A little privileged whining …

Thanks for the overwhelming response to my last blog post on the chick-lit debate. Clearly many people felt very strongly about the topic. And I don’t know whether the moon was in the Seventh House, or Jupiter had in fact aligned with Mars, but there was some kind of synchronicity going on. At the risk of blogging a dead horse, I’m going to take this opportunity to point you in the direction of a couple of other recent links of interest.

Over at Tara Moss’s blog, after attending the recent SheKilda crime festival, she decried the gender bias still rampant in the literary world. I’m sure Tara couldn’t have imagined the response she was about to get, however, when Cameron Woodhead, reviewer for The Age newspaper, weighed in with some extraordinarily patronising comments. Primarily, that it all sounded like ‘privileged whining’ to him. (It’s well worth a read – great stoush in the comments.)

I was almost not going to write the previous post for fear of just such an accusation, and Lisa Heidke, herself a wonderful author of women’s fiction, commented on my blog that she didn’t want to whinge or seem ungrateful … Little wonder young women today are reluctant to identify as feminists, for fear of being accused of being whiny whenever they speak up for themselves.

Wendy Harmer is no shrinking violet, and she picked up the cause and reported Tara’s battle with the critic on her website The Hoopla, (where Wendy also linked back to my blog, thanks!).

I am heartened by all your comments, both here and on my Facebook page, that you would read the books no matter how they were labelled, and I appreciate that, I really do. But not everyone is as sure of themselves. There has been a very interesting development in the digital world, as reported in the Guardian on the weekend. Romance readers are the most enthusiastic migrators to ebooks, where sales are soaring. But the main reason for this is a little sad – no one can see the cover of an ebook, so romance readers feel they can read with impunity, away from judgemental gaze of literary snobs. That breaks my heart just a little.

When my kids were learning to read, their teachers always impressed upon the parents that they must be seen to be reading around their children – newspapers, magazines, recipe books, anything – and that it didn’t matter what kids were reading – similarly, special interest magazines, comics, whatever – as long as they were reading. So if Mum happens to be reading a book, written by a woman, which may or may not sport a girlie cover, is she to be ashamed of this, and hide it from her children?

When did everyone get so judgemental? Are we not supposed to enjoy reading? Good luck getting kids to read at all if that’s the message we’re sending them.

To quote Tara Moss in her follow-up blog (I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t leave this alone), ‘Women’s voices matter’. Our stories matter, our writing matters. What we have to say matters. We shouldn’t have to apologise for it.

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12 thoughts on “A little privileged whining …

  1. I’m still chuckling over “blogging a dead horse” Dianne, while wishing that the equine were indeed deceased. But like the Monty Python parrot, the wretched thing continues to assert its sentience. Until we get more female powerbrokers in the publishing industry, we’ll have the same circular arguments and little progress, the ALR example being a case in point. Books by women writers, however eminent, enjoy similar status to women’s sports, although the latter might be marginally ahead in gaining media attention. Perhaps all books need to be published under initial and surname, judged solely on quality, until greater balance is achieved. The lack of identifiers does make a difference. During a TV interview a while back, I read out a few unattributed paragraphs, challenging presenter and studio audience to “spot the Mills & Boon”. The lack of consensus proved my point more effectively than anything I could have said.

    • Women’s sport is a great analogy – I wonder if they’re privileged whiners too?

      I love your ‘spot the Mills & Boon’ experiment. I’m always amused by comments from new readers who say something along the lines – ‘I don’t normally read stuff like this, but I really enjoyed it.’ If they don’t read it, how can they know?

  2. Unfortunately I was absent from the blogsphere last week and missed so much of this fascinating debate (I’m now blog hopping to catch up!) Thanks, Dianne, for the laugh re blogging the dead horse 🙂

    Valerie, I’ve read several books in the last month written by authors who use their initials and last names. One of them very happily assured me she’d made that choice as she wrote gritty crime and wanted to be taken seriously. Her suggestion was that I should try it. Working in another industry that is still the preserve of men should have better armour-plated me for the gender cringe in writing…

    What’s heartening though is that women really have more power than we perhaps think. We are statistically the main buyers of fiction and we have more economic independence than ever before. We have e-readers that allow us to enjoy our choices in private, or in public if we choose! Ignore the labels pushed on our books by publishers and booksellers who need a genre for their search engines/computer catalogues to work effectively. Read what you love whatever the genre and make sure our daughters, grand-daughters and nieces all learn to love books as much as we do!

    We have no reason to feel guilty about our reading habits and it’s up to us to make sure we make no apology for that. We can’t change the literary world and it’s insular ideas but we can make them less influential by raising our own voices.

    • It would be very interesting to see what would happen if we all used initials only. It just makes me sad – have things changed so little since Miles Franklin and George Eliot?

      But you’re right, Helene, we should be aware and take advantage of the power we have. There wouldn’t be a book industry without women, or without commercial genre fiction, for that matter.

  3. I agree: women’s voices matter. The strongest people in my immediate family have been women, and I have learnt so much from them that a man could never have taught me. Which is why I love women’s writing in part, because at its best it delivers a worldview at once essential and unique.

    And if you can recommend any homoerotic romances for men, I’d appreciate some tips. 🙂

    • Phillip, you’re in for such a treat. If you’re talking gay male romance, but mostly written by women, you pretty much can’t go wrong with anything written by K.A. Mitchell, Heidi Cullinan, L.A. Witt, J.L. Merrow, or James Buchanan. I’ve also just devoured HOT HEAD by Damon Suede, the blurb of which does not do the story justice.

      I review m/m romance at http://Dearauthor.com. If you Google “dear author sarahf” you should find my posts. Enjoy!

  4. Diane, thanks for your blog. The comments on Tara’s did touch a nerve, didn’t they? This conversation about genre and literary bias, and what constitutes “literary quality”, is so worthwhile, especially if it can help identify and root out the continuing belittling and dismissal of women’s writing.

    • I think we were commenting on each other’s blogs at the same time, Elizabeth! And I still have something to say on another of your posts. I guess we all just have to keep the conversation going as best we can. In the meantime it’s immensely reassuring to find so many like minds.

  5. Great post Diana. I think women have to be proud to read women’s stories, no matter what the cover. I still say the biggest issues in life are birth, love and death. Doesn’t matter literary slant you put on it, they get no bigger. Men simply don’t know what they’re missing out on. Again.

  6. Pingback: Our Beautiful Meritocracy | Tara Moss

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