think about it
Your cart is empty
Visit The Shop

in defence of women-only literary awards

Last Friday I was pottering away at my internship doing intern-y things (jamming the printer, killing trees and making little people out of paper clips) when all of a sudden my boss did something very strange…he asked for my opinion. I was taken aback. He wanted my opinion? The opinion of the lowly intern? The opinion of the weirdo in the corner bending all the paper clips?

He wanted to know what I thought of women-only literary awards and the newly established Stella Prize for Australian women’s writing. I replied that I hadn’t really formed an opinion on that prickly issue. He gave me an article to read and said he’d like to hear my thoughts when he came back from lunch. The article began with the news that the Orange Prize, one of the most prestigious literary awards for female writers, had lost its sponsorship only to be saved by a group of private benefactors led by Cherie Blair. It then went on to explore the gender imbalance in the publishing industry and the need for exclusively female literary awards like the Orange and the Stella.

When I finished the article I scoured Google for more information. As I read, the ball-busting feminist inside me reared her head. By the time my boss returned from lunch I was hunched over the computer, hating men and muttering things about injustice and hegemonic masculinity. I looked up at him and launched into an impassioned rant about the need for women-only literary awards. I think it’s safe to say he will never ask for my opinion again.

After placating my inner feminist with The First Wives Club and doing a bit more reading I’m now able to write about the issue with a degree of sanity. I’m still hunched over my computer but I don’t hate men as much and I’m not muttering things under my breath (although I will occasionally yell out in my wannabe gangster voice, ‘I’M A FREE INDEPENDENT WOMAN; I DON’T NEED NO MAN’).

The argument against women-only literary awards is that they are discriminatory, patronising and outdated. Some writers argue that the whole idea is sexist. Writer Paul Bailey slammed the Orange Prize saying that ‘sexes should not be separated like this in art’.  Anita Brookner, winner of the 1984 Man Booker Prize, believes in a meritocracy: ‘If a book is good, it will get published. If it is good it will get reviewed.’ Others argue that women-only awards perpetuate the idea that women are a disadvantaged group in need of support and special treatment. Part of me agrees with these arguments. I would love to live in a world where men and women stood equal on the literary playing field and a meritocracy ruled. I would love to live in a world where women-only literary awards were unnecessary and outdated. But unfortunately this is not the case.

Australia’s highest literary accolade, the Miles Franklin, has been awarded to a woman 13 times out of 50 and only twice in the last ten years. And the Man Booker Prize has only been won by 16 women since it was set up in 1969. There is no denying that there is a serious gender imbalance in literary awards. Maybe a women-only literary award is not the best solution but it sure as hell beats sitting around doing nothing.

The root of the problem lies in the wider literary world and taps into a number of contentious issues.

Firstly, sexism is rife in book reviewing. Every year Vida, an organisation for women in literary arts, releases statistics showing the proportion of reviews by and about women compared to those by and about men. In 2011 the London Review of Books reviewed 168 male authors and 58 female. There were only 29 female book reviewers versus 155 male. The New York Review of Books reviewed a staggering 306 male authors compared to 59 women and only has 39 female reviewers versus 200 male.

Rebecca Starford, editor of Kill Your Darlings, released statistics showing how Australian publications fared over two months. The Age reviewed 90 books by men and only 43 by women. There were 72 male reviewers compared to 61 female. The Australian Literary Review featured 41 male writers and 10 female. Of their reviewers, 36 were men and 15 were women.

They’re depressing statistics. After reading them, I get the urge to put on my pointiest high heels and go out and kick men. This wouldn’t do much good but it would make me feel better.

The second problem is the way books are designed and marketed. A lot of the work of female writers is ‘trussed up in gaudy manipulation of “feminine”’. Next time you go into a bookstore, have a look at the book covers of female writers. You’ll probably find lots of wistful young women looking off into the distance or walking through a garden. And don’t even get me started on the vagina motifs! Blossoming flower equals vagina. Glossy open mouth equals vagina. Ripe fruit peeled open equals vagina.

But enough about vaginas. Let’s get back to the cock-fest that is the literary world. There is a gender imbalance in some areas of publishing and this can lead to a gender imbalance in literary awards. Yes, it would be better if a meritocracy prevailed. Yes, it would be better if sexism was nonexistent. Yes, it would be better if we didn’t need women-only literary awards. But until all the shit is sorted out we need women-only literary awards. We need awards that ‘will raise the profile of women’s writing…encourage a future generation of women writers, and significantly increase the readership for books by women.’

