Are we too concerned with gender equality in literature?

An article in the Guardian this week talks about a group of Australian women writers and publishers who are setting up an equivalent to the Orange Prize which promotes writing by women. As a woman writer, I should be supportive. 

But something bothers me about this whole ‘positive discrimination’ culture. Maybe it’s the fact that as a reader, I don’t choose books based on their authors’ gender. If a book is good, what do I care whether it was written by a man or a woman? I may be very naive but I sincerely doubt that an average reader picks their books by looking at the name and checking the writer’s gender. Besides, if we go down this road a little further, we will soon be setting up initiatives to promote writing by male writers, trans gender writers, young women writers, old men writers, beautiful people writers, ugly people writers, fat or skinny writers… Okay, maybe I am going a bit too far but so does this obsession with numbers that we all seem to have.

So what that Australia’s top book prize, The Miles Franklin, has only been won twice by a woman in the last decade? Did that affect the readers’ enjoyment as they read the shortlisted books? I doubt it. The truth is, until recently women have been involved in completely different activities than men. Of course, there were exceptions, but generally speaking, women had to concern themselves with slightly less exciting things, such as children, cooking, mending etc, while men went out and explored the world. It may seem as if this situation has long since changed, but anthropologically speaking, it hasn’t been that long since we have started to live similar lives to men. So it shouldn’t be surprising that the catching up process might take a long time, maybe decades, maybe even centuries. Do we need to force it?

Or maybe women would never be able to have the same opportunities as men just because we tend to want a family as well as a career and having a family for a woman often means spending less time and energy on her own pursuits. Just like a man would often happily relax in front of the telly while the house is so messy it is about to crash on his head, whilst a woman would most probably do the tidying up first, it is often easier for a man to just go and write and for a woman to sort out the kids’ dinner first.

I am probably going to get  feminists all wound up now, but my question is – do we actually need the positive discrimination? Do we have to ensure that fifty percent of the top writers are women? Can writing not be just that – writing? We can go on for hours about the gender equality and I will be the first to defend women’s rights but it does sometimes seem that the numbers dominate our lives nowadays and we forget about the more important issues.

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Author: Maia Nikitina

Writer, reviewer, blogger.

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