Rant. Women. Writing. Chicklit.

So there's been a bit in the media lately about women writers and some other related bits and pieces. And I know this is a soapbox that I've jumped up and down on before, but I'm going to have to keep jumping for now.

First, there's an article in the Telegraph about the Orange Prize, a literary award for women writers:

Given that women have won five out of the last six Whitbread/Costas, does the level of injustice remain enough to justify the Orange?

Women are predominant, in terms of numbers and power, in most of the major publishing houses and agencies. They sell most of the books, into a market that largely comprises women readers. They are favoured by what is overwhelmingly the most important publishing prize (the Richard and Judy list), and comprise most of the reading groups that drive sales. Girls in schools are more literate than boys, and pupils are taught reading mainly by female teachers promoting mainly female writers.

Well. A few points, if I may.

  • Six out of the last 20 Booker Prize Winners have been women.
  • Two out of the last 20 Booker Prize Winners have had a female protagonist. That's 10%.
  • Publisher's Weekly's Best Books of 2010 list are all by men.
  • Our own Miles Franklin longlist features 3 women and 9 men.
  • There are more women working in publishing than men, more women write books and more women read books. This is all true. Yet capital-L-literary awards are undeniably skewed towards men.
  • There are more female teachers because teaching continues to be a low pay, low status job.
  • Despite this, the vast majority of class texts are by men, and feature male protagonists.
  • In VCE this year, there are 9 texts available by women, and 27 by men.
  • I know of a local private girls' school where, from Years 7-10, not one text is studied featuring a female protagonist. NOT. ONE.

What this is telling us, and the message we are sending to young people (both male and female) is this: despite the fact that the majority of people involved in the publishing industry are women, our society as a whole deems women's stories as unimportant (at least as far as capital-L-literature is concerned). Female authors only get recognised when they write about men. And I am not in ANY way blaming men for this. It's something we're all doing together. As a whole literary culture. Here's Lizzie Skurnick:

"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."
Our default is that women are small, men are universal.

Here's a (relatively mild) comment from that article about the Orange Prize:

I am a life long reader and have read thousands of books, however I have read probably less than 20 books written by women. Women write differently from men and I feel their efforts appeal mostly to other women.

Which brings me to our friend Nicholas Sparks. Nicholas is the author of The Notebook, Nights in Rodanthe and Dear John, among others. First, I have to admit that I've never read any of his books, nor seen any of the film adaptations. But I've seen the previews, and that was enough to know that it isn't really my thing. On the whole, I prefer my rom to also include com.

So Nicholas recently gave an interview*.

If you look for me, I'm in the fiction section. Romance has its own section... I don't write romance novels. Love stories — it's a very different genre. I would be rejected if I submitted any of my novels as romance novels...
There's a difference between drama and melodrama; evoking genuine emotion, or manipulating emotion. It's a very fine eye-of-the-needle to thread. And it's very rare that it works. That's why I tend to dominate this particular genre. There is this fine line. And I do not verge into melodrama. It's all drama...
I write in a genre that was not defined by me. The examples were not set out by me. They were set out 2,000 years ago by Aeschylus, Sophoclies and Euripides.
A romance novel is supposed to make you escape into a fantasy of romance. What is the purpose of what I do? These are love stories. They went from (Greek tragedies), to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, then Jane Austen did it, put a new human twist on it. Hemingway did it with A Farewell to Arms.
There are no authors in my genre. No one is doing what I do.

Apart from, hmm, I don't know. A WHOLE BUNCH OF WOMEN.


Thanks to Karen Healey, Meanjin and Bookslut for bringing all these articles to my attention.
*Did I mention that the interview was a joint one? With Miley Cyrus?