Thursday, March 14, 2013

How close are we to androgyny?

Interviewed about the newly announced longlist for the Women's Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize), Natasha Walter, one of the judges, says that she was struck by the number of women writing from male viewpoints. Like Telegraph writer Sameer Rahim noting a similarity in the Costa winners, she sees this as possible evidence of a move towards the fulfilment of Virginia Woolf's wish for women writers to be seen as androgynous rather than as women. Others, however, including me (see this post), suspect a different implication. Kira Cochrane writes:
If a woman adopts a male perspective, it seems their story is still more likely to be respected, and read as universal. The author Naomi Alderman is well aware of this bias, and notes that the women who have won the Booker include: "Hilary Mantel writing about a strong man [Thomas Cromwell]. Pat Barker writing about the first world war and men's experiences. AS Byatt, yes there's a woman in it, but actually a lot of Possession is first-person writing as a man. Let's look at their names: Hilary, Pat and AS. These are names a man can read on the train and you don't necessarily immediately know that they're reading [a book by] a woman."


chillcat said...

Interesting post and original articles. I've always asked myself why I like writing so much with a male voice and I think it is a conscious/semi-conscious wish not to be considered as a female writer writing for women. I WANT men to read my stories and enjoy them, and I did at the outset consider using an initial instead of my name so as not to be identified. My old favourite Patrick White said that good writing should not belong to an identifiable gender. I still want to believe that serious readers disregard sex, perhaps I am totally wrong.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of trials on the selection of musicians for an orchestra where the sex of the player was concealed. Women were more likely to be selected if their sex was not known beforehand by the judges, particularly for instruments considered 'masculine', where strength is a perceived advantage

Elizabeth Baines said...

That's very interesting, Elizabeth. And very instructive to know your feelings as a writer, Chillcat.

Elizabeth Baines said...

Strangely, the following comment by Zoe Lambert has disappeared, so I replicate it here:

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

Zoe Lambert's blog: