Jane Austen is Spinning in Her Grave

I don’t even know where to begin, the subject is so ridiculous, and yet brain boiling at the same time. Mr. Naipaul believes he is a better writer than Jane Austen, and that he can ‘sniff’ out whether a book has been penned by a woman. He believes he is a better writer than any and every woman who ever put words on paper. He is an idiot. So was Norman Mailer, but we already knew that. The comments Mailer made about female authors are disgusting, although rather entertaining prose. Sure, they are considered good if not great writers. But as people, they are coarse, ego driven nitwits who think themselves better than most people, not just women. I bet if Mailer were alive and asked what male writer is his equal, he’d say none. I would like to hear the same question put to Naipaul–how many authors of the same sex would he consider as good as if not better than he? Egos tend to be equal opportunity critics.

All that nonsense aside, there has always been and apparently still is, a belief that women are inferior writers. I’ve seen that played out in the crime fiction world. Especially in the US. Equal talents starting at the same time writing and publishing, within the same genre–hard boiled–the men are pushed and promoted more, and they gain more readership, sales, and movie rights. This in no way denigrates the male writers–they are brilliant. But so are the women. They aren’t viewed as such. Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, are familiar names, even to those who aren’t crime fiction lovers. Laura Lippman, Jan Burke, are not–although if any female is making inroads it’s Lippman, she’s been able to promote her work on some major TV shows. 

I find British woman mystery writers are respected as equals, if not a bit more revered. Rendell, P. D, James, Val McDermid are household names there. And they boast the most popular mystery writer of all time, Agatha Christie. Why this is so, I can’t say. Are the British more civilized in thought? More progressive, less cowboy than the US? We do have a John Wayne mentality here, one that says a man is a man and a woman a woman and never equal they will be. I mean, women still make significantly less per hour than men. Women are expected to do two jobs, one outside, one at home. And yet, they are still the weaker sex. And if they take a man’s spot, and aren’t ‘attractive’ enough, they’re called various and sundry names for daring to try to compete in a man’s world.

Our country was finally ready to elect a man of color–but not a woman. I doubt if I’ll live to see a woman in the White House.

This cultural war extends itself to the publishing world, whether we want to admit it to ourselves or not. Less women are published, are commercial successes, (depending on genre–I have no doubt the romance field would be the opposite,) and are respected by critics and the public. I wish this were not the case, it should have changed by now. And I believe inroads have been made, just not enough.

Here’s the article from Quill and Quire


And here’s a fuller quote from  Booker Prize winner, Keri Hulme.


6 thoughts on “Jane Austen is Spinning in Her Grave”

  1. Why I’ve imagined the publishing world to be free of gender bias, I don’t know. Thanks for removing my rock shelter!

  2. Reminds me of the same thing I’ve seen some Christians say.

    – I Corinthians 14: 34 says – …let the women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but let them be in subjection, as also saith the law. I Corinthians 14: 34 –

    This scripture, taken out of context and given a legalistic viewpoint, has kept women from being allowed to teach from the pulpit however These same people that disallow their teaching/preaching from the pulpit allow them to teach children and other women I guess only in a separate room.

    I say to that and to this posting of Diane’s that those of such a mindset will only be keeping themselves ignorant. Maybe they deserve missing that which which might educate and entertain them.

    • Well said, prying1 It does seem like this idea of women being inferior, only when it suits certain people, has been around far too long. I did think we had come further, but then throwbacks like this guy pop up, and I wonder.

  3. I’m surprised at how little comment this article has generated. I read quite a lot of detective fiction and although I tended to think of ‘cosies’ as being primarily written by women, I don’t think of women as necessarily ‘cosy’ writers. Just as most romance novels are written by women, but women don’t necessarily write romance.

    When this article appeared I had just received some older detective novels and had started Laumer’s ‘Fat Chance’ and Dorothy Hughes’ ‘Ride the Pink Horse’. If I’m not familiar with a writer I just read the back cover to decide whether to try the book. I’ve never considered gender as a factor.

    Because of the article, as I read the two books I paid attention to see if I noticed a difference that could be attributed to the gender of the author. Both books had a male central figure. Laumer is principly sci-fi. I would have to say Hughes was the better writer. There was nothing in the story suggesting ‘pink ink’. Two books hardly makes a fair sampling.

    I haven’t paid particular attention, but it does seem to me that frequently women write from a man’s point of view, and pull it off – Anne Perry, Ellis Peters, Laurie King – but I can’t think of a case where the opposite is so.

