Monday, January 16, 2012

Literary sexism

I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not.  I think it is unequal to me.
  V S Naipul

When I was working in libraries what was often commented upon by various staff is that men tend to only read men.  I find this very interesting.  Is this so?  If you are male and reading this, do you predominantly only read male authors? 

This post is piggy-backing off a recent article I read by journalist Jane Sullivan.  This is what she has to say about the above quote. 

He [Naipaul] talked about something called 'feminine tosh'.  He didn't mean it in an unkind way, he added.  He said this is because of women's "sentimentality, their narrow view of the world...And inevitably for a woman, she is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing, too".  Who is this arrogant idiot, you might think?  This sexist, chauvinist loon?  Let's dismiss him at once.  It's not as easy as that.  The speaker is a man described as the greatest living writer of English prose.
I've had a quick look at the books waiting TBR sitting near my bed, fifteen in all.  Eight of them are written by men.  So I'm happy to say that what appears evident with me is that I'm about half-and-half. 

Jane Sullivan also provides some insight as to what texts are being taught in schools.  When I was in school we of course did read 'dead white men', but we did read lots of female writers too.  Off the top of my head I can remember reading Nene Gare's The fringe dwellers; Playing Beattie Bow, Ruth Park; Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte; Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen.  There were of course many male writers we studied, including Shakespeare, however it never was seemingly only male.

An assignment that I did last year looked at some adolescent texts we would include in a Secondary English curriculum.  I looked at Looking for Alibrandi, Melina Marchetta; Does my head look big in this?, Randa Abdel-Fattah; Callie, Ruth Park; Tomorrow when the war began, John Marsden and Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer.  So out of five I had unconsciously chosen three female writers.  These were books I felt drawn to and felt comfortable and enthusiastic about teaching.  I also used Pride and prejudice as my main text.  These books were all chosen for hypothetical classes.

So I'll end this post with two things.  I promise to consciously try and be fair to both genders when I am teaching texts (and if I have the power to do the choosing).  That is 50% for both.  And I want to end with a final question.  Are you drawn more to male writers than female?

1 comment:

Katriina said...

Interesting. I have to concede that men and women do tend to write differently, and perhaps that's unsurprising, given that men and women tend to view the world quite differently. I remember feeling amazed that The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series had been written by a man, for example - not because I am against male writers in any way, but because it felt like a woman's voice telling the story, not to mention the fact that he absolutely nailed his female characters. Maybe it's the mark of a really great author that he or she can create both male and female characters that are truly believable.

I think both men and women are well-represented among my favourite authors of all time - people like Jane Austen, Alexander McCall Smith, Tim Winton, Marian Keyes, Allison Pearson, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, to name a few. I truly believe that the gift of good writing is not based on gender.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...