Let's read writing by women

A new committee is being set up to pursue equal rights for women writers in Australia. Besides research, lobbying and setting up mentorships, the committee is looking at establishing a literary prize for Australian women writers, along the lines of the UK’s Orange Prize. The steering committee (including novelist and publisher Sophie Cunningham, critic and former Miles Franklin judge Kerryn Goldsworthy and novelist Kirsten Tranter) feel the move is unfortunately, necessary, due to the unequal recognition of books by women in major literary award shortlists and in the book pages of the major newspapers in this country. Cunningham told the Guardian: ‘we would prefer it if this award didn’t have to exist – if writing by women was rewarded and valued on its own terms, with equal merit to the way that work written by men is.’ She said: ‘Women continue to be marginalised in our culture. Their words are deemed less interesting, less knowledgeable, less well formed, less worldly, and less worthy.’

Tranter brought my attention to the issue of women being underrepresented in the literary pages in an article for the Wheeler Centre blog in March.

The committee and prize are in their nascent stages, and I will be talking to members of the committee in coming months, once their plans have solidified. Cunningham is currently working on an article on the issue for the June edition of literary journal Kill Your Darlings, so keep an eye out for that. She has also answered some questions over at the Meanjin blog, Spike. I hope they don’t mind me quoting at length, because I think these points get to the kernel of the issue:

Zora Sanders: Is part of the problem perhaps that the type of fiction we consider ‘serious’ or ‘literary’ often revolves around men and men’s stories? Is there a bias against genre at work as well?

Sophie Cunningham:I think that’s EXACTLY the problem. Couldn’t have put it better. Also, when men write novels drawn from life, it is still seen as literary, and serious, but these qualities in a work are used to dismiss books by women. And, when Alex Miller writes a deeply romantic novel, like Conditions of Faith, for example, it’s seen as literary, and when a women writes a similar novel (priests, longing, sex, France etc) it’s seen as a ‘romance’.

ZS: It seems to me that much of the problem is the internalised, almost unconscious bias against women’s writing that both men and women seem to be affected by. How do we start to address the impulse that automatically discounts a book as ‘serious’ when we see a woman’s name on the cover?

SC:You’ve put your finger on the problem. It is nebulous. It’s not easily solved. And I certainly agree that women share this bias with men, as well as being the victim of it. I think that making an effort to include more books my women on educational syllabi would help. as Louise Swinn pointed out in a panel we did together a couple of months ago that touched on this subject, there are a series of seminars, running over the next few months, on VCE English texts. Of 15 set texts discussed, only two of these were by women. “These are kids going through school and this is what they’re reading,” she said. “And then we tell the girls that their voices are just as worthwhile.”

And, I suppose, as this prize makes obvious, I think we all need to be proactive. Publishers have to stop insisting on twee covers for women’s books (have you read the Lionel Schriver article on this subject? ). Literary editors need to review more books by women and publish more reviews written by women. We all need to find ways to continue to advocate for women’s voices, in the face of ongoing marginalisation. And, to get back to your original question, to ignore the inevitable suggestion that to advocate in this way is tokenism.

There’s a fundamental issue here, of perception, which is then perpetuated on many levels (one of them inescapably being sales and marketing). A lot of men (and many women) might feel they are not ‘interested’ in the kinds of things women write about. But what they’re reporting on here, sometimes, is an ingrained cultural bias that says the day-to-day life, the worldview and concerns of women are 1. something that is homogenous and can be boxed, and 2. is not as fascinating as the worldview and concerns of men. And I’m not saying I’m free of this, either. We often read to recognise ourselves, but hopefully also out of curiosity for the lives of others. I think men (and again, many women) may not realise they will be able to do this in books by women – both recognise aspects of themselves, and become curious about another’s viewpoint, whether that be rendered through domestic, romantic, historical, futuristic or other modes. We can all try harder to fight this bias through reading and writing about books by women.

