Thursday, January 03, 2013

Women and winning

So the 2013 Costa winners are announced: they are novelist Hilary Mantel, new writer Francesca Segal, poet Kathleen Jamie, graphic memoirists Mary and Bryan Talbot and children's author, Sally Gardner. While Telegraph writer Sameer Rahim cheers the fact that they are all female and wonders if this makes the all-women former Orange prize (which is still looking for a sponsor) redundant, it occurs to your blogger that the fact that he can find their all-female character so noticeable makes the answer no. He also notes that
three of the five Costa winners have male protagonists – evidence, if we needed it, that the authors are pursuing the stories that interest them and do not feel in the slightest inhibited their gender.
Hm. There are some odd implications here. Could there possibly be a hint that stories about men are more interesting than stories about women, even to women writers? That if women work with female protagonists they are somehow being inhibited by their gender? Even (it could follow) that female gender is essentially inhibiting (unless you escape it with a male protagonist?) Is it true that it still is? How many women writers, I wonder, create male protagonists because they know, consciously or unconsciously, that in our culture the male still stands for normal and the female is, well, female and therefore minority? In fact, you know, for this reason it's much simpler (as a woman), I find, to write with a male protagonist. Bring on a female protagonist and right away you're battling with complex issues and barriers both for your protagonist and her way of being in the world and indeed for your book, not least among the barriers being that it it is known that women readers are happy to read about men but male readers are less keen to read about women. (Even the remarkably sensitive men in my reading group still show this tendency to some extent.) Well, it's less hard than it was, I think, but I do reckon it would be really interesting to study the proportions of male and female protagonists in successful and/or prizewinning books by women.

6 comments:

alisonwells said...

I agree that sadly your analysis is true. I've completed a novel with a female protagonist in a family environment, and although there is a Big Brother type alternate world involved I'm hesitant about submitting it as my first novel for fear of being pigeonholed as a 'women's writer' rather than 'a writer' in general. As it happens my second novel has a male protagonist and I'm feeling more confident about submitting it. Sad but true. There's a feeling of jubilation and justification at this all women Costa but in an ideal world it wouldn't be such a big deal.

WOMEN RULE WRITER said...

It certainly would be interesting, Elizabeth, to look at that. Happily Anne Enright won The M Booker with a female narrator. Narrating about her dead brother, though.

Tania Hershman said...

Very interesting discussion, Elizabeth. Although do suspect that no-one can really get it right when talking about gender - whatever Sameer Rahim had said would have in some ways probably been suspect, no? I wish that gender just wasn't mentioned at all, that in fact authors weren't mentioned much, it's about the writing, dammit! Okay, that's my utopia, where it really is all about the writing, which clearly doesn't exist and never will. Maybe this is why I am moving towards writing stories where I am not even sure of the gender of my protagonist. More interesting for me, anyway!

Elizabeth Baines said...

Yes, so agree, Tania: if only gender weren't an issue.

sensibilia said...

But what remains a paradox is that more women read - ANYTHING - and that boys at school are well-documented as being behind girls at reading and in any case more interested in non-fiction. I strongly feel that there is enormous scope for courageous women writers to give the female world view if only so that women readers can recognize themselves. But then they must find a publisher ....

Zoe Lambert said...

There doesn't seem to be a similar problem when men write from a female point of view.