One (a personal one): Three years ago, I realised that I was reading far fewer female writers than male. Part of the issue was that I’d taken against commercial women’s fiction (or ‘chick-lit’ as it was termed then)+ and so I went from reading almost exclusively women to reading very few women – as far as I can remember, only Kate Atkinson, Maggie O’Farrell, Janice Galloway and Margaret Atwood passed muster at the time. I didn’t really know who the contemporary female literary writers were: the A level and degree courses I’d studied were largely backward looking – I loved the Brontes, Austen and Virginia Woolf – and the only contemporary writer I remember studying was Ian McEwan. Literary prizes were my way in and they were dominated by (mostly white) males. And – perhaps most interestingly – for years, I didn’t even notice. When I did, I began to make a conscious effort and, for the last two years, about a third of my reading has been female writers. I think it should be half though – equality in action, so I’m hoping this blog will help that happen.
Two: On a Saturday morning when I check Twitter, Linda Grant tweets the number of reviews of books written by women in the broadsheets that day. Number of books written by women = few. Number of books written by women and reviewed by men = virtually non-existent. This isn’t the case if you visit the blogs run by male book bloggers (of which there are several very good ones) but it still isn’t a 50/50 split. Odd considering women write and read more books than men. This bias was backed up by the disparity between the number of books written by women highlighted in the 2013 previews in the broadsheets and the hoo-ha following the Costa Prize announcement in which women won all five categories. ‘It shouldn’t be news’, I read over and over again. The fact that it is, shows why it needs to be: until women routinely win the top literary prizes, it is and should be, a talking point. Let’s hope the Costa announcement and Hilary Mantel’s double Booker win are signposts of things to come.
Three: On our last working day before Christmas, I was in the pub with my colleagues. Three of us, all female (the other two a decade younger than me), were discussing our favourite writers. A few minutes into the conversation, I pointed out that not one of us had mentioned a female writer, we’d defaulted to male and generally white British or American. Pretty poor for a group of secondary school English teachers educating the next generation.
As Caitlin Moran points out in How to be a Woman, we’re working from a deficit of several centuries when women – even those who could read and write – weren’t supposed to do so for public consumption. I don’t work on a national newspaper but thanks to the open publication that is the internet, I can highlight women writers from my own corner.
+ I’ll write about this at a later date.