My post in response to the announcement of the 2010 Orange Prize longlist sparked a great deal of debate in the comments section. Across the blogosphere there have been a number of posts concerning the issues surrounding women’s writing, particularly following the controversial comments made by Orange Prize judge, Daisy Goodwin.

One thing is clear from the debate, this is not a simple issue. The most laughable criticism of women’s writing is that it is becoming/has always been too domestic. Jo Case over at Kill Your Darlings explained why domesticity is a wholly fitting subject for literature:

‘some of the best writing – in my subjective opinion – is that which examines human nature, human relationships, the intricacies of how we live our lives, and mirrors them back to us so we can better understand ourselves. And as domestic life will always be an area ripe for that kind of examination, I fervently hope that our most talented writers don’t feel obliged to steer away from that arena for fear of not being taken seriously.’

Literature about our daily lives is surely more resonant for that. That we still live in a society that denigrates works solely on the basis of their subject matter being grounded in the realities of domestic life seems counter-intuitive. Lizzie Skurnick’s account of women authors being overlooked for writing about just such subject matter, while male writers of flawed but worthy works being given the benefit of the doubt for attempting and failing at ‘larger’ subjects, highlights the issues facing women writers:

I watched as we pushed aside works that everyone acknowledged were more finely wrought, were, in fact, competently wrought, for books that had shot high but fallen short. And every time the book that won was a man’s.

And it is true that men do not face the criticism that their books are getting too grim. As Jean Hannah Edelstein discussed over on the Guardian book blog:

it seems unlikely that a similar critique would be taken seriously by the press – or even uttered – if it were levied against male writers. Debates about who’s going to be the next Philip Roth are not coloured by criticisms of brilliant young male authors for not being cheery enough – I’ve not read any criticism that Legend of a Suicide, for example, lacks joy. But men in any profession are rarely criticised for failing to present themselves to the world without the perpetual beaming grins of beauty pageant contestants.

Women seem trapped between the rock of chick-lit and the hard-place of the misery narrative. For both they receive criticism. and meanwhile we have longlists being announced where 9 men are selected and only 3 women. If there are truly more women working in publishing, more women readers and more women writers in the world today than men, something about that just seems off.

In my last post on this subject I asked the question of whether we need a women’s only literary prize in 2010? It looks, sadly, as if we do.

Other interesting blog posts on the subject:
Benjamin Solah: On Women, Sexism, Literature, Awards & Why Male Writers Don’t Benefit
Jen Brubacher: Orange Controversy