Just read Bidisha’s funny, sharp post on Literary Women and Literary Prizes. I know there’ve been a few women with something to say on this sad topic lately, but this piece is one of the best, and one of the more interesting things about it is that it’s a little like reading old-school feminist critique from the 1970s about the ways that women internalise the misogyny that is all around us and replicate and participate in it without even thinking about it.  I don’t mean that as a criticism at all: the critique is still valid, horribly so, given all the years that have passed. We like to think that we’ve moved beyond the need for all that, but Bidisha’s accounting demonstrates that we haven’t. If you read her other, very upsetting, post titled “On Despair” you’ll see what she’s getting at: a day to day accounting of the minutiae of who gets to speak and who gets spoken about on a daily English mainstream radio culture program. It’s men talking about men, all the time. The women are now the ones producing the shows and running everything behind the scenes – but they still don’t get to speak.

Read together, I take both pieces as a challenge. As a novelist I do what I do (write books, put them out there, hope someone will read them), and as a reader I support the work of other women writers by reading it, because I frequently prefer it, but I have to ask myself, is that enough? I’m not the raging ego kind of writer, forever obsessed with my status in the pack (it’s a game that you can’t win and will drive you mad), but now I have to wonder, is this the kind of feminine modesty that’s helping to keep us all down? I always think it sounds like special pleading if you say “I don’t get shortlisted for prizes because there is a cultural bias against books by women.” It’s all too easy for someone to shoot you down and say it’s actually because your books aren’t very good, and there’s always that little voice in the back of your head saying, well it’s true,they aren’t that good, and when I do write a really good book, surely the culture will reward me for it. Bidisha’s point, unfortuantely, is that no, the culture probably won’t. So I have to ask myself,  should I be doing more, fighting more? I suspect that the answer is yes, because as Bidisha suggests, the more of us who do it, the less isolated the brave ones will feel, and it will benefit everyone – yes, even men – in the long run, by making our culture more robust.  It’s something to think about.