Let’s have a heated debate! On women’s only literary prizes…

If women want to win literary prizes, then they should write great books…


(...where FF defies the prevailing mood of the blogosphere and then hides behind the settee to avoid the missiles...)
(Heated debates…in which FF defies the prevailing mood of the blogosphere and then hides behind the settee to avoid the missiles…)

I intensely dislike prizes that are specifically for women, unless there is an equivalent prize especially for men. It’s so pathetic… do we really feel we need to be patronised in this way in 2016? And, worse, patronised mainly by our fellow women!

Take tennis, for example. It is a biological fact that most men are bigger and stronger than most women and so it would be entirely unfair to expect women to compete against men at the top levels. Though I’m betting Serena could give most of them a good run for their money. (And talking of money, should women who only play three sets – usually two, in fact, 6-0, 6-1, or equally exciting – really get paid the same as men who play five set thrillers? But that’s a heated debate for another day…)

serena and rafa
OK, there are exceptions to every rule…

Back to books – yes, as I was saying, men’s bodies are usually bigger and stronger than women’s, so in sports competitions where physical strength is a factor, separation by gender is often justified. So, if women require special prizes for literature, is the logical inference, therefore, that men have more powerful brains too??? I think not, ladies!!! (Men, be very careful what you say – remember the Valkyries!)

This picture isn't sexist at all, is it...??
This picture isn’t sexist at all, is it…??

In Britain, the Prime Minister, Home Secretary, First Minister of Scotland and leader of Plaid Cymru (Welsh nationalists) are all women. A woman is in charge of the IMF. Hillary Clinton has been nominated for the US Presidency. The glass ceiling is lying in shards on the ground (in the West). Yes, there’s still work to do at the other end of society in ensuring equal pay for work of equal worth, but girls are educated to the same level as boys, more women than men go to university, no-one bats an eyelid any longer at the idea of a female scientist or engineer, and Western societies on the whole work hard to ensure that pregnancy is no longer a career-ending disaster. You know what, my feminist sisters? We won! The remaining neanderthals will gradually die out as they find it harder and harder to find women willing to procreate with them!


So why exactly do women writers still think they need special treatment? Haven’t we been demanding a level playing field all along? If I left my entire estate (£6.83 at the last count) to endow an annual literary prize open to men only, wouldn’t you want to bean me with a placard, sisters? (Which, I have to point out, would be pretty tasteless of you, since obviously I’d be dead at the time…)

One argument put forward regularly for the continuance of women’s only prizes, like the Bailey’s, is that statistically books by men are more likely to be reviewed in the news media and literary press. I contend, however, that books by women are statistically far, far more likely to be reviewed, promoted and boosted by reviewers in the blogosphere, with some blogs specifically restricting themselves to women writers. If we want to even up one, let’s even up the other. What’s sauce for the goose, after all…! Or we could just assume that it all balances out in the end.

Balancing the books

Let’s look at a few facts. Since 1975, a year I chose because that’s when the Sex Discrimination Act became law in the UK, women make up 37% of Booker prize winners. Shorten that to the last ten years and the split is 50/50. This year’s judging panel comprises 3 men and 2 women, with one of the women chairing. Of the thirteen books on the 2016 longlist, six are by women. The longlist for the William McIlvanney prize for 2016 has 4 women out of the 10 contenders. Six out of the last ten winners of the Costa Book of the Year were women. The Amazon UK fiction bestseller list as at date of writing (7th August 2016) includes seven women amongst the top ten. JM Coetzee’s last book has 3024 ratings on Goodreads; Hilary Mantel’s last book has 5545. This is not because one is considered ‘better’ than the other since they are both rated overall at roughly 3.5 stars.

My opinion therefore is that prizes such as Bailey’s are outdated remnants of a fight that is over. Let’s stop whinging about how women writers are treated unfairly and instead celebrate the fact that women are doing spectacularly well across the literary board – in literary fiction, crime fiction, memoirs, etc., etc. Let’s start saying that since we are equal we don’t need special treatment. The winner of any literary prize should simply be the person who writes the best book.

If women want to win more prizes
then all they need to do is write more great books.

* * * * * *

Over to you! Agree or disagree, it won’t be a heated debate without you! 😉

(The image at the top is of Mrs Merton, alter-ego of the late, great comedian Caroline Aherne, who made the phrase “Let’s have a heated debate” her own.)

115 thoughts on “Let’s have a heated debate! On women’s only literary prizes…

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with you, FF! I think I already had a big old rant about this in a previous comment section, so I won’t subject you to it again. If this sort of thing carries on we will have competitions for one-legged Japanese pirates who are thinking about becoming vegetarians. Writers are writers and what languishes between the legs makes no difference whatsoever. By the way, I saw something on TV that showed a chicken posting to its own Twitter account. It was mainly random nonsense (a bit like my own Twitter account – BOOM BOOM!) but it did actually manage to type one real word with its beak. That word was ‘bum’. Not sure why I’ve brought this up, but there you go 😀

    • Haha! It was our discussion that provoked this post, though you’ll see I’ve restricted it to fairly ‘safe’ topics! I’m hoping they have a literary prize for Scottish Non-Writing Chocolate-and-Cat-Loving Lazy Women – I reckon I’d be bound to make the shortlist at least! And I’m taking my massive bequest away from the men only prize and changing it to the FictionFan Award for Literature by Men or Chickens! So far, the chicken’s in the lead…

      • Aha I am pleased to have been of some help! I could sense the restraint in your writing – but I know exactly where you are coming from, all in all. Just a shame that free speech is only free speech until you upset some delicate snowflake, and then it is ‘politically incorrect’, to put it mildly 😉 I am rooting for the chicken, of course, just to prove I am not chicken-ist or anti-chicken in any way. My, life is complicated these days!!

  2. I like your thought process, but I don’t agree with your opinion. However, as it is nearly midnight in the antipodes, I’m off to sleep. But will rejoin this debate when I can artfully construct an argument. A demain!

  3. Wherever one stands on this issue, FictionFan, I really do applaud you for making such a cogent argument. I like the way you gather all of this interesting data in support of what you’re saying.

  4. I don’t really object to women-only literary prizes — certainly not with the force that you do — but, as you imply, they do seem rather quaint relics.

    On the other hand, there are Scots-only, Canadians-only, Irish-only, etc., prizes, and these seem perfectly fine to me. Perhaps it’s the case that there’s still an identifiable need for them — for example, Canadian-published books still tend to get ignored/lost in the much vaster US market, so some means of giving the best of them recognition is A Good Thing — or perhaps it’s just that my thinking is muddled. Dunno.

    • Haha! I may not feel that strongly about it either, but it’s fun to stir things every now and again! And I do think they’ve passed their sell-by date. But I completely agree about national prizes, especially for smaller countries that do tend to get swamped by their larger neighbours. Though sometimes they have the negative effect of highlighting the paucity of good stuff rather than the reverse. I was thinking of doing an equivalent to Cathy’s Begorrathon for Scottish writing, but apart from crime I was struggling to come up with enough great contemporary or recent writing. Every Great Scottish list is stuffed with Scott and Stevenson. Partly that’s down to my lack of knowledge though – so is in fact a good argument for national awards…

  5. I think you’ve made some outstanding points, FF. I’m another who doesn’t particularly see any need for women’s only literary prizes. I mean, duh. They don’t have women’s only cooking prizes, women’s only doctoring prizes, and the like. Seems perfectly reasonable they should do away with these literary prizes, too. And what a nice picture of Rafa!!

    • I couldn’t actually find a specific US prize for women only, and wondered if it’s a particularly British phenomenon. We do seem to have prizes for just about everything you can think of over here, and in a sense that dilutes the impact of them. But I really do think that women’s only prizes is a bit like at school when everyone who takes part wins a prize whether they come first or last. Rafa’s lovely in that one isn’t he?

