Whitbread prize winner Tim Lott has said that the Orange Prize for Fiction, the only women-only award, is (wait for it) “discriminatory, sexist and perverse”.
According to Mr Lott women no longer have a tough time in writing and publishing and it is not possible to say that women are a mistreated minority in the literary world:
“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. Girls in schools are more literate than boys, and pupils are taught reading mainly by female teachers promoting mainly female writers.”
Assertion 1 – women are predominant. Which is obviously why in the last 30 years of Nobel Prize for Literature winners only three have been women (Nadine Gordimer, Toni Morrisson and Doris Lessing). Or in the Whitbread Prize only six have been (maybe 7, 1998 seems a bit odd on their webpage). Yes a ratio of 1:5 (women:men) means women are obviously in the ascendency.
Assertion 2 – women sell most of the books. Unless he’s are talking about the gendered employment patterns of bookshops, which I doubt, then a brief sweep of the 50 best-selling books of all time tells us that Harriet Beecher Stowe, Margaret Mitchell, J K Rowling (x 7), Jacqueline Susann, Colleen McCullough, Anne Frank, Beatrix Potter, Johanna Spyri all place taking a mere 14 out of 50 (counting J K Rowling’s seven entries separately).
Assertion 3 – Teachers promoting mainly female writers. The Edexcel syllabus lists seven women writers compared to fifteen male writers (or a ratio of roughly 1:2 women to men) across the genres. And students only study one from each of five categories making it perfectly possible they will study no women writers at all.
“Could the establishment of a men-only prize, with men-only judges, be justified given their level of relative exclusion in schools and the marketplace? Can you imagine the derision with which it would rightly be met?”
Actually I’d love to see a men-only prize which rewards innovative writing by men which isn’t derivative or based on comparing willy sizes. I’d stick a tenner in the pit for that…