Everywhere I look these days there seems to be an article or blog post in which women vent their frustration at what they see as a bias towards male authors in publishing and in literary awards.
For example, Sophie Cunningham points out this week that according to a Bloom Report from 2007:
http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/2778808.html... publishing is a predominantly female industry (62 per cent) yet most senior positions are held by men. That is, according to The Bloom Report in 2007, 68 per cent of men who work in the industry earn more than $100,000 as opposed to 32 per cent of the women.
There was uproar in 2009 when the Publishers Weekly list of Top Ten Books for 2009 included no books by female authors:
Louisa Ermelino from Publishers Weekly is quoted as saying:
The Miles Franklin Award for the best Australian fiction included an all-male shortlist in 2009, with judge Morag Fraser quoted as saying afterwards that she and her fellow judges had:From more than 50,000 volumes, we valiantly set out to choose 100, and this year we’ve upped the ante with a top 10 list. A usually cooperative, agreeable bunch, we gave ourselves a reason to fight. We wanted the list to reflect what we thought were the top 10 books of the year with no other consideration. We expect you’ll be surprised: there’s a graphic novel, an adventure story, possibly the next Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a delicious biography that could bring Cheever back into the literary firmament. We ignored gender and genre and who had the buzz. We gave fair chance to the “big” books of the year, but made them stand on their own two feet. It disturbed us when we were done that our list was all male.
Sophie Cunningham is not shy about drawing conclusions after the Miles Franklin Award shortlist for 2011 came up with an all-male list again."walked out of our two-hour shortlist meeting without realising what we had done" ... "There's no going back. I'm sorry, you can draw no conclusions from it."
She certainly produces a fair few statistics, and anyone looking at literary awards like the Man Booker Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature would find the lists of winners largely male-dominated over the years, though I note that more recently three of the last five Man Booker winners were women, and three of the last seven Nobel winners.Women continue to be marginalised in our culture. Their words are deemed less interesting, less knowledgeable, less well-formed, less worldly and less worthy. The statistics are – in this humiliating and distressing matter – on my side.
Linda Lowen, on About.com, asked in 2009: Is there a bias against women writers?
Something that interested me in that article is the quotes from Lizzie Skurnick, who sat on a judging panel for an award:
and goes on to add:... I sat in a board room hashing out the winners for one of the awards for which I am a judge. Our short list was pretty much split evenly along gender lines. But as we went through each category, a pattern emerged. Some books, it seemed, were "ambitious." Others were well-wrought, but somehow . . . "small." "Domestic." "Unam --" what's the word? "-- bititous."
I don't know about you, but when I hear the word "ambitious," what I think is "Nice try. Better luck next time. Keep shooting for the stars!" I think many things, but never among them is the word Congratulations.
But, incredulous, again and again, I watched as we pushed aside works that everyone acknowledged were more finely wrought, were, in fact, competently wrought, for books that had shot high but fallen short. And every time the book that won was a man's.
In response to this perceived bias towards male authors, we have such things as the Orange Prize for Fiction, with a £30,000 cheque for the winner, and open only to women writers, and the Asham Award for unpublished women writers."I just want to say," I said as the meeting closed, "that we have sat here and consistently called books by women small and books by men large, by no quantifiable metric, and we are giving awards to books I think are actually kind of amateur and sloppy compared to others, and I think it's disgusting." (I wasn't built for the board room.) "But we can't be doing it because we're sexist," an estimable colleague replied huffily. "After all, we're both men and women here."
There are outlets like Mslexia, for women writers only:
And then there is the organisation Vida, representing Women in Literary Arts:
Conan McMurtrie recently asked: Is there any justification for the Orange Prize:
while Sophie Cunningham talks of forming an organisation and setting up something like the Orange Prize in Australia, saying:
There's no doubt that many women see a bias towards male writers, and many have strong feelings about it.We don't accept the suggestion that women's writing is inferior. Instead of exercising howling restraint, we've chosen the path of joyful celebration, of action.
What do you think?
Is there a bias?
Have the Orange Prize, launched in 1996, the Asham, MsLexia, Vida etc helped in any way?
If we start with the assumption that women write just as well as men, do male writers write 'better' fiction: fiction that is more ambitious or broader in scope, more interesting or somehow more worthy?
How do we explain the male dominance in awards that have mixed judges?
Should we even care about these awards and who wins them?