      • Well, there’s the Bailey’s Prize, obviously. But most of the rest of the recent agitation about the alleged lower status of women in literature generally (VIDA, and thousands of online articles that have wound me up over the past 3 years or so) has come from America. A few years ago I was puzzled by this idea that Americans seemed to have of literature as a boys’ club. Since then have started noticing evidence that it’s not just me who perceived that as very much not being the case in the UK, that it had seemed like a women’s thing here, including comments from older British writers like Susan Hill (in Howard’s End on the Landing) and Jeffrey Bernard (no feminist he, in one of his books of columns from the 70s and 80s). There had been plenty of highly respected women writing literature and about it when I was younger, e.g. Iris Murdoch, Fay Weldon, Byatt again – but no one else seemed to take issue with the American-ness of this idea. Elaine Showalter here acknowledged in a book quite some time ago, as due to differences in the class system, where British middle class women were more likely to have servants to take on some of the housework to free up their time to write. I am not sure that Vida’s statistics show much difference between the US and UK in pure numbers, but I do think there has probably been a difference in attitude and levels of respect for a long time. There was no question over here that women could write serious literature, the way Americans seem to think there was – and their lists of C19th classics don’t contain nearly as many books by female authors as British equivalents, nor are those present the most classic of their classics.
        If Vida had done their counts 30+ years ago, I’d bet they’d show more women reviewing in Britain. Given that the Bailey’s has been around for over 20 years, and Americans only seemed to start making a big thing about women in literature this decade, perhaps Britain was ahead in a way.

        • Certainly my GAN Quest nominations – totally unscientific but mostly culled from recommendations from educated Americans – are dominated by men up until about 4 or 5 decades ago when women, especially, I must say, black women, become much more represented. It’s always hard to know about another culture, but I do think America may be behind Europe on this particular question. Even the fact that such a modern nation has taken so long to nominate a woman for President (and she’s not been elected yet!) is surprising. I know we’ve only had two women PMs, and one of them wasn’t elected, but we’re awash with women leaders of the various parties – good lord, even UKIP might end up with a woman! And we don’t really think of it as particularly remarkable any more, I think. And of cousre, there’s Angela Merkel and various other women leaders, particularly in Northern Europe. I suppose it’s partly because, as a generalisation, we’re more left-wing and more open to things like labour laws – “freedom” can work both ways…

  6. It is nice to know one or two other people who don’t like them either (and who also aren’t politically conservative). So it’s not just A.S. Byatt, Nicola Barker (whose comments against them were both a good few years ago, not sure if they still think the same), Lionel Shriver, a bunch of angry below the line newspaper commenters …and me. The first three are good company at least!
    The women-only prizes annoy me less than they used to – but I evidently still feel strongly enough about the topic to actually use my newish WP commenting ID.

    This is an issue that I’d probably want to write about if I had a blog, but I would be wary of doing so because I CBA with the angry comments I would expect to appear.

    I’m more than familiar with the statistics, e.g. https://nicolagriffith.com/2015/05/26/books-about-women-tend-not-to-win-awards/ (this author’s findings have been widely quoted elsewhere in the media) and the arguments that it’s about prestige. All of which actually only relates to a small sphere of literary and experimental fiction, and separately in SF. The people in literary fiction are blinkered and continually make the mistake of talking about their world as if it was all of contemporary fiction, when in sales terms it’s a tiny bit. But following on from the discussion of prestige and so forth, the Baileys just isn’t doing the job it was set up to do. I don’t like the Orange / Baileys. It was set up to be similar to the Booker, but its excessively long longlists always feature a lot of (sorry, going to be rude here) bland middlebrow fare that’s only one rung up the ladder from that huge-selling sector publishers term “women’s commercial fiction”. Stuff that often didn’t make much of an impression on readers until its longlisting. I’m glad that an author like Eimear McBride won the Baileys when she got missed by the Booker – that’s an instance where the prize IS doing it’s job, but if women’s writing were to be judged by the Baileys longlists, it would make it look like the field of women’s writing is not as interesting or wide ranging as men’s. I’m sure the commercial positioning of the Baileys is good for sales, but beyong one or two titles like the McBride it is simply not fulfilling its original aims.

    There has been some discussion of setting up a prize for translated fiction by women, which you may consider statistically more justified due to there only being 1/4-1/3 of books in that field by female authors. If there is one, I really hope it isn’t blandified like the Bailey’s, and end up stuffed with a lot of almost-chicklit type stuff and actually concentrates on the trickier stuff that wouldn’t get much attention otherwise.

    I think these prizes can be personally annoying to women who never liked being bracketed with, or assumed to have traditionally feminine tastes and interests – it’s like being put in that box and you’re supposed to like these things because you’re a girl and you’re consciously being labelled a girl. And I say girl because that boxing-in feels to me like being a kid. (The feminists who continue to argue in favour of these prizes don’t give enough slack to this and say such people are being sexist.)
    Whilst I’m obviously not saying this is the case for everyone who dislikes women only prizes or similar literature events, for me realising this made me less angry about their existence.
    I found it interesting that one of the very few established authors to criticise them recently is Lionel Shriver who uses a traditionally male name, and mentions “not feeling like a particular gender” in discussing the issue – but because she doesn’t express the latter in exactly the right way, she gets lambasted, whereas if she said in an unrelated context “I don’t really identify as a woman” similar people would probably praise her – but she’s not toeing their party line, especially because she cynically / intelligently continues to take advantage of being eligible for women-only prizes.

    If this has posted more than once, please delete any extras – the comment didn’t seem to take the way it did when I commented on other blogs.

    • Antonomasia!! Hurrah! Welcome to the blog!! I’ve hoped you might comment sometime – now I’ll start working on you to start blogging. Honestly, and this post will see if I’ve judged right, the book blogosphere is a great place for this kind of thing because everyone tends to be able to have a debate without it turning into an insult-hurling competition – that’s why I love it. I reckon if book-bloggers ruled the world it would be a better, more respectful place where all arguments are settled through rational debate, chocolate-consumption and wine-drinking…

      Yes, in truth, I don’t feel hugely strongly about it either, but I do think they’re a leftover from a time that’s past. I’m not for a moment suggesting that everything in the feminist garden is rosy, but it’s at the bottom that work still needs to be done – women at the top are doing pretty well in most fields now. And I feel hanging onto these things actually emphasises gender differences rather than healing them – just as I feel that if women want to have women only clubs then they should stop objecting to men only clubs. We’re not a special category or an endangered minority, just a different gender.

      And I agree that men still dominate some genres of writing, though women dominate others. I may at some point (depending on how this debate goes) blog about why I feel male and female writers address different subject matter, and how this impacts on how they’re viewed in the literary world. In truth, and I’m generalising hugely here, I prefer male literary writers because they tend to address large political or philosophical themes, which I’m interested in. Women writers tend to address smaller, more intimate themes of family and community – just as important, but not as much to my taste. And I do sometimes feel that because my blog is man-heavy that somehow I’m seen as disconnected form the sisterhood. But I always thought feminism was about allowing each women to be what she wants to be, rather than what other people think she should be – whether those other people are male or female.

      Haha! Your post did come through as “Anonymous” the first time – but I guessed it might be you anyway… 😉

      • Today my comments are like the proverbial buses, then…

        Now there seems to be much more of a push, and one that’s taken notice of, for women to be represented in major mainstream prizes than for separate prizes for women. (The translation prize idea excepted.) It’s very different the amount of respect that campaigning gets here compared even with mainland Europe – can’t find it now but this spring some UK & US literary feminists were tweeting about a longlist from Germany or the Netherlands which had more book covers featuring female nudes than it did women writers, and it was nearly all English speakers pushing this as a problem. (It was a list that TBH would have looked perfectly normal to me in the 90s.) I think the Booker is fine these days (this decade) as regards sexism, with minor variations either way re. proportion of F/M authors and judges (for years there have been either 3 women and 2 men, or 2 women and 3 men on the panel) – though as regards ethnicity it is way out of sync with the populations of all the countries it covers, and they haven’t even had many American judges since US authors started to be included.