WE’RE FREE INDEPENDENT WOMEN; WE DON’T NEED NO MEN.

What do you think about women-only literary awards?

Here at Lip, we value insight, debate and shared experiences. That said, we don’t publish content that is discriminatory, derogatory or spam. Please respect that our readers come from different backgrounds, experiences and viewpoints – keep this in mind when posting comments on our site. You can read our full comment guidelines here.

(Image credit)

23 thoughts on “in defence of women-only literary awards

  1. I feel like you’re negating the power of your argument by putting in lines about how you ‘hate men’ and that we ‘don’t need no men’. I know you’re being somewhat tongue in cheek, but honestly, it loses some of the power of what you’re saying.

  2. More self-pitying hysteria.

    You really need to burn those Gender Studies textbooks. Feminists have no respect for women. The assertion that women writers can only receive critical recognition if they are treated as a special-needs victim class is deeply offensive – to women.

    Who cares about the sex of reviewed authors? The sex of the reviewers themselves is even more irrelevant. Are you suggesting that literary reviewers are unfairly critical of work by writers of the opposite sex? Do you have a shred of evidence for this, or did you just make it up?

    Those feminists have you convinced that you belong to a hopelessly incompetent special-needs victim class that can’t even write books without needing to be coddled with prizes and hugs every step the way. Until you stop this nonsense, you will never emerge from the shadows of your paper clip corner as the strong, independent woman you obviously hope to be.

    • YES!!!!! the smartest post ever. though, you need to be prepared of the personal attacks, and troll accusations that are going to come your way. it’s the ONLY defense.

      • Good say Bob. Not that there is any hope for chicks like author, they will always blame “misogynist males” and “patriarchal oppression” for anything; but – great post…

  3. The troll is back!!

    according to anybob, the author is convinced she belongs to a “hopelessly incompetent special-needs victim class”

    yet, the very same anybob has previously stated that, “Name-calling is always employed by those attepting to divert attention away from the holes in their arguments. It is a shaming tactic designed to silence those with disenting opinions.” couldn’t put it better myself.

    The sad thing is that I’m actually receptive to the general argument anybob makes, but he makes it in such an immature rant-driven manner that no one would ever want to be on anybob’s side no matter how right he was.

    To quote yourself, “Until you stop this nonsense, you will never emerge from the shadows of your paper clip corner.”

    • i doubt you care about anything he has to say. you’re just excusing his points because you want your feminist captors to pet you on the head.

      • i doubt you care about anything i have to say. you’re just excusing andybob’s points because you want your fellow ‘mens right’ activist to pet you on the head. Did andybob get discouraged and send you to fight his battles instead? (this is assuming you’re not andybob with a different name)

  4. I didn’t call anybody names. You are the one who did that (referring to someone as a troll is name-calling – or does it magically become OK when you do it?). You even decended into schoolyard antics by intentionally getting my name wrong. I love engaging with feminists – fish in a barrel.

    Ms McGrath refers to the literary world as a “cock fest.” She obviously perceives women authors as embattled victims negotiating a world of violently swinging patriarchal penises. Poor little things. I don’t know any women writers who see themselves this way.

    If Chris stands for Christopher, then I wonder why you feel the need to constantly go into white knight mode and defend ‘the ladies’ who post here every time someone offers anything that vaguely resembles criticism. Don’t you think you are being a tad, dare I say it, patronising? Unlike you, I actually regard women as adults with agency, perfectly capable of defending their viewpoints. Let them speak for themselves.

    I would like Ms McGrath to explain why she thinks that it is acceptable – not to mention amusing – to advocate for violence against men:

    “After reading them, I get the urge to put on my pointiest high heels and go out and kick men. This wouldn’t do much good but it would make me feel better.”

    If a man had written about donning steel-toed boots to go out and kick women in order to make him feel better, there would be public outrage – and rightly so. The blog would be immediately shut down, and the writer named, shamed and probably arrested.

    However, Ms McGrath feels quite content to advocate for violence against men and boys. Why?

    Feminism.

    Feminism has taught women that violence is acceptable when they do it. It has turned young women like her into violent, hate-spewing hypocrites. Even the throwaway comment about being a “ball-busting feminist” is revealing. Ms McGrath believes that genital mutilation is funny, when it happens to men – I doubt that she thinks it is so funny when it happens to women.

    Violence is unacceptable. It isn’t droll, it isn’t sassy, it isn’t smart. If the young women who make the editorial decisions for this site are actually aiming to offer a forum for man-hating bigots who advocate violence, then carry on regardless. However, if you hope to claim any kind of moral high ground, which I believe you do, then it is time to clean up your act.