I remember when talking to Alex Miller about Conditions of Faith, which Cunningham rightly calls ‘deeply romantic’, he said that people often assumed it was written by a woman. Some people would ask him ‘how do you do it?’, amazed that a man can inhabit the voice of a woman so well. It’s because Miller has honed that curiosity and empathy, and is not afraid of delving into the life of a woman, in a fictional sense. In the same way, we can hone this curiosity and empathy. And, of course, women write some wonderful male characters. I’ve just finished The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch, about aged actor Charles Arrowby. More on that soon (it’s one of my 20 classics for 2011).

I guess, at least, the book industry is slightly better off than the film industry. There are many books written and published by women – it’s just their perception for which we have to fight, their cultural relevancy and legitimacy. In the film industry, women fight for equality at all levels. Director Lynne Ramsay told the Guardian: ‘Let’s be clear – men don’t like having a woman on their back, and someone who is younger than them… they feel unmanned, manipulated, judged. Whereas if it is a man at the helm, they feel simply that they are being directed.’ Four films directed by women are up for the Palme d’Or this year (out of 20), and that’s a record.

To end this on something positive, I want to ask you: what are your favourite books by women? Have you read anything great lately? What about books by Australian female authors? Do you have any favourite female critics? Share the love. I’ll join in the comments or maybe do a whole post on some of my favourites if I get a chance. I’m also thinking next year’s reading project will be to read 20 books by women.

Other links:

Study finds huge gender imbalance in children’s literature

Links to articles on children’s books with strong, resourceful female characters

The Bechdel test (applicable to books and films)

Women writers in the 20th Century

100 best works by women writers[would love to see an Aus list like this]

Professions for women by Virginia Woolf

10 funniest women writers on the internet


Do read Benjamin Law’s wonderful article ‘A prize of one’s own: the case for an Aussie Orange’, which talks about gender bias in other areas of the arts too, ie. theatre and music.

44 thoughts on “Let's read writing by women

  1. I made a conscious decision a few years back to try to read more writing by women. It’s been a great thing to do, because inertia, internal biases and the kind of books that generally come to my attention had left me overwhelmingly reading books by men. There’s loads of good stuff out there – fiction by Annie Proulx, Lorrie Moore, Jean Thompson and Susan Choi, non-fiction by Sarah Manguso, Megan Stack, Michela Wrong and Susan Faludi. There’s a particular glut of excellent writing by Australian women: Cate Kennedy, Alexis Wright, Julia Leigh, Chloe Hooper, Lisa Dempster, Anna Krien, Judith Ajani, Robyn Annear – loads more. Looking forward to other people’s recommendations.

  2. My absolute favourite book by a female writer is House of Love by Nicole Krauss – whose work is often overshadowed by that of her husband Jonathan Safran-Foer. Other recent awesome reads by women – Toni Morrison “Beloved” and “The Bluest Eye”, Helen Garner “The Spare Room”.
    Currently reading Tina Fey’s memoir “Bossypants” – which will never be considered “serious literature”, but contains more insight into how we live as women, especially smart women, than just about any other book I’ve ever read- its my default birthday present for all the women I love this year.

  3. I recently read Indelible Ink by Fiona McGregor which I think should have won a swag of Aussie awards. Such a thoroughly Australian book, which beautiful imagery of the plants and surrounds of Sydney.

    Other female Aussies: hmmmm. Have to think. Read Sophie Cunningham’s Bird last year and loved it. My pal Michaela McGuire’s memoir of hilarious jobs called Apply Within.

    Also enjoyed Tina Fey’s Bossypants, about being a strong female figure. And Patti Smith’s Just Kids, that was a poetic journey back to late 60s New York. And Agatha Christie’s whodunnit classic And Then There was None. And Commited, by Elizabeth Gilbert, despite it’s awful chick lit cover, it’s a fascinating historical examination on marriage and relationships.

    But making me realise I need to start the Sonya Hartnett, Helen Garner and Debra Adelaide novels sitting on my bookshelf.

