There’s been some interesting talk about sexism in literature lately. We’ve been there before, of course, but this particular salvo started a while back with regards to women horror writers. Now the discussion seems to have morphed into talk about depressing fiction by women.
The post that started it concerned an Orange Prize (for women writers) judge:
But the chair of this year’s judging panel has launched a stinging criticism of the current “grim” crop of women’s fiction– complaining that female authors appear to have suffered a collective sense of humour failure.”
There’s not been much wit and not much joy, there’s a lot of grimness out there,” Daisy Goodwin, the author and TV producer, told the Guardian. “There are a lot of books about Asian sisters. There are a lot of books that start with a rape. Pleasure seems to have become a rather neglected element in publishing.”
There’s been an excellent reply in the Guardian here, which has a different take on whose to blame:
But nonetheless it seems unlikely that a similar critique would be taken seriously by the press – or even uttered – if it were levied against male writers. Debates about who’s going to be the next Philip Roth are not coloured by criticisms of brilliant young male authors for not being cheery enough – I’ve not read any criticism that Legend of a Suicide, for example, lacks joy. But men in any profession are rarely criticised for failing to present themselves to the world without the perpetual beaming grins of beauty pageant contestants.
Lots of people have weighed in and here is one by Benjamin Solah that took my eye and is well worth reading. He says, among other wise words:
I would also argue that male writers do not benefit from our female colleagues being excluded from anthologies, short lists, long lists and awards. Sexism in the industry, whilst primarily affecting women no doubt, still lowers the quality of literature for all of us.
So what do you think? Is women’s fiction that is taken seriously too depressing? Is witty fiction too lighthearted to win prizes? Are women’s issues not serious? Is it sexism or simply women=Venus, men=Mars syndrome? And why does this issue or similar issues occur again and again?