Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Muriel's Ark

It was Lisa's day in the Ministry and I mentioned a recent article by Muriel Gray, who was the Chair of year's Orange Prize, bemoaning the lack of fiction in female fiction writers. Muriel laments (that's a great name for a band, you can use it) that women "appear to have forgotten the fundamental imperative of fiction writing. It's called making stuff up." She complains that too much women's fiction is simply too autobiographical. If Virginia Woolf were alive she would doubtless take Muriel out with a sniper rifle.

Lisa and I puzzled over this article and couldn't really get past the fact that it was negative, patronizing and such an over-simplification as to be almost meaningless.

I'm not sure that these kind of generalizations are helpful unless they are part of a discussion or study that involves, well, research perhaps, into the changing nature of the books women are writing - and, importantly, the ones being published - or an examination of the assumptions that we make about women's writing. Actually, I'm not sure that even that would be helpful. If you go into something looking for difference, you will tend to find it. And I don't see anyone bollocking Nick Hornby (admittedly a frightening image).

In my first year at Uni they told us of studies that look at assumptions of gender, which showed that when tutors (male and female) were told they were marking a man's work, they consistently marked higher than if they were told the writer was a woman - even if there was no variation in the work. I wonder about a similar experiment with fiction.

What would happen if we took the covers off some books and asked people to identify whether they were written by a man or a woman. What assumptions would that show about men and women writers?

Muriel concludes her article:

The first hurdle is to convince women that if they break free of those gender constraints, they will still be relevant and still be taken as seriously as the quality of their work demands. The Orange prize is a leading force in assisting this, and the fact that all three major literary prizes will have gone to women authors shows that when women dream and dare and invent, they are in every way equal to their male rivals.

"Every way equal to their male rivals" - oh, piss off, Muriel.

No comments: