The literary genius and intellectual Bidisha had a piece on her blog the other week (I daren’t link to it; you can find it for yourself) about women writers and how come they don’t win literary prizes when men are winning them all the time. It was apparently also published in the actual Guardian, but not online – possibly because they were worried it lacked her usual incoherence and came across in places quite reasonable. And she did slip into old prejudices a bit when she blamed women for awarding prizes to men, betraying the sisterhood etc. From my analysis of the Booker Prize (which has now sadly been lost on a broken hard drive), I seem to recall if the jury were 3:2 in favour of men, then they’d almost always award the prize to a man; but when it was 3:2 in favour of women, the sex of the recipient was about 50:50 – demonstrating that woman are, if anything, just being reasonable – showing no inclination one way or the other.
I’ve been aware for a while how few novels by women I read – though still, probably more than most men. The figures from Books Read for the last two years are:
- 2009 – 8 books out of 97 (8%) – novels by women averaged 6, against an overall average of 5.04
- 2010 – 11 books out of 100 (11%) – novels by women averaged 5.09, against an overall average of 5.58
None of this surprises me in the least: I don’t read many books by women, but when I do I don’t find them significantly better or worse than those written by men. (The standard deviation in 09 is much higher than 10 though!). I think probably the percentage of Books Read written by women is also higher than the percentage not read: so yes, I don’t buy them, but when I do, I’m more likely to read them.
There is one area of my bookshelf though where books written by women suddenly leaps to 33%: – it’s books in French (and when I say “in French”, I mean, “actually in French”). Which leads me to posit various reasons:
- I respect, or at least have greater expectations of, female French writers more than their English language counterparts
- Society respects female French writers more than their English language counterparts
- A higher percentage of the French language books which make it over to Britain and find their way to secondhand shops where they are purchased by Obooki are by women (possibly because a higher percentage of French language students are female, I haven’t really checked)
- I see female writers as being, on the whole, likely to be less stylistically and syntactically complex, which suits my ill-formed knowledge of the French language
- There is a small set of French female writers I really like (i.e. Colette) and whose books I buy.
Anyway, all this is to say, that I probably still won’t be reading any greater percentage of novels by women in the foreseeable future. (And it’s certainly not an excuse for another of my futile projects!).