Female author – male voice?

As the longlist of what is for this year The Women’s Prize for Fiction (previously The Orange Prize) has been published, Natasha Walter, a member of the judging panel, has been quoted as saying that she was struck by how many female writers were now writing from a male viewpoint.  “I’m not trying to make some big generalisation out of it … but if you think back to Virginia Woolf saying that her ideal for women writers is that they shouldn’t be seen as women, they should be able to be androgynous. Well, maybe we are getting more towards that.” (The Guardian, 13 March 2013)

Maybe we are. Getting androgynous and Woolf-like. Or maybe we are so used to reading literary fiction in a male voice that we are subconsciously – and even consciously – writing from that perspective too. There has been such an increase in female authors receiving prestigious literary prizes lately that some have even suggested to get rid of specifically female prizes such as The Orange Prize. Is it possible that the reason for such an increase is that women have been writing more and more with male voices?

I do it too. I tend to write more naturally as a man. I find it simpler – there is less complicated stuff going on with male viewpoints, less self-questioning about genre, less wondering whether writing a particular story as a woman would place it into the ‘women’s writing’ or ‘chick-lit’ category. Less chance of being accused of self-indulgence and being too female. As if being female is some sinful thing that we should all pretend to not possess and instead discuss the issues that bother us with our girl friends. Besides, most of my favourite books were written from a male perspective – it only feels natural that if you write in the literary genre, you would be tempted to write as a man.

I don’t know what’s worse – a possible co-relation between female writers getting more prizes and having a male protagonist, or us noticing that they do it in the first place. Androgynous does not mean male, nor does it mean women taking on a male identity (which is what happens when you write from a male perspective).

The issue is that we are still dominated by the ‘men do important things while women do unimportant, women stuff’ mentality. You may argue that there are many books exploring women characters doing ‘important men’s things’ but that’s exactly the problem. We are still under the wrong impression that men go out and have adventures, whilst women – unless they assume a more male identity and go have adventures too – have a boring life that will only interest other women. And that those manly adventures are what is important. We still accept for some strange reason that when a male protagonist explores such issues as love, loss, death or family, it is literary and credible, and when a female protagonist does the same – it’s chick-lit. What’s even more puzzling is that women make up the majority of the readers, and yet the majority of literary fiction is written in a man’s voice.

Writing from male perspective is a free choice and I am all for freedom. Chances are, I’ll do it myself half the time. My concern is whether instead of hiding our female identity under a male nom-de-plume, we are now hiding it under a male viewpoint. We are being coy – look, we are saying, we are female writers and we are being recognised for our work, and we can write as men if we like. But the question remains  – would we be still as recognised if we wrote from a female viewpoint?

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Author: Maia Nikitina

Writer, reviewer, blogger.

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