        • I understand the drive to have these lists represent ethnicity, gender etc while we live in an unequal world, but actually I think worrying too much about representation can skew the lists towards the mediocre. Certainly some of the Booker longlisted, and even shortlisted, books I’ve read in recent years haven’t been close to great but have been written by women, often Commonwealth women, enabling them to tick two boxes on the Politically Correct list. Sadly I think this has the opposite effect from that intended – it draws these books to public attention, sets them up against better books written by men and selected on merit, and leaves people who only read the hyped stuff thinking – gosh, women writers AREN’T very good, are they? And it gives women a get out of jail free card to be able to say they are discriminated against for being women, rather than having to admit that their book just isn’t very good. I’d like to see prizes take more account of sales in fact – to go to the authors who are producing books that people actually enjoy reading. Though admittedly half our “great” authors would then have to find another career… 😉 And don’t get me started on the Booker letting in non-Commonwealth writers… grrr! I feel another rant coming on…!!!

  7. Not sure what happened there!

    … you. But I do like how you’ve researched your side of the argument and not just gone on a rant. I don’t really know how sexist the literary world is or how people perceive it to be. It’s certainly an interesting topic.

    • To be honest, I stated my case more strongly than I actually feel it to provoke debate! But I do feel that women only prizes are a leftover from the past, and that women are doing just fine in the literary world now. In fact, it’s one area where women have always been fairly prominent for the last century or so anyway. Especially crime writing! That’s not to say there aren’t other areas where work still needs to be done for women to be truly seen as equal… 🙂

      • I think the industry as a whole needs a good overhaul. Women may be more validated but what about diversity with disability and ethnicity. Now those are areas where the industry are way behind in the dark ages.

        • Yes, I agree to an extent, but even there I do feel the answer is for people to write great books, rather than being honoured for their politically correct intentions. It does all go a bit far – in crime writing it sometimes seems as if every second police officer is gay these days. Not a reflection of reality I’d imagine! All I want are well written books that accurately reflect society – a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and people not trying so hard to tick boxes… gosh, I am grumpy today! Sorry! 😉

  8. Someone should tell my daughter’s school that the glass ceiling has been shattered, because news hasn’t reached them yet and believe me, sexism is alive and kicking here in West Wales. She’s just finished year six and in her xmas play, all the girls in her year were cheer leaders while the boys played Welsh sporting heroes. Further down the school the boys were carpenters, builders, and journalists while the girls were assigned roles as fairies or cleaners. When my daughter and her friend (a boy) asked the head if some of the sporting heroes could be female, handing over a list of women at the top of their sporting field that they had googled, the male sports teacher scoffed at my daughter’s friend, asking if he’d really be happy to swap and be a cheer leader, as that would clearly be unacceptable for a boy to aspire to such a role. I was seen as a trouble maker for complaining, and am utterly depressed at the lack of aspiration for these girls’ futures compared to the boys. My point in telling you all this is that we may be seeing more women achieving and holding top jobs but this does not signal the end of inequality. It certainly hasn’t filtered down to the grass roots in my opinion and until it does, I will be proudly fighting the feminist cause.

    • Haha! First, I admit to have been being deliberately provocative! I do think the glass ceiling has been broken at the top, but that’s not to suggest there aren’t problems further down the line. The problem is that individuals can still make a difference at the grassroots level – teachers can have so much influence either for good or ill. It’s one reason I’m glad that kids don’t spend all their time with only one teacher throughout their schooling as was once the case. Now, hopefully your daughter and her friends will find other teachers to balance the messages they receive throughout their education. There is undoubtedly still stereotyping of the genders – I’m as gulity of it as anyone else. If I phone for a plumber, I’d be astonished if a woman turned up… but probably quite pleased. I guess my argument is that we should fight the fights that need fighting – and the place of women writers seems to me like a bit of the fight we’ve won. And I think it would send a better message, to boys especially, if women didn’t look as if they feel they need special treatment just because they’re women…

      • Well, we’ll have to agree to disagree, I’m afraid. I don’t believe for one second that the glass ceiling has been shattered. I not only see the value of women only prizes, but I also believe in the value of positive discrimination on occasion, to readdress imbalances of gender or race – in government for example. I don’t see that as special treatment for women, it’s about countering the inherent mysogyny in which our society is entrenched.

        • Well, disagreement isn’t a bad thing – it keeps the subject being aired which has to be good. We’re all conditioned to an extent by our own experiences, but I simply don’t feel that the society I live in is fundamentally misogynistic any more. In fact, I often feel the way men are depicted in our society nowadays is far more negative than the way women are and it concerns me what messages that sends to boys – that they’re all sexual predators and incipient child-abusers who can’t be trusted around children…

  9. In 1975, I was a (very junior) civil servant who wrote an impassioned paper opposing a proposal made by a woman who had better remain nameless, SINCE SHE GREW UP TO BE A SERIOUS PUBLIC SERVANT, THAT QUALIFICATIONS FOR WOMEN ENTERING TEACHING SHOULD BE LOWER THAN FOR MEN IN ORDER TO ENCOURAGE MORE WOMEN TO ASPIRE TO PROMOTED POSTS. (nO, I DIDN’T SEE THE LOGIC EITHER). when THE SAME PROPOSAL WAS MADE IN RESPECT OF STUDENTS FROM ETHNIC MINORITIES, I OPPOSED IT AGAIN. (Sorry for the burst of capitals, I pressed CapsLock by mistake). I felt then, and I feel still, that special arrangements for “disadvantaged” classes give an open invitation to bigots everywhere to claim that no-one from that category can compete on equal terms.
    I feel the same about literary prizes.

    • Yes, I absolutely hate that form of positive discrimination. By all means, take action to ensure that women (and minorities) have full and equal access to education to ensure they can achieve equal qualifications, and by all means monitor selection processes to enure that no-one who is qualified is unfairly excluded. But to give jobs to less qualified people is not the way to go – as you say it just feeds the arguments of the bigots of this world.

  10. Always interesting and lively, FF, and while I agree for the most part, I recall an “independent” study (I say this because it was one rogue woman and I cannot for the life of me remember when/how I came about it), who submitted her work to literary agents under one male name and one female name. The male name received more requests, more favorable feedback, more of everything. And while I don’t think it’s overt, or perhaps even intentional, I think gender biases are real. However, that’s not to say we should have women only contests! That seems absurd. We should have contests in which an author name is not viewed until it is deemed a winner. How about that for blind justice? Win/win.

    Also interesting, I just had this tennis discussion with my daughter! We were watching women’s tennis in the Olympics and I said they should play the same sets as men! (btw, Serena could kick any man’s butt, I believe.)

    All this aside, I finished The Other Typist and have NO ONE to discuss that ending with!!! Good gracious! So many questions!!! Those unreliable protagonists types are a tough one. But it was very well done and I couldn’t agree more with your review. There was a large mid-section that could have been cut, but it was enjoyable nonetheless, and how could you not love Rose, even with all her flaws.

    Okay, I’ve exceeded my limit in this comment section!

    • Yes, that’s an interesting point. Sharon Bolton, one of my favourite British crime writers, used to call herself SJ Bolton, and blogged about how she was recommended to do that by her publishers who said that men tend not to read books written by women. Once she became successful, of course everyone knew she was a woman, so she “came out”. I’m not convinced, I must say. I’m sure there are a small number of men who are put off by women writers, but I’d guess that mostly people decide on the basis of subject matter. Where women write “unisex” books rather than “women’s fiction”, I doubt it would have a great deal of impact. And why should men read about women’s angsting over women’s concerns if they don’t want to? Personally, I don’t want to read men’s fiction – sex, guns and baseball – books either! (See? I can be feminist and sexist at the same time! Multi-tasking…) But for the stuff in the middle which talks about humanity in general, I couldn’t care less who writes it, so long as it’s good.

      I love your blind justice idea! I actually hoped when I got involved in the Bloody Scotland longlisting that they might send the books out with the author’s name withheld but no such luck. It would have been interesting to see if it made a difference. And I feel that about the “classics” too – if we were able to read them without knowing that they’re supposed to be great, would it change our opinion of them?