  4. Thanks for your comments! On Facebook I’ve had a ton of comments, I’ll share some reccomendations here.


    Letty Fox, Her Luck by Christina Stead
    Me and Mr Booker by Cory Taylor
    The Ice Age by Kirsten Reed (interview on the blog)
    Dark Places and Lillian’s story by Kate Grenville (review of Dark Places on the blog)
    anything by Helen Garner (Spare Room thoughts on blog)
    The Danger Game by Kalinda Ashton (review on the blog)
    Old School by PM Newton
    The Watchtower & The Long Prospect by Elizabeth Harrower
    Butterfly by Sonya Hartnett (& other Sonya Hartnett)
    The Asking Game by Rose Michael (review on the blog)
    Hollywood Ending by Kathy Charles (interview on the blog)
    Come Inside by Glenys Osbourne
    Five Bells by Gail Jones (I’ll add Dreams of Speaking by Gail Jones)
    Thea Astley
    Elizabeth Jolley


    The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht
    Lynne Reid Banks
    Jean Rhys
    Ruth Park (NZ)
    Margaret Atwood
    Bear by Marian Engel
    Time of the Doves by Catalan writer Mercè Rodoreda
    To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
    Edna O’Brien
    Carson McCullers


    Factory Girls by Leslie T Chang
    Beautiful Thing by Sonia Faleiro
    Stasiland by Anna Funder
    The Tall Man by Chloe Hooper
    Into the Woods by Anna Krien
    Affection by Krissy Kneen (interview on the blog)

    I’m sure we could go on all day but I have to do some work! So let’s just say I’ll summarise some recommendations at a later date. For now I’ll quickly run off these names (and I agree with many above) – Katherine Mansfield, Janet Frame, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates, Anais Nin. I’ve tried to remember if the above ones have been mentioned on the blog – search & find them if you want.
    More anon! x

  5. Thanks for this post – I was planning to make a similar one, so it’s great to see so many recommendations here already, in a place that will reach many more readers than I could!

    Excellent (IMO) books by women, in no particular order: Wolf Hall (Hilary Mantel), Beloved (Toni Morrison), Still Life (AS Byatt), Reunion (Andrea Goldsmith), Liar (Justine Larbalestier), Night Watch (Sarah Waters), The Old School (PM Newton), the Harry Potter books (JK Rowling), Burnt Shadows (Kamila Shamsie), The Wilderness (Samantha Harvey), Room (Emma Donoghue), The Children (Charlotte Wood), The Still Point (Amy Sackville).

    I could go on, and on, and on…

  6. Some of my all-time favourites are:

    Sonya Harnett
    Margaret Atwood
    Sara Douglass
    Kristin Cashore
    Jackie French
    Maureen McCarthy

    I have my mum to thank for a lot of these – she bought me books all through my teens – and often bought Aussie authors. Many fond teen memories!

  7. This post made me recall a recent incident where a gentleman caller glanced at the bookshelves in my study, shook his head and declared…no, kind of accused…’You read more books by women than men.’ Which I thought was a very swift assessment, though possibly true – and I took it as a compliment, which I’m not sure is what he intended. So after reading your post (and politely showing the gentleman the door) I counted up my bookshelves. 110 books by women and 100 by men.
    That said, I don’t keep my favourite books on the shelf as I loan them out. And I probably (and proudly) do read more books by female authors – because there are just so many good ones out there. Some favourites of late are: anything by Doris Lessing (The Golden Notebook and The Summer Before the Dark); Changing my Mind – essays by Zadie Smith; The Accidental by Ali Smith; The Book of Clouds by Chloe Arjdis; Golden Boy, Emeral Girl by Yiyun Li; Nothing to Say by Barbara Demick; The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Having Cried Wolf by Gretchen Shirm…I could go on and on.

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  9. Since a number of my favourites have been mentioned above, I’ll just add a few:

    Borderline by Janette Turner Hospital
    A Child’s Book of True Crime by Chloe Hooper
    The Submerged Cathedral by Charlotte Wood
    The Hunter by Julia Leigh
    Dark Roots by Cate Kennedy

    A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
    A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
    The PowerBook by Jeanette Winterson
    The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

  10. This reminds me of recent arguments after the Miles Franklin judges – who were majority female – produced an all-male shortlist (the longlist of 10 included three women, from memory).

    The resulting discussion was long on passion but short on specifics. Much like Angela’s post above.

    It’s great to see lists of wonderful women writers going back 100 years, and interesting to consider whether Alex Miller writes ‘like a woman’, but none of this goes any way to establishing that women writers in Australia do not have ‘equal rights’.

