The Problem with Women And Other Stories

How pushing the pink envelope is a backward step towards equality

Did you know this year was the year of publishing female writers? No, me neither. Kamila Shamsie came up with the idea in an attempt to promote equality in the publishing world. She asked the book industry to only publish female writers through 2018. However, only one publisher, And Other Stories, took her up on it and they only committed to 11 months due to the Northern Book Prize. Shamsie’s provocation raises the question: how do we level the playing field for female writers?

Equality is genderless

Now is the time to publish literature based on its quality and not the gender of its author. There is no shortage of female creativity with universities averaging a female uptake in the creative arts of over 61%. The University of York’s English literature BA degree course had over 75% females enrolled in 2018. Statistically speaking, there are more female writers than male but it’s the male writers who are being published.

female students
75% of English Literature students were female in 2018 at the University of York alone

All book prizes should be anonymous

One of the problems is gynobibliophobia. Alison Flood reported in 2015 that a female author received 8 times more responses from publishers when she used a male pseudonym for the same book. This demonstrates a clear bias towards male writers, whether conscious or unconscious. So why not simply encourage anonymous submissions? That’s exactly how the recently established Northern Book Prize is successfully run with Amy Arnold’s novel Slip of a Fish winning this year. They are not alone either with The Brighthorse Book Prize, NewMillennium Writings Prize and The Media Diversified Prize (whose panel of judges is all female for 2019 submissions), choosing the same tactics. It clearly works: all the winners of the above mentioned prizes were female in 2018.

Women are not ‘special’

However, Lionel Shriver considers this type of special treatment for women to cause more harm than good. To continually single women out impresses the idea women still require additional help to succeed.

“This whole thing of treating women specially, as if they need special help and special rules, is problematic and obviously backfires” (Lionel)

Lionel claims winning the Man Booker Prize meant more to her than winning the female entry only Orange Prize simply because she considers it a level playing field. If this was the case then why did she enter the Orange Prize in the first place. It’s a pity she now shuns a platform specifically designed to encourage women to write without being concerned about the bias towards male writers, especially as they help to level the playing field of published authors.

unnamed (1)
Anonymous submissions is the future for book prizes

Looking ahead

Society as a whole is pushing towards genderless in the pursuit for equality, so while female only competitions have, and continue to help female writers, going forward, all book prizes should eventually be anonymous.

By Emma Ayre

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