    OTOH, women often write from a woman’s point of view (oddly enough, lol) and it is clearly a different point of view from a man’s, just as a Chinese writer would have a different point of view from an Australian. It doesn’t make one better than the other. A woman reading Mailer might say she could smell the testosterone in the ink…

    And then, last weekend, a customer told me about a book called “The Alphabet versus the Goddess” by Leonard Shlain. His theory is that the use of phonetic alphabets promoted the ‘male’ linear way of thinking to the detriment of the ‘female’ non-linear and this was the beginning of the end for godesses. He further contends that electronic media – tv, computers, internet, promote graphics and images and are tending to bring the male and female back into balance.

    I’ve ordered the book from the library. At this point I’ve only read a bit on the webpage http://www.alphabetvsgoddess.com but I’m looking forward to it. I think a lot of the problems of the world are due to a lack of balance.

    Paternalism is a one-sided thing, which doesn’t benefit anyone, it just leads to divisiveness, misogyny, rascism, religious intolerance, hatred and war – men against women, kings and clerics over the rest of us, white over black, my religion and culture are right so yours must be wrong.

    I seem to have wandered a bit… Getting back to women writers, I don’t think we should blame it all on the publishers. It isn’t that long ago that a woman couldn’t get published unless she used a man’s name, and the concept of women’s inferiority is so deeply ingrained that even now there are women who believe it. So a lot of the potentially great women writers have possibly not even tried writing.

    There are North American women who promote the idea of women as homemakers only. Is Phyllis Schafley still around? Ann Coulter thinks women shouldn’t be allowed to vote.

    Fortunately, people like Phyllis and Ann and Naipaul are just the sorry tag end of a discredited world view. They are being left behind and they don’t understand what’s happening. They want to bring back the ‘good old days’ when everyone knew their place. There’s no point in getting angry with them – they will soon be gone and their opinions don’t matter. Nor should we laugh at them – it isn’t nice to laugh at idiots. You can only feel sorry for them and a little embarrassed for them.


  4. On Naipaul… he hates everyone and everything (poor man must not have many friends), so I don’t think he’s just anti-woman… And you’re right, I doubt he’d find a male author his equal either… (I say, having enjoyed Naipaul’s writings greatly, especially in my diaspora classes where they far outshone the other assigned readings.)

    But I went to an author talk by a cozy mystery writer named Dean James. He said his publisher wanted him to use a pen name (partly because he wasn’t excessively google-distinguishable from James Dean), and wanted it to be a female name. Melissa James it is! The publisher said that readers of cozy mysteries (largely women) generally won’t pick up a book (if they’re looking for a cozy) if there’s a male author name. My first thought? ridiculous; my second thought? well, I like cozies for workday lunch-break reading, and I DON’T like anything with explicit violence or blood & gore, and if I’m just snagging something off the shelf on my way upstairs (I work in a library), with only a second to pick something, I’ll skip the male names, because they correlate heavily with the “hard boiled” variety. (I’ve learned which female names to avoid because of their hard-boiled-ness, like Janet Evanovich, but when you’re judging a book by its cover, that’s one of the steps.)

    So, yes, gender bias exists on the publishing side… but in large part because it exists on the consuming side, and if you’re publishing popular fiction, you’ll fail if your principles keep you from publishing what the populace wants!

    • LOL. I understand what you mean about cozies, women are known for them, but that hasn’t always been the case. What are considered cozies now were what almost all golden age mysteries were back in the 20s 30s. Mot cozy or cosy writers prefer the term ‘traditional’ because cosy makes it sound lightweight–a tea ‘cosy’ read.
      Hard-boiled stories gained traction from the pulps and there were many who wrote tough detective stories, but nothing quite like what we see today in terms of serial killers, etc. If you see Evanovich as hard-boiled–don’t ever pick up a Jan Burke. That’s tough.
      There are plenty of men who write soft boiled today, and use their own names and do fairly well. But I understand the Dean James dilemma. His series is also part of a huge line of specific sub sub genre mysteries, and I think they have a very detailed marketing system that works well if the writers are perceived as women.
      What the difficulty is, the hard boiled women writers don’t get the attention and sales that the men do, exactly because of the opposite of your choice. Men see a woman’s name on a book, and assume it’s too soft.
      I wish the categories would disappear and we simply bought a book on the basis of it the story sound good, lol!
      Thanks for posting!

Comments are closed.