Orange Prize Brings Out the Neanderthals... Again

Every year when the Orange Prize lists are announced (long or short), someone steps up and says that the women-only prize is "sexist" and not needed. Every. Damn. Year. Boring! Yet rage-inducing! Such ambivalence!

This year, they've trotted out my beloved A.S. Byatt to do the dirty work (it's okay, Antonia, I still love you). Bah. I'm not going to get into all the arguments (wooops, I actually do, further down), since about three people read this blog, but there's no such thing as a reverse -ism, friends, and until women are equal players in the world, things like the Orange Prize are, yes, still needed. Consider that the most recent winner of the PEN/Faulkner award, Kate Christensen, is one of only a handful of women to do so.

And the opinion pieces come out of the woodwork. Here's another one, from Telegraph, that I'm purposely not linking to (for several reasons, the hateful reader comments being but one):
Women are predominant, in terms of numbers and power, in most of the major publishing houses and agencies. They sell most of the books, into a market that largely comprises women readers.

First, I'm not sure how it is in the U.K. but in Canada, something like 80% of the workforce in publishing is female, while only 3% of the executive is.* So, tell me, where is the real power? Secondly, "they" sell most of the books do they? You mean most of the people in the pink ghetto of retail are women? Well yes, that's true. Or do you mean female authors sell more books? If that's the case, then you're going to have to be more clear in your writing, and back that up with some stats. I'd love to see them, because I'm definitely interested.

The author of this silly piece seems to think that women are a "dominant" group, like "whites" (wrong). He continually makes these sorts of comparisons between gender and race based oppressions. While -isms do work together to create layers of oppression, comparing oppressions (sexism and racism in this article), is very, very tricky business (see Hilary v Obama), and really shouldn't be done. Ever.

Then, he casts every woman he comes in contact with as unable to defend their position with logic; their only tactic is to "hit him on the head," literally or with "verbal abuse." He was called, and I quote, "a BUM." How he must suffer! Personally, if I was faced with these tired old arguments against women-only institutions, I'd be prone to violence too. Not because I'm unable to engage in "mature debate," but rather because my opponent has set the bar so low with their reactionary drivel, a hit on the head is the only logical response.

And P.S.: the patriarchy is not "a trick that men played on women for thousands of years." Leave it to a man to take millennia of world-wide, systematic oppression, abuse, and subjugation and minimize it down to something like putting a whoppie cushion on your chair. That, my friends, is what we call privilege. Additionally, with the implication that women fell for this "trick" for so long, the writer once again gets to call womankind stupid.

But yeah, we're all like totally equal and powerful and shit. *headdesk*

My ex-pat friend Axel did mention in the comments a while back, how right-wing the Telegraph is, so I guess I shouldn't be too surprised to see this sort of thing published there.

I've gotten into arguments mature debates at Bookninja about this sort of thing, and it's unhelpful that there aren't (that I know of) statistics on how many books are published by men and women each year (for the casual observer, it seems pretty even in the fiction realm), how big the advances are for men vs women, that sort of thing. This is a casual observation, but I have noticed The New York Times often gets really, really excited over quirky, clev-ah, first time male novelists, giving them pages and pages and pages of press**, yet women don't get the same treatment. There have been studies that indicate that women are the bulk of the fiction readers, but nothing so much on the writing front. I'd be interested to know, at any rate.

The Orange Prize long list is here.
I've read:
Jennifer Egan The Keep
Anne Enright The Gathering
Heather O'Neill Lullabies for Little Criminals
Based on my small list, I'm pulling for Egan. The Keep was one of the most transporting things I've ever read.

*This is based on my memory of a Quill and Quire industry survey I read in 2005. I doubt things are 50/50 as of this writing. Call me a pessimist.
**I'm sorry, please allow me to indulge my incredibly shallow side. Look at that photo!! If I saw that guy in a coffee shop, my first thought would be "douchebag."
Sarah Seltzer, in the latest issue of Bitch, addresses the anti-feminist bias at The NYT, that I mentioned in this post. Unsurprisingly, Seltzer writes about it far better than I did. Well worth a look.


The Girl Detective said...

Well said!

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