiction express annoyance in interviews at the trend towards packaging their books in pink covers, often with sparkles at the side, or a high heeled shoe on the front. They view that, and the accompanying chicklit tag, as an affront to their writer. ‘It’s not chicklit,’ they protest. ‘We write about issues, you know.’ They may indeed write about issues, often very skilfully, but that’s not why people read them. They read them to be swept along by a thumping good yarn, which takes them away from the daily grind for a while. And you have to be an accomplished writer to achieve that.
As for the chicklit tag, it is fair to say that these books remain within female territory, with themes like relationships, raising children, the struggle to lose weight and breast cancer. There is also a fair amount of talk about clothes and beauty products, and the characters have a great love of drinks with umbrellas in them. And women lap these books up. They enjoy seeing their lives reflected on the pages. So instead of chafing at the chicklit tag, why don’t these writers take pride in the fact that they write books that people want to read, that represent real women in real ways, and that sell by the truckload.
- Women Write Aga Sagas
On a similar vein, there is also a feeling that when men write on family and domestic themes, they are hailed as literary heroes, while their female counterparts are dismissed with that derisory term, the aga saga. But Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn was nominated for the Booker because of its subtle characterisation and atmospheric writing, not because he’s a man.
When women do write these nuanced, intimate portraits of family life, they are lauded for their efforts just as men are. Marilynne Robinson, author of Home and Gilead, has won the Pulitzer Prize, and Anne Tyler is regarded as a great American dame of letters.
Underlying these hang-ups is a fear of not being taken seriously. Some writers are so affected by this that they remove all trade of gender from their author name, going by their initials instead. JK Rowling makes quite a habit of it. They feel that readers will not buy their books if they know that a woman wrote them. But readers judge books by genre, style and quality more than they do by gender. If they choose to read more writers from a particular gender, it’s more a question of taste than whether a man or a woman wrote it.
Do you agree? Do you feel that women writers have these hang ups, or other ones that I haven’t covered? Are they justified in their fear of not being taken seriously? Or am I talking a load of rubbish? let the debate begin.