    Perhaps it is time to put down the man-hating screeds you have digested in your Gender Studies classes and stop blaming men for everything you hate about the world. Not enough people reading women writers? Easy – stop writing man-hating “ball-busting” drivel and start writing good books that women actually want to read.

    Ms McGrath’s interaction with her boss was actually typical of how many young women interact with men. he asked her a simple question and was met with a “rant” from someone who obviously hated him. Is it any wonder that men are becoming less and less interested about what women have to say about anything? Who wants to be on the receiving end of a hateful rant?

    If you so-called educated women can’t figure that out, then I can assure you that you are destined for a lifetime of extreme unhappiness, the causes of which will always allude you. One thing is certain, the answers are not inside your Gender Studies textbooks – and they have nothing whatsoever to do with literary awards.

    Ms McGrath’s final declaration, “WE DON’T NEED NO MEN,” could be dismissed as just another shallow feminist slogan Yet, it perfectly encapsulates the arrogant dismissal that women routinely make about the massive contribution that men make to the lives of women. Women need men very much.

    In fact, you owe men a great deal. Learning how to recognise and appreciate this without dissolving into apoplectic fits of rage and resentment is a vital step towards a happy future for young women today. Feminism is not your friend.

  5. Andybob – I’m almost impressed at how you write with such conviction and zeal, but, ultimately, I’m just kinda disappointed by just how much you contradict yourself. let’s examine some of your insults more closely and see if they pass your own lofty standards

    Andybob – “I didn’t call anybody names” -
    ohhhh so that was somebody else who claimed the author was convinced she was in a “special-needs victim class”.. was it? I also note your most recent insult – claiming the author only had a “so-called” education” – clever! so… if I claim that you should be in a special needs victim class because of your hilarious excuse for an education then, by your standards of what’s name-calling and what’s not, that’s okay?

    “referring to someone as a troll is name-calling – or does it magically become OK when you do it?” – oh but andybob, I didn’t say I wouldn’t resort to name-calling, unlike your hypocritical ass.

    “I wonder why you feel the need to constantly go into white knight mode and defend ‘the ladies’”
    Nice nice.. so I’m not allowed to have my own opinion and assert it accordingly? The mere act of asserting my opinion equates to me being a “white knight” defending ‘the ladies’?
    Well your logic runs both ways andybob, so why don’t I ask why *you* feel the need to rush around being a “white knight”, defending “the men”?

    “Don’t you think you are being a tad, dare I say it, patronising?” – I’m trying my hardest, but you’re like the Michael Jordan of being patronising. I guess I need a couple of years practise trolling feminist websites.

    Now I’m going to ignore the vast chunk of your comment – the disingenuous faux outrage about the author advocating violence against men – because it’s blatantly obvious to everyone (including you) that this is a satirical piece of writing. I’ll end by looking at your glorious assertion that women “owe men a great deal”. Couldn’t agree more! Would you also agree with the statement that men owe women a great deal?

    So.. to conclude, why don’t you try applying your holier-than-thou scrutiny to your own statements, and then try commenting again? Or maybe just have a nice cup of tea and lie down..

  6. Pointing out that the author believes that women need special treatment – which is deeply misogynist – isn’t name-calling. I find your unshakeable belief that it is bizarre – and rather sad. It is as though the moment you are confronted with logic and reason, you feel as though you are being attacked. You may not have the sense to realize it, but I am trying to help you to be a better person.

    The author’s call for violence is not satire. Just because she thinks that inflicting violence on men is funny, doesn’t make it satire. Just because she only fantasizes about committing violence against men and boys with deadly weapons, doesn’t make it satire. Violence isn’t funny. I tried flipping the sexes to highlight the double standard, and you still didn’t get it.

    The act of asserting your opinion is not what makes you a white knight – I never said it did. What makes you a white knight is that you infantilize women by giving them passes when they advocate violence which is something you would never tolerate from men. Your expectations of women are obviously very low. Stop treating women like babies and start demanding that they behave like adults. That means getting called on unacceptable behavior such as advocating violence.

    You may not believe this, but I actually feel sorry for you. Feminist men like you have no idea how deeply feminist women despise you. Oh they’ll pat you on the head when you are defending their bad behavior, they may even pretend they appreciate you when they can utilize you in some way. But take the word of a gay man who has heard women discuss men when you’re not around – feminists loathe supplicating men like you with a force as pure as fire.

