Or do men write better than women?
It depends on who you ask.
As a librarian whose main job is to select items for people who can’t get to the library, I can tell you reading tastes are highly individualized. I also know I send out as many books by women as I do by men.
Unfortunately, the judges of most major literary prizes seem to feel differently. Women are consistently, well, shorted, when it comes to the short lists of such awards. Since there are many excellent blog posts and articles about this issue, I won’t go into here except to say the subjects many women write about — families, love, daily life — are seen as trivial in the “literary world.”
Except when a man writes about them.
I don’t get it. But I’ve always had difficulty understanding someone who thinks a woman’s work (of any kind) is of less value simply because it was done by a she rather than a he. I remember reading somewhere that the original “typewriters” (a person using what we now would call a typewriter) were men. The job was viewed as too strenuous for a woman … until they realized they could pay women less money to do it. Suddenly, it wasn’t strenuous at all, but the perfect career path for a female. Unfortunately, I can’t find reference to that article now. (I’m sure a male blogger would have.)
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to believe the value of work has more to do with who’s doing it than what the job actually is. But you don’t want to get me started on that (just ask The Engineer), so I’ll return to the subject at hand.
In an effort to be objective, I will point out that it’s rare for a man to win the RITA, which is given each year to recognize outstanding published romance novels and novellas, probably because few men write in the romance genre.
Fair enough. Not many women win the Spur awards (given to recognize excellent writing in the western genre). I’m okay with that too. Not many women write westerns.
If fewer women wrote literary fiction, I’d accept the same reason for the dearth of women winning those awards.
But that’s not the case.
So, who writes better? Women? Or men?
A fairer question might be, do you prefer to read books written by women or men?
Or does it depend on the book?
All of the above?
I pick “all of the above.” How about you? Leave a comment to tell me what you think.
Still, it’s good to know the statistics (as seen below) would seem to indicate that women are, in fact, better writers than men.
Disclaimer: I chose to write about this subject after Grammarly, an online grammar checker, contacted me. They volunteered the use of their info graphic (above) and will be donating $20 in my name to Reach Out and Read (http://www.reachoutandread.org) as a thank you for featuring their name, website and graphic in this post.
Further reading on sexism in literary prize giving
Literary Women, Literary Prizes. Not Often to Be Found in the Same Room
Man Booker Prize Winner Eleanor Catton Targets Literary Sexism
by Emily Keeler
The Second Shelf: On the Rules of Literary Fiction for Men and Women
by Meg Wolitzer
Great article Kym!
Although I hate pitting women against men in this sort of competition, I’m frustrated that women frequently get short-changed when it comes to writing. I’ve noticed that if a man writes a book, his creation is given more status and credence than if a woman does the same thing. I don’t necessarily want to say that women are better writers, but I’d prefer saying that both genders produce excellent writers.
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That’s it exactly, Sheri. I read books by both men and women. And guess what? I’ve come across some lousy ones by both genders, and some excellent ones!
Men and women, as you note Kym, write great stories; and can they write awful stories.
It is so true that men seem to get more credit for what they write than what women write.
Is it perhaps that women’s stories/articles had been perceived as trivial? Romance in particular?
Therefore, does the trivial perception of Romance or “literature”, written by women,adhere to this day?
Which is WHY, of course, 18th,19th and earlier 20th century women authors wrote under male pen names–acceptance of their story–and credit for a GREAT story..
But I read both male and female authors’ novels
I perceive a difference in style, tone and the focus of both genders on the development of their stories– characters–but hey, if the story is a good one–who cares who wrote it?
I agree completely, MaryLou!
Great column (blog) Kym — very thought provoking. I tend to like women writers better than men. I read a lot of non-fiction (linguistics), and wonder how men and women would stack up on similar measures. One great quote on hedging, gender differences and writing: “One woman’s feeble hedging may well be perceived as another man’s perspicacious qualification” i.e. if a woman writes it it’s considered insecure; if a man writes it he’s wisely hedging his bets.
Thanks for the comment. It’s exactly to the point. Much as I hate to say it, the older I get, the more I see how women’s efforts seem to be devalued. I don’t say this is done by everyone, but it certainly happens a lot!
In a perfect world we wouldn’t even be talking about this, and yet women are so undervalued in terms of literary awards that it’s a question worth asking. I don’t know whether or not women write better than men, or vise versa (or if such a claim could ever be proven objectively), but I do know that the discrepancy can’t possibly be as extreme as what literary awards suggest.
A piece of work should be judged by its quality, not by its maker.
I would take that one step further and argue that women’s efforts and skills are consistently undervalued in nearly every arena. And the older I get the more I believe it. I qualify this by saying my husband and family value most things I do, but unfortunately this is not true of women in our world in general.
Oh definitely. Women are undervalued in every area except for those society (men in a patriarchy) deem “girly”, which is why I believe women can be acknowledged in the romance department while being ignored in almost every other category. The misrepresentation of women in the literary world is a side effect of a much bigger issue in today’s world. The fact that there are still a great number of people (including women) that view feminism in a negative light shows just how deeply rooted the problem is.
Exactly! Did you ever read that Rebecc West quote about not knowing exactly what feminism was? All she knew was people accused her of being a feminist whenever she did something that differentiated her from a doormat or a prostitute.
I didn’t know about the quote but I just looked it up. It’s sad but true
I remember it simply because it is so often true.