      Yep, I’m afraid I just don’t agree that women tennis players deserve the same prize money as men. It’s OK in the tour competitions where both genders play three sets, though even then the men’s matches are usually harder fought and considerably longer. But in the Grand Slams and Olympics if women wanted to be treated equally then they should play five sets. Women’s football matches are the same length as men’s…

      Isn’t Rose great? I’m glad you enjoyed it – you must force the people around you to read it so you can discuss it! I loved the ending…

      No limits! Unless we exceed WordPress’s space allowance… 😉

      • JK Rowling is another. If we dig deep enough, we’ll find lots! I believe YOU wouldn’t judge based on sex, however, I’m not convinced of others. One only needs to look at the politics of Trump to see misogyny still exists. Not that I would suggest the victim card. I suggest more the kicking-their-butts card!

        • I must admit I assumed the author of Before I Go to Sleep was a woman, because of the initials and the subject matter – SJ Watson. I wonder if his publishers said no women would read it if they thought it was written by a man! Yep, if men are stupid enough to not read good books just because they’re written by women, their loss, I say!!

        • Haha! Funnily enough I nearly mentioned marathon runners – but to say that jaws would drop all round if female marathon runners suddenly said they only wanted to run 60% of the course but still get paid the same as the people who ran the whole length…

  11. I have greatly enjoyed reading your post and all the interesting and comments. Wow. I don’t even feel like I can jump in on one side or the other – both make good points. However, from an entirely different angle, I do say the more literary awards the better. The more awards there are, the more books get noticed, and the more book lists I get to see. I say we make up even more categories – let’s see how creative we can get!

    P.S. I also like your idea for a Scottish Literature feature on your blog! I can’t think of many Scottish writers off the top of my head – shameful.

    • The more awards there are, the more books get noticed, and the more book lists I get to see.

      Unfortunately, the more literary awards there are, the less they tend to benefit the authors. Obviously some still do, like the Booker, but many of the really quite prestigious ones now mean next to nothing in terms of sales. Back in the day, when an SF novel got the Hugo, the publishers would print stickers for the cover and line up a reprint. These days they just basically yawn. The dedicated SF readers have probably read it already, while non-SF readers who might be tempted can’t tell a Hugo from the All New Kringly.Com Reader Award (SF Category), which may have been clinched by the last-minute vote of the author’s mum.

      • This is very true. In fact, even the Booker really only benefits the winner and maybe the shortlisted books. I was looking at longlisted books the other week for a post about modern classics and really they seem to get a tiny boost when the longlist comes out – a few dedicated readers who read the whole list every year – and then sink back into relative obscurity. But partly that’s the fault of the selectors for worrying more about political correctness than the quality of the book, I think, plus they give the publishers too much power to use it as a way to push mediocre books.

      • I know in the U.S. that winning or placing in a contest can help you get more media attention and helps with the CV if you’re applying for teaching jobs at colleges and universities.

    • I agree! I love literary prizes, especially ones from all the different countries whose literature I never used to hear about before I started blogging. And despite everything I’ve said, I’m always intrigued to know who’s won the Bailey’s. We should have a Blogger’s Book of the Year… hmm! I wonder if anyone’s done that – must check!

      I’m still toying with the idea of a Scottish feature or challenge or readathon, but I’ve really been a bit disappointed by how little good contemporary mainstream fiction I could find – loads of crime writing though. But I’m glad to hear you find it an interesting idea – I shall give it more thought… 😀

  12. Well not one to shy away from added my tuppence worth – I don’t see the need for women’s only prizes for literature either. Having been lucky enough to be born in an era where by the time I grew up women do have the same opportunities as men, it’s whether they want them or not is the question now I think, then your point about who reads fiction and blogs, tweets and generally shouts about it are women. I probably read more novels by women than men but it isn’t a conscious choice, women tend to write the novels I enjoy. I understand the prestige and there is possibly a bias towards men here but what is more worthwhile, people who read your books or those who pretend to? How’s that for a provocative statement!

    • Being a bit older than you I do remember when sexism was a major thing in the workplace – actually in the rules, I mean, not just in the way people talked. But that just makes me realise how far we’ve come, and it seems to me we’re so busy looking for sexism now we forget sometimes to stand back and celebrate that girls today have more equality and opportunities than ever before in history. Yes, I think that’s a good question about whether girls want careers and so on – of course, some do, but there’s nothing wrong with preferring to go down the route of wife and mother either, in my opinion, so long as it’s what the individual wants for herself. The feminist movement can be as pushy and opinionated as men sometimes! 😉 I probably read more men than women, just because they often write about subjects that interest me more, but I honestly don’t think I ever look at gender as a factor in the books I choose – it’s the blurbs that decide it for me. And I agree about the prestige, though I think prizes for crime fiction are nearly as highly regarded as for lit-fic now – in the blogosphere at any rate, though maybe not in the Press. But The Luminaries was both a crime novel and lit-fic, and so was Burial Rites which I still think should have been shortlisted for the Booker. Haha! I must admit no woman could possibly have written a book as bad as Finnegan’s Wake… 😉

  13. It’s a tricky one – I think a lot of progress has been made in the last ten years or so in redressing the gender balance across the publishing industry for the reasons you mention above but I still think there are biases when it comes to certain genres. I really hate how so much women’s fiction is marketed with pink covers etc. Hopefully the need for women’s literary prizes will become outdated eventually.

    • I think genre fiction is split much more than lit-fic, but I think there are as many genres that are completely dominated by women as there are by men. Men probably still dominate sci-fi, fantasy is pretty mixed I’d say, but women dominate romance, and of course “women’s fiction”, though I think occasionally a man writes under a female pseudonym just to get into that market! I reckon the publishers, and maybe authors, think we’re all more a) sexist and b) gullible than we really are, and that might be why they go for these gendered covers. Not sure it’s a good plan – nothing in this world would make me be seen carrying some of the twee “girly” covers. Even Austen books come out looking like YA romances these days! 😉

      • Men probably still dominate sci-fi, fantasy is pretty mixed I’d say, but women dominate romance, and of course “women’s fiction”, though I think occasionally a man writes under a female pseudonym just to get into that market!

        I’m not sure that “Men probably still dominate sci-fi”; when I’m on panels at SF conventions, the mixture of professionals alongside me usually seems about 50/50. Of course, that may not be reflected in book sales or in the numbers of books publish. (In the biz it’s generally called SF or sf rather than the despised sci-fi, by the way, ahem.)

        Back in the early ’70s I recall a friend describing Ursula K. Le Guin as “probably the best SF writer in the world”. (She’d been in Oxford for an SF convention; he’d been punting her and others and came within about 0.5 degrees of tipping “probably the best SF writer in the world” into the Isis.) What I quite vividly remember thinking is that, about five years earlier, his remark would have seemed oddball — there’d been a few good female SF writers, but the genre was still largely a male preserve. By the time Mike made his remark, though, things had shifted to the extent that it wasn’t remotely surprising that several of the Top Ten might be women. And these days the Hugo and Nebula shortlists always seem to have lots of female writers represented.

        I think occasionally a man writes under a female pseudonym just to get into that market!

        You’re exactly right — I’ve known some. (No: not me.)

        • Haha! What have you all got against “sci-fi”? I’m totally out of touch with contemporary SF so defer completely to you on that one. In fact, I find it hard to find what I think of SF at the moment – any time I search I seem to come up with loads of what I’d call fantasy rather than SF, though I realise that’s another whole can of worms. And admittedly, lots of classic sci-fi had fantasy elements to it – sometimes a lot of fantasy elements! The Hugo nominations seem to have gone crazy this year, but I must look at the Nebulas – I haven’t checked them out for years.

          Good to have my suspicions confirmed about the pseudonyms – also confirms my suspicion that female readers are just as gender-biased (aka sexist) as men…

  14. Fascinating discussion, FF. In Australia, at least two women’s only book prizes have been established in response to perceived discrimination in existing awards. The Sisters in Crime Australia established the Davitt Awards for Australian women’s crime writing in response to perceived sexism in the Ned Kelly Awards. When the Davitts were first awarded, more than 20 years ago, seven books by women were in contention; now the number is closer to 80. Does this mean the awards are redundant? As an author, I say not. For a lot of us, the most money we make from our writing comes as prize money. Moreover, even when women writers win Ned Kelly Awards, they are seldom the same women who win Davitts. So for me, the awards simply mean attention is drawn to a wider array of books.

