(* This post has been transferred from my old website. Please excuse the formatting.)
I guess I’ll have to call this the after-blog.
There was very little that amounted to opinion in my most recent post, Are our Sisters In Crime (still) fighting against a male-dominated literary world?, in which I wrote about the origins of Sisters In Crime, an organisation I have been a member of for 13 years and attended a recent convention for, and quoted relevant statistics regarding gender bias in the literary world. Despite this, it earned some heated responses, most memorably that it was a ‘trendy’ cause, self-interested ‘bandwagoneering’ and ‘privileged whining’, by a fiction reviewer and theatre critic for The Age. (Amusingly, writer John Birmingham tweeted ‘I think the irony gland in my head just exploded.’)
Is it whining to point out the truth, I wonder?
Sadly, the topic of gender bias can result in unnecessarily defensive responses. While most of the responses to the blog were smart, insightful and considered, I found it interesting that some who didn’t take the time to read the increasingly lengthy blog comments made the assumption that the majority had been written by ’emotional’ females – ‘One man vs a plethora of women’, ‘a bunch of school yard bully girls’ with ’emotional over reactions’, as one commenter complained. Another man argued, ‘women in these types of forums inevitably generate this kind of “you go girl; us girls gotta stick together; female solidarity; *hmph* typical men!” kind of talk.’ ‘David’ expressed his stern disappointment in me for writing the blog, and finished with ‘*Insert dramatic asinine rant below’.
It may be interesting to note that 30 of the 68 comments (when I last counted) have been from male readers, though ‘Think About It’ and ‘Geek Anachronism’ have chosen, appropriately enough, to remain genderless, so the actual number is unclear.
This is not a ‘women VS men’ debate.
Most male readers and writers who responded were equally concerned by the statistics. Poet and playwright Nathan Curnow, for instance, amusingly replied to David’s complaint about ‘asinine’ rants with this: ‘As a man (and damn you for making me have to use ‘as a man’) you can kiss MY asinine!’
Dr. Kerryn Goldsworthy, a former editor of Australian Book Review and a former member of the Literature Board of the Australia Council, added:
‘Most of the unconscious bias I have seen in the literary world, and I have seen a great deal, has been to do with the male-centred values of a dominant culture whose values most people wrongly think are universal and gender-neutral. Hence the unconsciousness of the bias, illustrated in several of the comments above, and hence — this goes to Rob’s point — the fact that gender balance on judging panels doesn’t necessarily equate to genuinely gender-neutral decisions, since most women share the values of the dominant culture, which is why it stays dominant and needs to be actively resisted by posts such as this one and events such as the one it reports on.’
While no one person, gender, group or industry is to blame for gender bias, it is important to admit that there still is one, unconscious or otherwise, as the statistics unfortunately illustrate. If you haven’t done so already, check out the Stella Prize website for a plethora of statistics that firmly establish literary gender bias lives on, despite our best wishes. The question isn’t whether a bias exists, or even whether it matters. For centuries words have mattered; they educate us, tell us stories about a range of human experiences, illuminate issues and help form opinions. Women’s voices matter. So the question is What can we do about this bias?
It seems to me the first step is simply being aware of it.
Personally, after overcoming hurdles early in my own writing career, (most memorably, ghost-writing rumours which probably stemmed from entrenched stereotypes about my previous career as a model and resulted in a polygraph test in 2002 that proved I alone write my own work). I feel fulfilled and fortunate in my current space. I have wonderful male and female readers, though admittedly I have more female readers than male, which I understand is common in genre fiction. I can write what I love, comment on topics I find interesting, interview authors I admire, review books I enjoy and support my family. All that makes me a very lucky woman indeed.
In my view there has never been a better time to be a writer, to be a woman, or to be a woman writer. But that doesn’t mean the issues surrounding gender bias in the literary world, or any other arena, should not be discussed, or should be deemed ‘privileged whining’ because of more immediately pressing issues for our gender. Why would pointing to the issue of women’s voices in fiction be ‘…petty compared to, say, areas where the treatment of women has drastic impacts – domestic violence, for example,’as Cameron Woodhead argued in one of his many responses, particularly on a blog about books? Or as Chris argued, ‘Why don’t you …focus your energy helping the women around the world who still need help’. Indeed. Author Dr. Kathryn Fox, a GP, responded that women crime writers are often ‘giving voices to the voiceless’ on serious issues like domestic violence.
Do I really need to mention that I am involved with organisations helping impoverished and at-risk women and children, just so I can have the right to point out another issue affecting people of the same gender? No.
* Since THAT blog, there have been some interesting responses across the Internet. Here are a few:
– Novelist Kate Forster’s response, Miss Misnomer
– Novelist Kate Gordon’s response, Books By Chicks
– Novelist Diane Gaston’s response, Literary Bias, wherein she points out the literary bias against romance novels, and questions whether this may be because ‘romance’ is considered a female domain.
– Writer and teacher Elizabeth Lhuede’s response, Women Writers in a Man’s World: a reply to Tara Moss, wherein she explains that her education set her up to value men’s writing over women’s.
– Publisher and author Lindy Cameron’s response, SheKild’em All
– Novelist Angela Savage’s response, Accounting For Taste.
– And Crikey’s report, Battle of the books: female authors fight back, highlighting responses from authors Kathryn Fox, PM Newton and author and publisher Lindy Cameron.
Wendy Harmer’s excellent new website Hoopla reported on the blog stoush in ‘Tara Moss VS The Art Critic’ to some interesting responses.
Novelist Charlotte Wood noted of critic Woodhead’s antagonistic remarks, ‘It’s just so, so tiresome. The patronising tone, the sneering, the nonsensical distraction from one inequity by pointing to a different one. Do we never move on?’ Novelist Claire Corbett wrote, ‘I can’t help pointing to Craven’s blog in the Drum on the demise of ALR in this context. He dismissed Sophie Cunningham’s RT regarding final issue of ALR featuring NOT ONE woman, either as a reviewer or as a writer, ie every single article and review was by a man about a man as ‘this isn’t the 80s and we’re not in our 20s anymore.’ The breathtaking breeziness of this dismissal just floors me.’
Interestingly, novelist Lee Tulloch, also at The Hoopla, commented, ‘I’ve always maintained The Slap would have been dismissed as ‘chick lit’ (women do domesticity so well, don’t they?) if it had been written by a woman. I don’t believe it would have received the same attention or even the prizes. This is not to criticise the author’s achievement – to the contrary.’
In the words of novelist PM Newton, ‘We Live in Interesting Times’.
It seems to me these are issues worth discussion.