    Any man willing to defend women who see them as nothing more than an evil, patriarchal rapist – and actually make them wear white ribbons like Stars of David as penance for crimes they never have, or ever will commit – are regarded as the creepiest creeps of them all. Self-respect is a very attractive quality in both sexes. Acquire some very soon. You’re going to need it through life.

    No-one has the right to inflict violence on you. You may dismiss female on male violence as harmless fun – you’ve called it ‘satire’ – but it isn’t. Women have no more right to inflict violence against men than men have the right to inflict violence against women. If the women in your life are telling you that violence is acceptable when women do it to men, then you need to tell them that they are wrong – and you need to believe it. Don’t allow them to inflict violence against you. Most importantly, don’t ever tell your sons that it is acceptable – or God forbid, satirical – for women and girls to inflict violence against them.

    Calling people trolls for pointing out that advocating violence is wrong actually makes you an enabler of violence. I’ll bet that many women reading this agree with me. If they don’t, then they are participants in a violent hate movement whose goal is to undermine the rights and welfare of men and boys. So, let women speak for themselves. You can go back to doing whatever feminist stooges do when not defending the indefensible. Chris, always remember that women don’t get to hit you, or your sons – ever.

    • HA!! i bet chris’s brain is melting right now! can’t wait to see the personal attacks he’s going to come back with. his white-knightness surely has him running in circles right now.

  7. “You may not have the sense to realize it, but I am trying to help you to be a better person.” – haha oh man, the only reason i know you’re not joking is that no one could intentionally be this funny.

    the fact is, andybob, you are a highly pugnacious and malicious individual who is incapable of making a point without embellishing it with melodramatic and condescending hyperbole. basically, you’re rude, aggressive and not amenable to civic discussion. (have you noticed how no one else bothers arguing with you any more?) accordingly, I think it’s blatantly obvious to any objective observer that your hand-wringing about name calling is hypocritical because you are so incredibly condescending to the author of whichever articles bear the misfortune of having your name appear under them.

    “The author’s call for violence is not satire. Just because she thinks that inflicting violence on men is funny, doesn’t make it satire” –
    So what’s your actual argument? You can’t prove it not satire by saying it is “not satire”. The fact is that violence is often humorised when presented in particular cultural formats. What makes this possible, and acceptable, is the fact that the audience understand the imperative of maintaining a suspension of disbelief. otherwise known as “using your imagination”. The same principle regarding why kids don’t go out jacking cars after playing GTA also explains why this article is not going to inspire violence against men.

    “I tried flipping the sexes to highlight the double standard,” – there’s no double standard because no one’s saying it’ would be wrong to make a satire with the sexes flipped. i certainly don’t think, for example, that it would be inherently wrong for you to write a blog post satirically advocating violence against women. my only condition would be that it was good satire.

    “But take the word of a gay man who has heard women discuss men when you’re not around – feminists loathe supplicating men like you with a force as pure as fire.”
    You may not believe this, but I actually feel sorry for you. I’m increasingly getting the impression you have a very deep pathological hatred of women. Your reference to having “heard women discuss men” indicates to me you don’t actually think of women as autonomous individuals. As far as you’re concerned, if you hear the opinion of a few feminist women, you can deduce the beliefs of *all* feminist women – there are, of course, many different variants and schools from radical Dworkin-ism to Equity Feminism (see Christina Hoff Sommers for example) but it doesn’t really matter to you because you loathe them all with a force as pure as fire. I find your pathological hatred fascinating, though, you should consider writing a Lip article about the events in your life that made you this way – I think it could be a really fascinating read.

    “You may dismiss female on male violence as harmless fun – you’ve called it ‘satire’ – but it isn’t.” – you’ve got it the wrong way round mate – no one is saying that ‘*violence* is satirical’, what i said was that ‘*satirical violence* is harmless fun’. If you cannot understand this distinction then please promise me you never play a video game, pick up a fiction book or watch a crime drama because you might get some crazy ideas.

    “..violent hate movement whose goal is to undermine the rights and welfare of men and boys.” – okay, let’s start off by saying that, of course, violence (just so you know, we’re talking actual violence now, not satire, k?) against men, as with against women, is abhorrent and should be condemned. But let’s have some perspective here, men are instigators of violence in the *vast majority* of cases. Lets consider, for example, the fact that women commit murder at one tenth the rate of boys and that men are, in general, far more likely to engage in violent conduct than women. Part of the reason for this is the elevated testosterone levels in men – violent criminals, for example, tend to have higher levels than non-violent criminals but ultimately, what this means is that, while one can’t deny the existence of female on male violence, male on female, or male on male violence is far far more common. (if you have any empirical data to refute this, by the way, i’m all ears).

    please, andybob, please reconsider your bizarre hatred of women – what i’d recommend is that you try talking to an actual woman, or, at the least, try commenting on one of the articles on this website without your usual eighteen layers of condescending bulls**t and then watch in amazement as people actually start to take you seriously.
    unfortunately, we both know that what you’ll probably do is spew several hundred more words of fire and brimstone pretending you don’t understand what satire is.