    More recently, the Stella Prize was established in Australia for women’s literary writing (our equivalent of the Bailey Prize), in response to both the VIDA statistics and perceived sexism in the major literary award, the Miles Franklin Award; incidentally, both prizes are named after Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin, who (tellingly) wrote as Miles Franklin. For me, the Stella Awards recognise not only women writers but also writing that elevates Australian women. While the winners are generally novels, one winner was Clare Wright’s history, Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, which acknowledged the role of women in one of Australia’s most famous foundation stories. Again, the Stella Awards serve to shed light on books that might otherwise be overlooked.

    • That’s very interesting, Angela – thank you for replying so fully! I was hoping you or someone might put the perspective from Australia, because from this distance Australian society feels quite different to the UK’s in some ways. While we still have sexism and gender bias here too, of course, I was truly amazed at the whole “I will not take lessons on misogyny from this man” thing a couple of years ago – especially the whole “Ditch the Bitch” (or was it Witch?) thing. Our sexism is much quieter – maybe more insidious, certainly less ‘in your face’ – in the public arena, at least.

      I absolutely take your point about the financial aspects of prizes and wouldn’t want to reduce the overall pot. But I do think, here anyway, that having women’s prizes almost has the opposite effect of what was originally intended now. It’s almost an admission that women can’t compete on the same playing field as men, and it seems to give women writers permission to claim bias whenever they lose out to a male writer. If we must have gendered prizes, I’d rather see two separate ones – a Male Writer and Female Writer. They do that in acting prizes and in sportsman and woman of the year awards. But there aren’t many fields where there’s a special prize for women without an equivalent for men. I think an argument could be made that (huge generalisation coming up) men and women write very different kinds of books, so overall prizes like the Booker could be said to be biased because they tend to look at heavyweight lit-fic with a strong political or philosophical content – more a male preserve perhaps. But I feel that now that women have broken through at the top of so many of the prestige fields that were previously male preserves, women will be writing more of these ‘ideas’ books. Currently, women are very often writing about things that, rightly or wrongly, interest women more than men – parenting, families, caring for the elderly and so on. Men too will gradually write more of those kind of books too. But while there’s still a divide in what the two genders write about, and I think there still is to a pretty large degree, then I’d be happy to see separate prizes for both sexes. And maybe one overall Book of the Year on top of that.

      PS Crime writing is a bit different – I still think men and women often write differently about crime, but the gap doesn’t seem as wide as in lit-fic, somehow… except for domestic thrillers, which seem to be mainly written and maybe mainly read by women…

    • That’s certainly how I feel about it – I think there are plenty of excellent women writers out there who are just as much household names as the male equivalents, so let their work speak for itself…

  15. If things were equal, I’d agree with you. But they’re not. Women are consistently overlooked in major book awards, especially if they are writing about women. Canadian writer Nicola Griffith wrote an excellent blog post about this (https://nicolagriffith.com/2015/05/26/books-about-women-tend-not-to-win-awards/) after analyzing major literary awards from 2000 to 2015. In an ideal world, women-only awards wouldn’t be necessary. I just don’t think we’re there yet. Take, for example, Hillary Clinton. In 240 years, the US has seen precisely one major party nominate a woman for president, and people were ready for armed rebellion at the thought she might select a woman as her running mate–though having a president & vice president of the same sex has never once presented a problem for most of them up until this very year.

    • Stacia!! 😀 I’ve come to the conclusion from a lot of the comments here that things look different depending where you are in the world, which I suppose is hardly surprising. What does surprise me though, is that the UK seems (to me) to be one of the more progressive societies in terms of this subject – I wouldn’t say women here are overlooked at all in literary prizes, and in crime writing – generalisation again – women writers are regularly writing about women. You only have to think of the phenomenal success of the domestic thriller to see that. And in crime writing, women do well in terms of prizes and sales.

      In lit-fic, I think the picture is somewhat different, but I think it’s too simplistic to talk about women writing about women. This is where I offend the sisterhood (again) but in my experience it’s not the gender of the characters that makes the difference, it’s the relevance of the subject matter. When women write about “women’s subjects”, often and especially about perceived sexism and the trials of having children, I totally understand why those books don’t have universal appeal – not even all women see women exclusively as reproductive machines or victims, and as a woman who chose not to breed, I am bored rigid by them as much as any man could be. But when either men or women write about the “human condition” as opposed to the “woman condition”, then the gender of the characters ceases to be of relevance. As an example, it could be said that 1984 is a book by a man about a man, but in fact it’s about politics and philosophy, and so appeals across gender lines… Beloved is a book by a woman about a woman but addresses questions just as relevant to men (and non-child-orientated women) while never neglecting the specific femaleness of the main charcaters.

      Re politics – yes, again America sursprises me. Over here we’re awash with female political leaders now even if ony two have so far become PM. In the recent Scottish elections, I was laughing to my brother about the fact that the debates were overflowing with women, and with representatives of just about every variation of sexual orientation you could think of! Surprised me because I’d have thought Scotland was pretty old-fashioned in its views, but apparently not as much as I thought…

      • *waves* The US is different to the rest of the world in a lot of ways. For example, part of the reason I enjoy European crime fiction so much is the radically different perspective on individual vs society. In the US, crime fiction is often disdained in the same way (but obviously not to the same extent) as, say, romance; it’s considered genre fiction that has nothing bigger to say. *sigh* I’m very much looking forward to hearing Val McDermid’s take on Scandi crime fiction later this year!

        Speaking of 1984, have you ever read We by Evgeny Zamyatin? It’s one of my favorites, and if you enjoyed 1984 and/or enjoy books about dystopian futures, it’s well worth a read.

        • Yes, there is a big difference between European and American crime fiction, I think. I actually hardly read any US crime these days, mainly because I can’t be bothered with the whole gun obsession, so it’s probably unfair of me to comment on it. And UK crime fiction seems to be stuck in this horrid domestic thriller rut – thank goodness for the Scandis! I think it’s only in the last couple of decades that crime fiction has been taken seriously over here, and some people are still sniffy about it. On the other hand I think America is having something of a golden age in lit-fic – I’m finding I’m enjoying it much more than British lit-fic at the moment.

          No – I’ve heard of it though, as sci-fi, I thought? I shall investigate – thanks for the recommendation! 😀

        • part of the reason I enjoy European crime fiction so much is the radically different perspective on individual vs society.

          Hi, it would be really interesting to hear more about your take on this. I just don’t read a lot of US fiction generally, because there’s so much American content online and in films, I get enough of it that way. Certainly find the different social & state structures obvious in Nordic & other translated crime, but the stereotypical lone wolf depressive detective seems to be everywhere.

          • Hi! I’ll try to pull together some coherent thoughts about this at some point…this week I’m buried under stacks of paper 😦 One quick thought, which is that as an American, it’s fascinating for me to read recent Nordic crime fiction (“recent” meaning the past few decades) in which the characters struggle with the issue of what it means to be Swedish, say, or Icelandic, in a nation that was until quite recently 99% homogenous. I agree completely about the lone wolf depressive detective!

  16. I agree to an extent, but it depends on the point behind the award. For example a nonfiction achievement award to the woman whose work has been beneficial to women. I can see something like that. But on the other hand, I’m not crazy about the separation of the sexes in literary awards. The literary arena is where the sexes supposedly have an equal playing field. On the other hand (and yes, I’ve run out of hands and am using someone else’s hand now), I read a post where an author submitted a book to several agents under her own name, got rejected, and then resubmitted the book under a man’s name, and was accepted by most of the ones who rejected her before. Interesting.

    • It is a tricky question but on the whole I still think these prizes send out the wrong signals. I’m not pretending I think everything’s perfect in the gender equality world, but I do worry that we go too far the other way now. It seems to be perfectly acceptable for women to denigrate men but we get up in arms if men denigrate women and so on. I quite enjoy the “battle of the sexes” so long as it’s kept good-natured. Yes, I’ve heard stories like that too – all I can say is that the publishers must be nuts, because the bestseller lists make it clear that women sell as well as, or better than, men. Maybe it’s the publishing world that is sexist rather than the real world…

  17. A really interesting post and great debate in the comments. I can’t say I’ve given this one much thought but now I will. I suppose my initial thought is I don’t think things are still completely equal and that women still have a lot to do. Yes the glass ceiling is cracked but is it really shattered? Are women-only prizes not just about recognising women but highlighting them to the Neanderthals you mention so that their minds can be changed, even if the majority of people are already with you.

