From George Sand to Rowling, for centuries, women writers have felt compelled to use a pseudonym to convince men to read them. And it is not without reason that the latter still have difficulty opening up to women’s literature. A situation that the Women’s Prize for Fiction hopes to remedy.
The Literary Prize organizers took inspiration from Mary Ann Sieghart’s latest book, “The Authority Gap,” for their campaign to raise awareness about gender inequality in literature. The British journalist, and chairman of the jury for the 2022 edition of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, examines the reasons why authors are taken less seriously than their colleagues.
Mary Ann Sieghart has found that while women tend to read books written by an author of the opposite sex, men are less likely to do the same. Of the top ten best-selling female writers (including Jane Austen, Danielle Steel, and Jojo Moyes), only 19% of their readership is male, compared to 81% female. This asymmetry is much less pronounced for their male counterparts, with 55% of male readers and 45% of females for the top ten bestselling authors.
In other words, men read significantly more authors than women. To encourage them to broaden their literary horizons, the organizers of the Women’s Prize for Fiction recently published a list of ten novels written by women. It was created from 20,000 votes from readers and former judges.
A scary view of the world (and literature)
At the helm is Margaret Atwood’s phenomenal novel, ‘The Scarlet Handmaiden’. In this dystopia published in 1985, the Canadian writer envisions a dictatorship called Gilead, where fertile women are reduced to sexual slavery to counter the decline in the birth rate. A conspiracy that, according to Margaret Atwood, does not only appeal to women. “‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ isn’t about men versus women, it’s about totalitarianism – it’s not a paradise for men, any more than any totalitarian regime”she said in a statement.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee and “Girl, Woman, Other” by Bernardine Evaristo are ranked second and third in the Women’s Prize for Fiction rankings, respectively. Also included are Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “The Other Half of the Sun” and “The Song of Achilles,” Madeline Miller’s novel that has got the #BookTok community talking.
The existence of this list shows that men, consciously or not, have prejudices against books written by an author of the opposite sex. But why is it important? For Bernardine Evaristo, this attitude locks them in a very narrow view of the world. “Our literature is a way for us to explore different stories, to develop our ideas and our intellect, our imagination. When we write women’s stories, we’re talking about women’s experiences. But we also look at the male experience of a woman”she told the Guardian last July. Enough to encourage the most recalcitrant readers to feminize their library.
Check out the ten novels written by women and recommended by the Women’s Prize for Fiction below:
- 1 – “The Scarlet Handmaid” by Margaret Atwood
- 2- “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee
- 3 – “Girl, Woman, Other” by Bernardine Evaristo
- 4 – “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker
- 5 – “The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller
- 6 – “The Other Half of the Sun” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- 7 – “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt
- 8 – “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley
- 9 – “Eyes in the Trees” by Barbara Kingsolver
- 10 – “The Other Half of You” by Brit Bennett