    • “The fact is that violence is often humorised when presented in particular cultural formats. What makes this possible, and acceptable, is the fact that the audience understand the imperative of maintaining a suspension of disbelief. otherwise known as “using your imagination”. The same principle regarding why kids don’t go out jacking cars after playing GTA also explains why this article is not going to inspire violence against men.” right here, this is the reason why violence against men and boys is acceptable. men tolerate it, men accept it, men condone it, men excuse it, men defend it, men (typically benevolent, as usual) need to qualify that the violence “satirically” being done to them is just because they are (men) the big and bad, yet the protectors at the same time.

      • “right here, this is the reason why violence against men and boys is acceptable.” – Yes EXACTLY, that’s why the release of GTA made it considered acceptable to go on killing rampages. The Horatio Hornblower series is the reason why everyone goes around killing French people. The TV series ‘Xena’ is the reason why men are bashed by women everywhere you look. Just put ‘satirically’ in quote marks and you’ve ‘proved’ it’s not satire – well done!

    • “But let’s have some perspective here, men are instigators of violence in the *vast majority* of cases. Lets consider, for example, the fact that women commit murder at one tenth the rate of boys and that men are, in general, far more likely to engage in violent conduct than women. Part of the reason for this is the elevated testosterone levels in men – violent criminals, for example, tend to have higher levels than non-violent criminals but ultimately, what this means is that, while one can’t deny the existence of female on male violence, male on female, or male on male violence is far far more common. (if you have any empirical data to refute this, by the way, i’m all ears).” <——-WHITE KNIGHT ALERT!! WHITE KNIGHT ALERT!! WHITE KNIGHT ALERT!! WHITE KNIGHT ALERT!!

      http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/women-are-more-violent-says-study-622388.html

      http://trueslant.com/caitlinkelly/2010/02/28/amy-bishop-etc-women-are-violent-women-kill-this-is-why/

      • Do you not see the hypocrisy of crying hysterical at the personal attacks against andybob, on the one hand, and the calling me a “white knight” who wants to get impress feminists etc, on the other?
        I’m willing to bury the hatchet and engage you more civilly if you do likewise.

        Interesting links – neither of them, it bears mentioning, contradict my point that men committing murder at ten times the rate of women.
        The Amy Bishop article, in fact, starts with the line, “It is not common for women to kill.” Her subsequent assertions that women sometimes kill agrees with the argument I’ve made that 10% of murderers are female.

        The Independent article is interesting, thanks for the link. It undoubtedly raises a good point, the problem is in making the assumption that, because women are more violent than men (although the archer study confirms it’s very close to 50/50), men are the greater victims of domestic abuse. This is a wrong assumption because, as the article states, “Male violence remains a more serious phenomenon: men proved more likely than women to injure their partners”. So if you wanted to use these findings to argue that feminist complaints of domestic violence are trumped up, you’d not be backed by the evidence.

        The discussion is more productive when we’re debating actual points – let’s see if we can keep it this way. :)

  8. We still haven’t quite settled the question of whether or not women need their own special literary awards.
    I’m trying desperately hard to think of a female Updike, or a female Ian McEwen. Jonathan Franzen. Rick Moody. Jonathan Wray. Julian Barnes, Salman Rushdie, Phillip Roth, Ernest Hemingway, E L Doctorow. Hmmm…
    Arundhati Roy? Barely a novelist, with scarcely believable characters and sleep-inducing scenarios. Margaret Atwood? Not so hot. Barabara Kingsolver? Preachy, hardly a stylist, mostly just angry with her father.
    The rest are mostly commercial writers – Fifty Shades of Pulp – either shoveling out juvenelia about wizards and vampires or shoveling out dime store bodice rippers, where impossibly good looking, wealthy, tall men rescue some hapless damsel in distress.
    Perhaps some of the women on the staff of this fine Ozzie publication may change these trends? (Preferably without the ball stomping and hostility.)
    Otherwise, I fear the no-boys-allowed literary awards will be in the position of having no writers to award.

Comments are closed.