On the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction

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On the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction

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1sturlington
May 28, 2015, 9:00am

Interesting piece in the NYT book review this week.

This closing thought by Dana Stevens resonated with me:

Maybe for a century or more to come, we’ll continue to need cultural spaces in which “women’s writing” is protected and encouraged to flourish as something separate from “men’s.” But that same small part of me fears that the gated-off arena can too easily become a prison. There’s something ironic, and a little depressing, in the fact that the digital archive of a major American university now displays the poems of the boldly gender-­ambiguous, literary-drag-­wearing Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell under the festively decorated but irredeemably patronizing heading “A Celebration of Women Writers.”


Thoughts?

2southernbooklady
May 28, 2015, 10:29am

The problem remains that "women" is a special category and "men" is default. I wonder what all these great books lists would look and feel like if we took the trouble to say they are "great books (mostly by men)"

3LolaWalser
Edited: May 28, 2015, 11:52am

Every space created to rectify technical effects of discrimination seems to become fatally seen as an area of special interest to the discriminated group only. Instead of seeing a prize for fiction by a woman as an additional shelf to the gender-biased majority bookcase--a technical, functional expansion--it becomes a mark of something whose content is of interest only to women.

I don't know enough about mainstream fiction to comment on "small female" vs. "great male" themes, but if it's true that the majority of readers are women, I don't know why women don't take on the "big themes" as writers too.

Education and opportunity can't be the discriminating factors today. Really, if I were pressed to give a two-cent opinion on why women don't venture on to "big themes" (note: a premise I'm not sure is correct or meaningful), I'd say it's because women get punished for assholery, while men get praised for it.

Because it takes a giant narcissistic asshole to presume to knock off an epic, the Great American Novel, the Bildungsroman to top all Bildungsromane, and the roman fleuve to sink all romans fleuves. And women aren't raised to think and behave like that.

No--like Sylvia Plath wishing she could go into a pub and drink and talk and listen to the talk of the world as men do, and knowing that she can't, simply because she's a woman--simply because she's a woman this much is not allowed to her--we're aware from the moment we become aware that certain gestures, appetites, actions, habits of thought, are forbidden to us.

All the plots contrived to blame and judge women for vanity, self-centredness and so on, hide the truth that women aren't vain and self-centred enough.

4overlycriticalelisa
May 28, 2015, 3:20pm

>3 LolaWalser:

i think that there are a good number of contemporary women writers who do take on the "big themes" and they're read. but they're also told that their characters are unlikeable or make bad decisions or aren't relatable, etc. men (writers or characters) in the same positions aren't told that.

5nohrt4me2
May 28, 2015, 4:18pm

FWIW, I honestly don't know any women who can't walk into a pub and have a gin rickey at the bar if they want. Hell, I'm over 60 and I've done it. Nobody pestered me or threw me out. But I never did it again because it's mostly men in there talkin' dumb. If I want to hear that, I can stay home.

I understand from blowback I got on another discussion that some bookstores still have a "women's fiction" section, though I have not seen something like that for decades and my own bookstore does not have one.

Relegation by celebration?

6southernbooklady
May 28, 2015, 4:35pm

In my experience in the book industry, "women's fiction" is more of a marketing thing than a genre. It's about the target audience.

7LolaWalser
May 28, 2015, 4:49pm

>5 nohrt4me2:

I think we all know Plath wasn't talking about getting booze as such, but the frustration she felt because of the exclusion of women from public sphere--a sphere women then even more than today could navigate only at the cost of accepting harassment. I don't see why anyone would trivialise that, it's still a huge problem.

>6 southernbooklady:

Doesn't marketing automatically create a genre? What else is "chick-lit"?

8southernbooklady
Edited: May 28, 2015, 4:54pm

>7 LolaWalser: Doesn't marketing automatically create a genre? What else is "chick-lit"?

Not in a bookstore. Specific sections need space (always at a premium), and signs. So while I might have described a Jodi Picoult book to a customer as "women's fiction" -depending on who I was talking to-- I would have shelved it in "Fiction."

9nohrt4me2
May 28, 2015, 6:04pm

I think we all know Plath wasn't talking about getting booze as such, but the frustration she felt because of the exclusion of women from public sphere--a sphere women then even more than today could navigate only at the cost of accepting harassment. I don't see why anyone would trivialise that, it's still a huge problem.

>7 LolaWalser: Why did you think I was trivializing Plath's point by noting that listening to men in the public square usually involves having to listen to dumb shit ideas? Every time I come over here I seem to piss you off in some way. Sorrrreeee!

10LolaWalser
May 28, 2015, 6:21pm

>9 nohrt4me2:

Um, whatever.