    • Thank you, and thanks for commenting! Yes, despite my post I don’t think everything’s rosy either in every field, but in writing I do think women are being at least as successful as men, and I’d like to see us fighting the battles we haven’t won yet, rather than continuing to fight the ones we have. As for highlighting things to the neanderthals, I reckon there will always be some men who remain convinced of male superiority whatever happens, and I think these kinds of gendered prizes actually allow them to say oh, women need special help ‘cos they’re not as good as men. I’d rather see a woman win the Booker than Bailey’s any day, and fortunately they regularly do. And if we ignore the neanderthals, they might eventually go extinct… 😉

  18. Interesting article on this topic here:

    “But more often than not, when a woman wins a major literary award, she wins for writing like a male writer, for writing about men, or for setting her work in an unmistakenly masculine environment.”

    • Thanks, I’ll read through that properly this evening. But I must say I think women are in danger of doing what they accuse men of. What is a masculine environment? That’s almost as dismissive as saying a woman’s place is in the kitchen. Is it war? Women are struggling hard for the right to serve at the front line. Is it sport? Women footballers are making huge efforts to get their sport on some kind of par with men. Is it politics? Surely not. Philosophy? Science? Or does it just mean having lots of men in it? And how do you write like a male writer? That suggests they all write the same. I can’t see much similarity between Fitzgerald and Roth other than that they both wrote great books. I think what it means, when women say it, is that traditionally men tackle big themes of politics and philosophy whereas traditionally women wrote on smaller more intimate themes of family and relationships. Naturally, since those spheres were how their lives were defined. But now that women have entry to all arenas they will start to write ‘like’ male writers because their lives are closer to traditionally male lives, while men, being allowed to show their more intimate side and being expected to take more domestic responsibility, will start to write more ‘like’ women writers… and maybe in that glorious day, women will stop stereotyping men in the same way as men stereotype women… 😉 Haha! Sorry! I’m on my high-horse today… I shall go and eat some chocolate and then read the article…

      • “Non-sentimental with a sufficient thrust.” (It’s in the article.) 🙂

        Have you read A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf? She claims that women write differently, and should. I’m curious if others think this is true…

        I think if women are having to write according to a standard which alters their voice — just to win prizes in a “universal” book award — that is a problem. I think that if women win prizes when they feature male protagonists and male stories, but not when they write about female friendships that have nothing to do with men or their relation to men, that’s a problem.

        Is that happening? Not sure! On either point. (I don’t follow book award lists, so I’ve no clue who has won what. And I have no idea if women write differently from men. I know I often can’t tell the difference. But is that because women writers who get noticed write according to the “standard” which is noticed, or because there is no difference?)

        I do see what you’re saying. I’m not sure I agree entirely… I think it’s a bit early to declare equality in literature. But this is a really relevant topic, and I’m always open to changing my mind. Thanks for sharing this. 🙂

        • Haha! Should have read it before I ranted! But given that both Fitzgerald and Roth (Gatsby and American Pastoral) ripped me to emotional shreds and left me sobbing, as did Morrison with Beloved, I don’t really accept it. I think…

          I haven’t read A Room of One’s Own, but I do think men and women write differently though whether that will change as their roles become more aligned only time will tell – I expect it will. I’m aware that I read and enjoy more male writers in lit-fic because I love the big themes of politics and philosophy that women, to date, rarely seem to address. On the other hand, in my other great love, crime fiction, on the whole I prefer female writers, because they tend to concentrate more on character and less on thrills. Am I sexistly stereotyping? Yup, but I’m aware of it, so open to keep looking. I have ranted on the blog about books by women that do nothing but angst about their reproductive role and status as victims of sexism, and ranted about men who do nothing but angst about their middle-aged sexual prowess problems. I guess I’m just not that interested in biology! 😉

          It’s hard to know whether women have to change their voice to win prizes but I don’t understand it if they do, since it seems to be well-established that more women read and buy novels than men. However I do think there’s a tendency to think that all women are interested in the same things – women’s issues. If I never read another book about some woman moaning about men being sexist in the workplace and useless fathers, I’ll be as happy as if I never have to read another book by some man fixated on the size of every woman’s breasts! I think when both genders write about subjects other than gender itself, it’s very hard to tell the difference. And even books that are specifically about one gender, Beloved or The Sun Also Rises, say, the quality of the writing and depth of the themes still allows them to be gender-transcending in their audience. I think. 🙂

          Thanks for joining in the debate! I do enjoy a good discussion and, opinionated though I sound, I love to hear other people’s opinions and mull over them…

          • It’s hard to know whether women have to change their voice to win prizes but I don’t understand it if they do, since it seems to be well-established that more women read and buy novels than men.

            (This is also a reply to one of your earlier comments: I’d like to see prizes take more account of sales. )

            There’s a basic principle applicable in both cases of sales ≠ prestige.
            Prestige = reviews in broadsheets and journals such as NYRB, TLS, LRB; literary prizes such as the Booker.
            The Booker and some other literary-minded prizes have an explicit aim of drawing attention to high quality literary writing to stimulate sales, and also sales of rights for publication overseas. (And they may occasionally, through that extra media attention, lead to the really big money – rights fees for film or TV adaptations.)
            Dan Brown and Jojo Moyes, for example, don’t need extra sales to live comfortably and make time to write. Whereas a really good, less commercial writer, who’s only sold 700 copies, does and IMO deserves them. Even more so nowadays when very few new literary authors can make enough money to live on their writing alone, and therefore probably produce less, or take longer to make it really good, because they have to write when they are tired after work. New lit fic / experimental authors rarely now get the sort of advances that were the standard for people like Rushdie and M. Amis in the 80s and 90s, and which these older big name authors still get because of established contracts.
            Mega-sales and prestige are often separate rewards for different writers.

            • Yes, that’s a good point. It takes me back to my university days, in fact, when I fell seriously out of love with the English department over what I saw as their total snobbishness over books, totally dismissive of what readers actually enjoy reading in favour of books that barely anyone reads outside academia. I fear that opinion stays with me – my recent experiences with Faulkner, Lolita et al, makes me think that there’s still too much reverence paid to academic insiders or favourites. Having said that, I’d love to see one or two of my own underrated favourites get some recognition through the prize system – Flanery, for example, or Kalfus, bith of whom I have to say regularly get reviewed in the major papers, but without it converting to huge sales or name recognition, it would appear. I do always wonder, though, whether a book can really be considered good if it’s not attractive enough to readers to stand on its own feet…

              Personally, I think there’s a case to be made for pricing serious lit-fic more highly on the basis that it will almost inevitably get fewer sales than the latest Gone Girl, and will probably appeal more to people in higher income brackets. Plus they take longer to write than these genre books that authors churn out on ridiculously short timescales. We pay for luxury versions of cars, houses, food, wine – why not books? I’d rather pay £15 quid for 1 brilliant book than 5 rubbish ones… with libraries ensuring they stock these books to cater for people who can’t pay premium prices…

            • For some reason your comment isn’t showing a Reply button beside it although all the others in the thread are; refreshed 3 times now and it still isn’t.

              will probably appeal more to people in higher income brackets
              Haha! A large section of its readers are working in lower paid professions like the arts, media, and civil service, which also leave some time and energy to read (and the political slant of litfic tends to be leftwards, also appealing to these groups). Most higher paid professionals of my acquaintance tend to work long hours and don’t have the time and energy left for these types of books except perhaps during annual leave – if they aren’t too busy with their kids, that is. (Plus a lot of highly paid people outside London, IME, are focused on business, practicalities and entertainment, not really interested in ‘high culture’). I can think of a handful of people I know online who are exceptions to all this, but they are way outnumbered by the people who aren’t reading anything / read easier stuff than they would have when they had more time and less money.

