15 Dec

While I’ve been dutifully (and often exuberantly) working my way through a ‘teetering pile of Mantels and Atwoods and Cattons‘ this year as part of my year of reading women, I haven’t read any Joanne Harris before. But I really think I’ll have to, after this blistering commentary on sexism in the book industry.

Talking about her experiences being accused of ‘plagarising’ everything from Norse legends to Johnny Depp and Tom Hiddleston in her books, she really nails our assumptions about ‘women’s fiction’ to the wall. I really can’t add much to this so I’m just gonna leave it right here….

…It’s the tip of an iceberg – an iceberg we glimpse so often that we tend to forget it’s even there; a great big iceberg of sexism within the whole book industry, which stealthily perpetuates the belief that no woman writer can ever really be successful without having somehow copied from, used or otherwise capitalized upon the popularity of a man.

Don’t buy it? Try this:

Imagine someone accusing Salman Rushdie of “capitalizing” on the folk tales of the Middle East.

Imagine someone accusing Neil Gaiman of “capitalizing” on the popularity of: Norse myths; DR WHO; Claire Danes; milk.

Imagine someone accusing Lee Child of “capitalizing” on the popularity of Tom Cruise.

No? Didn’t think so.

As for myself, I can’t even remember all the crazy, sexist assumptions that have been made (and voiced) about me during my career as a writer. Here are just a few of them:

My husband supported me financially while I was starting out. (He didn’t. We both had jobs.)

My husband secretly writes my books. (Oh, for fuck’s sake.)

My media, university or Hollywood connections helped me start off. (They didn’t. I don’t have any.)

I’m sleeping with my agent/editor. (One is gay, the other female. And no, I’m really not.)

I’m desperate to make more movies, to boost my writing career. (Nope. Much as I like movies, I’ve never needed a leg-up from Hollywood. That’s why I keep turning down offers.)

I only write for women. Because, you know – vagina. (Nope. I write for anyone with a pulse.)

We know that the book industry is largely unfair to women. Women writers are in the majority, but generally get smaller advances; fewer reviews; fewer prizes; less respect.

It doesn’t help when Peter Stothard, latterly a Booker judge and editor of the Times Literary Supplement, excuses the fact that books reviewed in the TLS are almost all by male writers by saying that women don’t read, (or, presumably write) the kind of books reviewed in the TLS.

It doesn’t help when Nobel Prize winner V. S. Naipaul opines (as he does, with monotonous frequency) that women are simply not intellectually up to writing great literature (being way too full of feelings and general messy thinking).

It doesn’t help when women themselves perpetuate the use of insulting terms like “chick-lit”, which belittle and marginalize women’s writing.

It doesn’t help when “women’s fiction” is still considered a sub-category. (Amazon; Goodreads; Wikipedia; take note.)

It doesn’t help when some (male) academics teaching English Literature teach male-dominated courses, and where (female) academics have to compensate by creating “women’s fiction” courses, as if women were a minority group, and not half the population.

Recently, at a function at my local university, I was told – with some pride – by an academic that he never read books by women. It doesn’t help that morons like this are still in charge where it matters.

Given how many influential people (most of them male) are still disseminating the myth that women can’t get there on their own; that women are okay writing for women, but that men need something more durable; that women read (and write) commercial fiction, but that men write literature, we’re going to keep getting people making the same assumptions.The trickle-down effect of sexism in the book business will continue to apply, on Goodreads, on Twitter, in bookshops, on blogs.

How can we stop it?

Don’t let it go. Don’t assume that your voice isn’t worth listening to. Call people out when they talk crap instead of slinking sadly away.

And please, everyone, say after me:

Women’s fiction is not a “genre”.

Women writers do not need the permission of men to write what they do.

Women writers do not need to ride on the coat-tails of men to achieve success.

Women writers are capable of thinking, writing, and acting for themselves, without a man to motivate them, to give them ideas or to lend them an air of authority.

Women writers don’t need to take male pseudonyms in order to gain more readers.

Women writers don’t need to scorn and belittle other women writers in order to get the approval of men.

Women writers can stand alone. But it helps if we stand together.

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