A Word on Women Writers.Or, What Does My Future Hold?

OK, this is going to be a little long, but bear with me for I think this is a very important topic.

I read an overwhelming amount of YA books, an area where female writers are both prominent and dominant, so I had no idea of the problems facing women writers, had no clue that a problem even existed. Everywhere I looked the shelves where overflowing with female authors.

So expect my soul crushing disappointment to find out that there is actually a problem. One of the most devastating things to find out was that some men won’t read a book if it is written by a woman. Jaw-dropping, I know. I have joined the Australian Women Writers challenge this year for this very reason. I was already reading Australian women writers anyway and wanted to help bring them into focus on a larger platform, and the AWW challenge has helped me to do that. (Find out more about the Australian Women Writers challenge over at: http://australianwomenwriters.com/2013-challenge/sign-up/)

Recently I read three articles that have brought some startling revelations to my attention.

First, in the article ‘My So-Called ‘Post-Feminist’ Life in Arts and Letters’by Deborah Copaken Kogan, I found out that ‘the number of reviews of books by men is greater than the number of reviews of books by women; the number of male reviewers is greater than the number of female reviewers. Men, in other words, are still the arbiters of taste, the cultural gatekeepers, and the recipients of what little attention still gets paid to books.’

Deborah wrote: ‘My latest novel was just long-listed 
for Britain’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, formerly known as the Orange Prize. I cried when I heard. Then I Googled it. Here are a few things I learned: it was founded in response to the 1991 Booker Prize, whose nominees were all men; it is frequently modified by the adjective “prestigious”; and it is controversial. Why do we need a separate prize for women, ask the columnists, year after year, in one form or another, following the announcement of the nominees.’

She ends the article by saying: ‘The Women’s Prize for Fiction—and three cheers for the transparency of its new name—is not a “sexist con-trick” by any definition of sexism that I know. To the contrary, it redresses centuries of literary sexism, exclusion, cultural bias, invisibility. There’s a reason J.K. Rowling’s publishers demanded that she use initials instead of “Joanne”: it’s the same reason Mary Anne Evans used the pen name George Eliot; the same reason Robert Southey, then England’s poet laureate, wrote to Charlotte Brontë: “Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life, and it ought not to be.” In fact, I’m thinking about starting a women’s prize here in the United States, to be given out once a year, every year, until gender parity in the arts is achieved.’

You can read the full article here:http://www.thenation.com/article/173743/my-so-called-post-feminist-life-arts-and-letters?page=0,0

I was then reading an article over at smh.com.au about Australia’s own prize for women writers. The stella prize, worth $50,000, was set up after it was noted that in 2009 and 2011, the Miles Franklin Award had all-male shortlists. Since its launch in 1957 a woman has won 13 times (including four times by one woman, Thea Astley).

The article tells us, ‘In Britain the Booker Prize fares slightly better, with Hilary Mantel entering the literary stratosphere by winning it twice. But don’t get excited. Only 16 Booker winners since 1969 have been women…’ and then asks, ‘So why the discrepancies? Who knows, shrugs author and Stella founder member Sophie Cunningham, but there are plenty of theories. Men are better at putting themselves forward; they have more support in their writing career; there is a perceived notion that they write about big ideas whereas women stick to smaller canvasses; they read differently. Men tend to buy books written by men, or that have a male protagonist. As one female author wryly noted, the best way to get on a shortlist is either to have a manly name, such as Hilary Mantel, Pat Barker or A. S. Byatt; or have a strong male voice dominate the narrative.”

You can read the full article here: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/sisters-are-doing-it-20130411-2hmd9.html

And the next article I read hit even closer to home. On April 5, 2013, Ana Frilo posted and article for KirkusReview.com titlted:
Ana states that ‘Speculative Fiction is a field populated with a multitude of great female authors, fans and fan writers. And yet, this is a genre in which women continue to struggle for visibility every single day,’ and that ‘Men are constantly more celebrated in Best of Lists and Awards than women (in fact, just yesterday the UK’s most prestigious prize for Science Fiction, the Arthur C. Clarke award, announced its all-male shortlist).’

She also tells us, ‘Lady Business recently posted the results to their (now annual) study called Coverage of Women on SF/F Blogs, measuring the visibility of women in SFF reviews and whether the gender of the reviewer impacts that visibility (spoiler alert: apparently it does). The reactions to the study are sadly predictable. But, they serve as evidence of what we are talking about here: the false notions that “men write more Science Fiction”; that publishing is not female-friendly; or that men will just read books that appeal to them and we can’t expect men to read “girly” books.
These arguments are flawed. There are plenty of women writing SFF, which includes categories like YA and middle grade too (it often makes us wonder why these two categories—both rife with female writers—are routinely discounted when talking about the SFF genre).’

She then states, ‘…our aim here is not to point fingers or police anyone’s reading. We also do not want to imply that there isn’t a publishing problem (for example, the numbers of female SF writers with current contracts in the UK seems to be pretty dire, as evidenced by the discussions around the Clarke Award) because unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be case. Our point is this: There are an increasingly large number of existing, published female writers who are not receiving a proportional amount of coverage in SFF awards, reviews or media—which leads to the same, repeated, flawed arguments that we’ve stated above.’

As a female writer whose main genre is going to be SFF I am disheartened to say the least.

You can read the full article over at:

Here’s something to think about: YA and MG don’t seem to get recognised in the award world but they are the ones with huge sales, the ones topping bestseller list and the ones who have millions of fans worldwide who follow them, buy all their books, fall in love with their story and get invested in their characters. Which, to me, is a win in itself.

I have been thinking about this a lot, thinking about how we can get men to read books by women, and one of the solutions I came up with is to get our young boys to read books by female writers, that way they will grow up thinking that there is nothing wrong with books by female authors. I have wanted to be a writer since forever. When I was a little girl, I never thought once that I couldn’t be a writer because I was a girl. Writers were never male writers or female writers to me, they were just writers. And I wanted to be one. I never looked at a book and determined whether I bought it/borrowed it or not based on the fact that it was written by a man or a woman, as a child, all that mattered was the cover and the title and the blurb and whether these things hooked me, and that’s how it’s been my whole life. Are you buying your sons books written by women? Do you even consider it? Perhaps it’s time to make a conscious effort to do so?
As I said, a lot of YA books are written by women, but when I look at the popular middle grade books I am seeing a lot of books written by male authors. Are women writing middle grade books both sexes will enjoy or is this something we aren’t doing? As an author who wants to write not only for adults and YA, but MG aswell, this is something to think about.

So, as a female who wants to be a writer, what does my future hold? I have the right to be angry, I think, that a man won’t read my book because I am a woman. I want to write stories and I want them to be read by both men and women, boys and girls. The only reason I want people to not read my books is because it is the type of book they don’t enjoy, not because I’m a woman.

You can try to hold me back, but I am a fighter. I write because it’s an obsession, my passion, and so I can share with the world these precious gift of stories that I have been so lucky to receive. I don’t care that I am a female and neither should you. We read for the love of the story so who cares who has written it? This is 2013, I think it’s time everyone grew up.


12 thoughts on “A Word on Women Writers.Or, What Does My Future Hold?

  1. Take heart: historically speaking, some of the world’s most respected writers are women: Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters spring readily to mind. Some of the worlds top-selling authors are also of the female sex, and I’m not just talking about today’s writers.
    Whatever your gender, it seems to be a quite a challenge to be discovered and respected as a writer. But don’t give up…it does happen!

  2. I do too … and how often at school do girls have to read books chosen because they’re more likely to appeal to boys than books that a boy might think of as “women’s business” and wouldn’t read. I’m starting to feel it will never change. I once thought it would but, somehow, I suspect not. Men are too protective of their masculinity to be open to the full experience of the world it seems! I could be surprised though …

  3. That’s a great article, especially your suggestions for improving the situation. That’s the obvious long-term answer, but in the meantime, I think we need to push publishers and journals and book reviewers. We need more women hired as reviewers and more women writers acknowledged for how good they are. I have pondered this issue on my blog, too. See it at http://wp.me/p24OK2-Iw.

  4. Yep, totally agree. What is it with men? I keep saying it, they are missing out on so many fine books and interesting writers by not reading female writers. To me, this is the height of sexism. Purposely not reading something because a woman has written it. The mind boggles.

    It is their loss, not yours.

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