              Although perhaps a lot of Booker titles get sold to professionals who intend to talk about them at dinner parties but who don’t actually get round to reading them. (I really only know a couple of people IRL other than myself who’ve ever bought lots of books they don’t read – yet the internet book world is full of those who do this, so my sense of the numbers on this phenomenon is… perplexed.)

              Well-off Boomer retirees are probably a good market for literary fiction for the moment, however, before everyone who can has to work till they drop.

              I think the pricing issue already holds back the sales of some small press books, which never have the 1.99 / 99p flash discounts of those from bigger publishers, because a significant part of the potential readership won’t buy at high prices – especially highly experimental stuff that’s more likely to be read by people of student age/lifestyle who have the time and attention to give to it. (To use a well-known example of the sort of stuff I mean: it’s twentysomething students and hipsters who are the archetypal readers of David Foster Wallace, not people in their 30s 40s and 50s who have well paid jobs with long hours and families.)

            • Yes, it only allows six replies, I think. But if you use the Notifications page you can reply there, plus it lets you know if people have replied to you… https://wordpress.com/notifications You need to be logged in to WP.

              Haha! Funny how differently we all view things. I would include civil servants etc as being in higher income brackets! When I worked in the health service, even the lowest grade clerks regularly had two foreign holidays a year, and the lower rungs of management seemed pretty comfortably off. It’s the north-south thing again – housing costs are so much lower up here that living standards for low-grade public sector workers tend to be higher – though you’d never think so from the political messages about the poor old put-upon Scots! Our problem is more lack of employment and unscrupulous private sector employers and their zero-hours contracts etc, and they were the ones I was thinking of as not being able to pay a decent price for a book. But if people would rather buy 99p self-published badly written twaddle, then that’s market forces for you… 😉

  19. What an interesting can or literary worms you have opened, FF. Thank you so very much. And I LOVE how all your commenters (until me!) can argue brilliantly, and without resorting to twitterish lollings and meaningless insults.

    (That was a joke, or course I’m going to make all my insults remarkably meaningful) :

    There are no insults.

    Anyway, my tommy and tuppence worth : I think we are far from through the glass ceiling. We get through it when no one makes comments about the fact that the leaders of parties or prospective leaders are female, and it ceases to be something to remark on. Ditto the number of CEOs etc

    Positive discrimination is, I think, an early necessity towards achieving the glass ceiling, as above

    It may be that we are through needing female only prizes in this country – I can’t really decide, yet. Is there a rough parity in terms of the genders of literary critics? I suspect it will take some rough equality of numbers, as an ongoing, rather than it being something designed to achieve rough equality of numbers, to achieve that.

    I don’t, and have not, for many years, attempt to read more women’s or more men’s writing – though since I started blogging, and gained the blogger’s fascination with stats, I’ve begun to tally various categories – and it’s pretty well 50/50, give or take a percentage or two, when I do an end of the year count – with no attempt to get it to be so. So I think my reading tastes have eliminated the glass ceiling of my reading.

    This is a different matter entirely, but I find my reading is FAR more biased towards reading European (including the UK in here) and American writers, and that is the area where my laziness as a reader is showing.

    Re Hootsmonathon or whatever you might call it – Andrew Greig, Janice Galloway would be my additions to your list.

    To return to your original q – and link it to your GAN quest – I suspect that perhaps books taking place more on an out in the world stage and dealing with what one might call state, country, nation politics, rather than ‘personal politics’ have tended to attract the idea that they might be great, rather than, for example, Jane Austen’s ‘little bit of ivory, two inches wide’ Do WOMEN tend to read more books by both men and women, than men do? And, does that not come from those centuries of assumption that male reality was of more import than women’s? I think (even within my own reasonably enlightened judgement) how easily and perjoratively I apply the term ‘chick-lit’. Okay, I’m a lit-fic snob, but where is the term which similarly trashes wallpaper reading focused at men? Or, do women read that writing too? And how much do male readers read that ‘chick-lit’ ??

    This debate you have started could run and run and run. Well done, FF!

    • TROLL!!!! (*insert explicit, gratuitous, misogynistic insult here*)

      Yes, isn’t it nice to be in a place where people can disagree amicably?

      Interestingly, I thought there was very little comment on Theresa May being a female except in the media. Again, maybe that’s a north-south thing – we’ve had a female First Minister for a while now, and the majority of our prominent politicians are female. In fact, the Tory, Labour and SNP leaders are all female, two of them “out” as gay. (And the leader of the Greens is male and bi). And nobody seems to give a… fig. There was one debate where just about the only group not represented were white hetero males! It’s odd, because my guess would have been that Scotland would have been more reactionary than the rest of the UK, but maybe we’ve finally got over John Knox!

      Nope, never been a fan of positive discrimination – I believe it just causes resentment and makes divisions worse. Much keener on intervention to give people the skills and qualifications they need to compete on a level playing field. And that’s starts at around about age 1-day! That’s why I liked Labour’s Sure Start scheme.

      I don’t make deliberate choices on gender grounds either, though who knows what happens subconsciously. I checked when preparing this post and, lit-fic wise, I read about two-thirds males, but you know I can’t stand a lot of the female icons like Woolf etc, so I’m bound to be weighted towards males. I do think however that as women become embedded in the public arena then hopefully (from my perspective) they’ll start writing about something other than the place of women as poor little victims of a misogynistic society and how tough it is to be a mother – two subjects that I fear have bored me rigid for years. Crime-wise on the other hand, I didn’t count, but I reckon I’m probably 50-50 on that, though the rise of the whiny woman victim in the domestic thriller has just about done for me there too.

      I don’t read a lot of translated fiction either, but I’m not really bothered. There’s plenty in British and American fiction that I’d still love to read and we can’t fit in everything sadly.

      Yeah, I don’t know if the HootsMonathon will ever get past the planning stage… (*whispers* I’m not sure I like enough Scottish authors… )

      Oh, and lad-lit, I believe is the blokish equivalent to chick-lit – two genres I cheerfully avoid! See? I’m not sexist…

  20. Wow, I had to scroll down a loooooong way to get to the end of the comments. I can see FF that you’ve argued cogently again and again for your rationale. But… I don’t agree.

    One of your earlier commentators mentioned the Stella Prize here in Australia – the Prize is one thing, but they also do a whole load of educational work with girls and boys in schools around gender/ diversity and writing, as well as the Stella Count, which I recently did a short post on (if you get a mo, check it out – http://wordsandleaves.com/this-is-why-we-need-women-only-book-prizes/).

    The 2015 Stella Count was released a few weeks ago and the commentary (as well as the statistics) is revealing I think:

    ‘Whether by accident or design, a cause or an effect of reviewing processes, the tendency across review publications for male reviewers to review male authors rather than female authors perpetuates cultural biases that suggest that writing by men is universal, and writing by women is for women only’.

    ‘The aforementioned Macquarie University study found that 65.3% of creative nonfiction authors and 67.4% of other nonfiction authors were female. The fact that an imbalance in critical coverage persists, despite there being no underlying imbalance in authorship, creates and perpetuates the perception that nonfiction by males is more worthy of critical attention, in that it frequently deals with typically masculine topics such as war, history, economics and so forth’.

    Simply put, my view is if female authored books get less ‘air time’ than male authored books, then something needs to happen to shift that paradigm. If it is something as simple (and joyous) as a women’s only book prize, then I’m up for that. I just wish that the gender pay gap, family violence, women in leadership, occupational segregation, women’s poverty, etc etc could be so simply administered.

    And if anyone does think we have reached a post-feminist/ shattered glass ceiling world, can I suggest that you read Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things? It’s my book of the year; it totally knocked me for six. It also won the Stella Prize…..

    Happy Sunday!

