The future's bright?

17 March 2008

In the face of sexism that is so casually doled out by the media, women's fiction continues to excel. In fact, the celebration of women's fiction is a progressive and necessary component to the world of literature and publishing. 

Blogospheric discussion of the Orange Prize today was dominated by two topics, both Telegraph-related.

First, the fact that the Telegraph had leaked the longlist announcement. As someone who runs a website I always have a vaguely guilty schadenfreude-ish giggle when things like this happen.

And second, the predictable arguments generated by Tim Lott's opinion piece. Tim's argument in summary, in case you missed it, was: yes, things have been a bit bumpy for women in the past, but 'the playing field was slanted against women in literature far less than in any other art form'. And now, in any case 'The past is gone. Get over it'. In what I can only assume must be a self-conscious post-sexist jokey spin on the usual racist/anti-semitic theme, Tim points out that he doesn't dislike women (in fact his wife is a woman, and so are his daughters, ho ho!) but he does dislike the Orange Prize.

I'm not mainly interested in discussing why I disagree with Tim's piece, although if anyone cares, my reasons in summary are: I don't buy Tim's 'historical almost level playing field' argument; all things aren't equal for women in publishing and literature even now; even if they were, there would be nothing wrong with the prize; and finally, I'm not even convinced I would think there was something wrong with a men-only prize, as long as it had a logical focus and was done in an appropriate way.

But no, what really amuses me about the piece is the way in which the comments on the Telegraph website (in supposedly agreeing with Tim) actually disprove the very point he is setting out to make. You might want to read the comments now before they're all removed for being too offensive, but here are a few choice nuggets:

'Nagging abuse is women's standard response to any issue to which they cannot reply.'

'Women write differently from men and I feel their efforts appeal mostly to other women.'

'Women may write most of the books and read them, but what do they write and read? Diet books, cat books, cook books, health, self-help, inspiration, celebrity, fiction, romance, and children's books. It's all fluff and frivolity.'

'Women are better at writing stories anyway because when they've finished the washing-up, they haven't got anything to do!'

I'm sorry, but comments threads like this one just upset me - possibly it's one of those irrational female things? And just when I was counting myself so lucky too! There I was thinking how brilliant life as a woman in 2008 was, what with being able to vote and have my own job and everything, plus (if I'm really lucky) a few hours left free at the end of the day to read my cat books, whilst eating chocolates and talking to my friends on the phone about make-up.

However, on the plus side, they do make a very good argument for why things like the Orange Prize may still be necessary after all. Tim Lott might want to read to the end of his own comments thread before stating so confidently that 'the past is gone'.

Want to read more about women's prize-winning fiction? We spoke to author Kate Mosse ahead of the 2015 Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction.

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