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Do we still need a Women’s Prize?

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A few days ago we announced the winner of the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for fiction. The Bailey’s Women’s Prize was started in 1992 when a group of people within the literary community came together to discuss, and try to remedy, the incredible underrepresentation of women nominated for major literary awards. Since then, there continues to be much dialogue on the underrepresentation of women in the publishing world, but some women authors have also spoken out about the concept of a Women’s Prize.

In 1990 A.S. Byatt denounced the prize as “sexist” and “unneeded.” She claimed that “You couldn’t found a prize for male writers. The Orange prize assumes there is a feminine subject matter – which I don’t believe in. It’s honourable to believe that – there are fine critics and writers who do – but I don’t.” But what Byatt failed to account for was fact that for many years, all the major literary awards were essentially prizes for men since women were consistently being underrepresented in all these awards.

Thankfully, we seem to be making some progress in this area with women starting to be seen more frequently in major literary longlists. The question is do we still need a women’s prize today? We took a look at the last 5 years of Man Booker Awards and here is what we found.
2015: 7 women on the longlist, 2 of 6 women on the shortlist. Winner: Marlon James
2014: 2 women on the longlist, 2 of 6 women on the shortlist. Winner: Richard Flanagan
2013:  7 women on the longlist, 4 of 6 women on the shortlist. Winner: Eleanor Catton
2012: 4 of 12 on long list, 3 of 6 authors on shortlist were women. Winner: Hilary Mantel
2011: 5 women on the long list, 2 of 6 on the shortlist. Winner: Julian Barnes
2010: 5 women on the long list, 2 of 6 on the shortlist. Winner: Harold Jacobson
2009: 5 women on the long list,  3 of 6 on the shortlist. Winner: Hilary Mantel
2008: 3 women on the long list, 1 of 6 on the shortlist. Winner: Aravind Adiga
2007: 4 women on the long list, 2 0f 6 on the shortlist. Winner: Anne Enright
2006: 6 women on the long list, 3 of 6 on the shortlist. Winner: Kiran Desai

In the last ten years women do seem to be making the list more frequently than in the past, and half of the winners in the last 10 years have been women.  Yet their numbers continue to be significantly less than the number of male authors on the long and short lists. Some who have analyzed the prize have further noted that women who are nominated tend to win for books that either use a male perspective or focus on men. Looking at the prizes more broadly we have found that over the last 46 years, the Man Booker Prize has been awarded to a female author only 17 times. The Pulitzer has been given to a woman 18 times in 68 years. The Pen/Faulkner Award has been given to a woman eight times in 34 years.

I personally disagree with A.S. Byatt in that I don’t think a Women’s Prize is sexist or unneeded. I like the Bailey’s Prize because it brings recognition to women authors who are talented and often less publicized than their male peers.

But what do you think? Do we still need a Women’s Prize? 

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. You know all this, but I’m going to say it anyway. Men have had more opportunities than women for a longer period of time. White, privileged men have had more opportunities than everyone else for possibly the longest time. In the UK, women only stopped being effectively their husband’s possession in 1882 when the Women’s Property Act was amended to give women full rights over their own property as well as any money they earned. Even though women in the UK went to university from the late 19th century, they weren’t granted degrees until well into the 20th century. When men have suffered 1000+ years of discrimination then maybe we can call a women’s prize for literature sexist. The same goes for anyone who has suffered prejudice and discrimination because of the accident of birth and needs the assistance of positive discrimination to rebalance the status quo. Everyone’s entitled to an opinion, but A S Byatt is an idiot. The reason there isn’t a man’s prize for literature isn’t because it would be sexist. It’s because they don’t need one. Sadly, for now, women still do.

    Liked by 3 people

    June 10, 2016
    • I agree. There isn’t a men’s prize because all of them have been men’s prizes until recently and even with improvements, women authors aren’t nearly as visible on the long and short lists despite the availability of talent

      Liked by 2 people

      June 10, 2016
    • Tracy S #

      Well said!

      Like

      June 10, 2016
  2. I agree – I think we still need one!

    Like

    June 10, 2016
  3. Interestingly enough this years winner largely focusses on the male perspective of events, there are shifting perspectives but most of them are male I can only think of 2 female perspectives in the book, the main characters mother who causes all the trouble and another character’s girlfriend.

    Liked by 1 person

    June 12, 2016
    • There is another prominent woman I have just remembered a prostitute and another minor woman who is also a prostitute are we spotting a theme here?

      I also think this book has a “male feel” to it due to the violence, the murder and the gangster storyline. Something that never occurred to me when reading it originally.

      Liked by 1 person

      June 12, 2016

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