    • Haha! yes, the debate took off more than I was expecting! It’s obviously something we all feel quite strongly about whichever side we’re on. 🙂

      Thanks for the link to your post – interesting stats! You see, I’m in the problematic position of thinking that women do write for a female audience quite often, whereas men tend to address more universal themes. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but I rather wish women could accept that not even all women want to read about the challenges of being a middle-class mother, which I fear is what so much “women’s fiction” is about. Where I take issue is with women equating “women’s fiction” to lit-fic – just as I would take exception to stuff like the Bourne series (men’s fiction) being equated to lit-fic. I suppose it comes down to how we define lit-fic – for me, it should say something about the human condition – ie, big politics or philosophy, primarily – or occasionally, just be a tour de force writing performance. And in my experience, men still write those books more often than women, though the gap is narrowing a little, and hopefully will narrow more as women play a more equal role in the public arena.

      Having said that, it does appear from comments that, much to my surprise, we may be luckier here in Scotland than many other countries. While obviously men still make sexist comments (as do women, perhaps even more so – it’s apparently OK for us to denigrate or drool over men, but the reverse is sexism) and there is still a problem with pay rates at the lower end of the scale, there’s very little except lack of ability to hold women back from achieving in whatever field they choose. Odd – I’d have expected us to be one of the worst!

      I do think women are in danger of becoming even more sexist than men though – I’m so sick of women authors who portray every man as a sexual predator, bad father, or child-abuser. I’m more concerned about the negative effects of those portrayals on boys than I am about the signals getting sent to girls these days. And sometimes feminists do things they would, rightly, scream about if men did them. One of the links here is to an article by a woman who starts by saying she is so fed up with male domination of the literary world that she hasn’t read a book by a man since 2001! Haha! And yet she expects people to take her seriously as a commentator on the state of contemporary fiction. Imagine if a man started an article by saying he never reads books by women on principle – he’d be roundly abused by every woman within a radius of 3000 miles!! If women want men to stop being sexist, they should set a better example… (maybe that will be the title of the next Heated Debate! 😉 )

      Thanks for coming back and joining in – whatever our views of the best way to achieve true equality, it’s fun to air them occasionally. 😀

  21. See here’s the thing, I don’t think women do predominately write about women’s stuff. I was a member of Glasgow Women’s Library Book Club for 10 years, and we only read women’s books. We NEVER EVER read a Liane Moriarty type book. All the stuff was superbly written, and really interesting (of course we didn’t always like them but that’s the way it goes). Similarly, I predominately (though not exclusively) read women’s books and almost all of them are about the human condition etc. I’m like you, I have no time for inanity! Which brings me to problem I have, and that which I think women’s prizes are trying to fix – that there is a common perception about who women’s writing is for and what its about, and it’s just not true.

    I think you’re broader points about feminism are interesting too, as it seems to be that the reaction to women’s only book prizes is closely related to the person’s views on feminism. I worked in Glasgow for 10 years on gender equality and I don’t think Scotland is more advanced or less advanced than other Anglo- first world countries I’ve lived in – the sexism and misogyny are just expressed slightly differently. There is still rampant sex discrimination, harassment, domestic violence and all the other stuff, in addition to the gender pay gap which is evident across all pay scales. Perhaps check out Engender, they’re an Edinburgh-based not for profit that lobbies around this stuff.

    I take your point about the stereotyping of men – it’s lazy writing and I don’t respect that either. There is a lot of ‘Chippendale’ type goings on that make my skin crawl. But I think that is, as you’ve said, another debate (but one that feminism has a lot to say about!).


    • This is now the third time I’ve written and tried to post a version of this comment. Apologies if the earlier “lost” comments are actually in the system somewhere.

      problem I have, and that which I think women’s prizes are trying to fix – that there is a common perception about who women’s writing is for and what its about

      The Baileys Prize is not doing a very good job of that though, as I said above. There are major exceptions such as Eimear McBride, but its longlists have a lot of the sort of stuff women are stereotyped as writing. I don’t think it will ever change its focus to include a greater proportion of complex and experimental works, as that would make it less commercial. To really make its point it would need to be something like the Goldsmiths Prize with an all-female, international list. It’s always telling to me that the readers I know online who follow the prizes covering innovative and complex fiction, like the Best Translated Book Award, and who care about the numbers of female writers represented there, take almost no notice of the Baileys.

      The current phase of feminism is interesting, but to me and some others (incl Leah?) deeply irritating. I can understand its underlying project, which is about really pushing for full equality, getting from, say, 35-40%, to 50-55%, but I (and some of my female forebears) enjoyed being part of that lower percentage and don’t like some of the accompanying culture changes; “feminisation” doesn’t suit every woman’s personality and interests. And those (not found in this thread) who consider an opinion invalid simply because it’s a man’s do no-one any favours in the wider world; I’ve heard their arguments about power structures and see that they have a logic under that paradigm, but in a context away from debates between Guardian readers, they are more likely to fuel reactionary backlash and stereotyping of “feminism = hating men”. (“Are you a feminist?” “Who’s asking and what do they mean by it?” is my answer.)

      • It’s if you try to post when you’re not logged in that it happens. The comments do arrive but they go into moderation, because they’re “anonymous” and have to wait till I approve them before they appear, and then they show up as “Someone says”.

        I must admit I tend to ignore Bailey’s myself – in fact, while I’m always interested in who wins the Booker and Pulitzer, it’s often a pretty critical interest. While the original list is made up of books put forward by publishers, it’ll always seem like a big marketing exercise to me, and the incestuousness of much of the literary world leads to some strange choices – often books get in because of the author’s reputation rather than the quality of the book. In my opinion, of course.

        Yes, i think you’ve put that very well. I’m really not declaring an end of sexism or misogyny in society, but I am saying that we shouldn’t view everything through that prism, or we’re in danger of doing the very thing we started out protesting about having done to us. When I see blogs openly suggesting that people should not read books by white men because suddenly they are no longer considered part of “diversity”, then I despair. I find it no more acceptable to be told what I should do or think or be, or read, by feminists than by men. In truth, I almost don’t consider myself a feminist any more, because I find the anti-man stance of such a significant proportion of them entirely out of tune with my own feelings.

    • Ooh, I do! Practically every book I read by a woman, crime or “lit-fic”, is either about how awful it is to have children or how awful it is not to have children! (I’m exaggerating due to a summer run of dismal books, but there’s truth in there too.) Now I’m not objecting to women writing about motherhood – why shouldn’t they? But I’m simply not interested, especially since they rarely say anything new or thought-provoking on the subject – just a general tone of whinging that usually leaves me feeling like sending them pamphlets on contraception. And usually, the father is either invisible, abusive, or unsavoury in some other way. And if they’re not writing about motherhood, they’re often whining about how they’re the victim of sexism – another subject I’ve truly had my fill of in women’s fiction, especially the whining element of it. Or occasionally about other forms of victimhood. I’m sure there are exceptions, I’m even sure I’ve read some, like Helen Dunmore’s Exposure, but I’m getting to the stage where I pick up books even by well-known women authors with a wary expectancy that I’m going to be plunged into some kind of parenting trauma or be expected to wallow in grief over some family-based trauma for 400 or so pages. Each to her own, though!

      I’m sorry – I don’t accept that I’m surrounded by sexists or misogynists, and I should know! Feminists can produce however many statistics they like – we all know statistics can be used to prove anything. What matters is how we feel and this society you’re describing is not one I recognise. Of course there are sexists and misogynists in Scottish society, but that can’t be extrapolated out simply to condemn the whole culture. I hear more sexism from women denigrating men every day than vice versa. Scotland is awash with women in positions of power. I think feminism has to define what exactly it wants – and if it’s going to continue to declare that society is misogynistic until the last sexist is dead, then what a miserable outlook. It’s like suggesting everyone is a criminal because some people are. Nope, not the Scotland I live in, not the Scotsmen I know – and yes, I’ve worked with plenty of sexists, both men and women, but I refuse to tar everyone with the same brush, or blame men for every single ill of society. Most of the things you mention are as much a result of poverty and alcohol as misogyny – labels are too easy.

      I fear we’ll never agree, but I’ve enjoyed the debate. 🙂

      • I’m sorry, I wasn’t suggesting that the whole of Scotland or any where else should be condemned, or is awash with misogynists. Nor that men are to blame for the worlds ills. Not At all! Unless he’s Rupert Murdoch, but that’s a different story. I love Scotland! I love men! But I think I have a different take on things and how I’d like them to be. Sorry if I made you cross…

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