    That is, unless you believe that the failure of women writers to win 50% of literary prizes, in itself, proves discrimination.

    I ask Angela and other posters: who are the women writers who SHOULD have won recent Australian prizes, but missed out due to anti-female bias? Which are the novels authored by Australian women that were superior to the actual winners of these awards in recent years?

    Surely, given the strength of your comments above, you must be able to supply some concrete names and titles?

    And if you are unable to do so, is it possible that the best books won these various awards, and that there is no discrimination at work?

  11. ‘I ask Angela and other posters: who are the women writers who SHOULD have won recent Australian prizes, but missed out due to anti-female bias?’ Pete – there are plenty of examples in the comments above of *recent* novels by women writers which are worthy of literary prizes. Ie. Gail Jones, Kalinda Ashton, Helen Garner, Charlotte Wood, Julia Leigh – many, read above. And you’re missing the entire point! The discrimination works at an unconscious and a cultural level. Yes, the judges believe they are choosing the very best books of that year. But what is at work *behind* what’s perceived to be the ‘best’. Did you read the other articles I linked to? Put them all together and there is absolutely no denying that writing by women, and stories by women are not seen as being as ‘worthy’ or ‘relevant’ than writing by men. I have raised the idea of perception, and then I have attempted to start a positive and stimulating conversation which will allow both men and women to share their own recommendations, and thus I was not being didactic and telling everyone what they should read. And I have stated that I will follow up the post later with a summary of the recommendations, if I get a chance, *then* adding a few of my own.

  12. Great post Angela and thanks for all the links. My favourite Australian female writer would be Sonya Hartnett; Of a Boy is, I think, her best. International favourites are Margaret Atwood and Joan Didion – in fact most of my favourite books are by women writers. How much do you think the Nita Kibble and Barbara Jefferis awards help the the cause of women writers?

  13. Hi Angela

    Thanks for responding to my post.

    Perhaps what I wrote was not ‘in the spirit’ of the discussion you are initiating, but I still think I have a point.

    I didn’t read all the articles you linked to – just Lionel Schriver, whose opinion really does carry weight – but I read closely a similar recent article by Alison Croggon on The Drum, and the long discussion that provoked.

    Of the *recent* Australian women writers you mention, Helen Garner is the only one I’ve read. I love her writing. I note also that she was howled down when she dared to take a nuanced approach to feminist orthodoxy in The First Stone.

    Has Garner been discriminated against when it comes to literary awards? It’s hard to see how, based on this list from Wikipedia:

    1978 – National Book Council award for Monkey Grip
    1986 – South Australian Premier’s Awards for The Children’s Bach
    1986 – New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards, Christina Stead Prize for Fiction for Postcards from Surfers
    1987 – New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards, Television Writing Award for Two Friends
    1983 – Shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award for Cosmo Cosmolino
    1993 – Walkley Award for Best Feature Writing for Did Daniel Have to Die?
    1997 – Nita Kibble Literary Award for True Stories: Selected Non-fiction
    2005 – Ned Kelly Awards joint winner for Best True Crime for Joe Cinque’s Consolation
    2006 – Melbourne Prize for Literature
    2008 – Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction for The Spare Room
    2008 – Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards Fiction Book Award for The Spare Room[
    2009 – Barbara Jefferis Award for The Spare Room

    Garner is a great Australian writer and it seems she has been appropriately recognised.

    I think you and similar commentators are really grasping at straws to make a case here.

    As I said in my first post, your starting point seems to be that if women writers don’t win 50% of awards, then there must be anti-female discrimination.

    Unable to find any evidence for this (and apologies for being didactic, please humour my maleness) you are forced to revert to concepts like ‘unconscious discrimination’, something that is very hard to prove or disprove (again, I know, I need to loosen up).

    I’m sure there are some unreconstructed blokes around the publishing industry, but most (70% says Schriver) high-brow readers are female and many, in some cases most, literary judges are also female. I’d guess that nearly all Australian judges, male or female, are heavily influenced by feminism.

    What is more likely: that these judges are unconsciously discriminating against superior female work, or that they are genuinely judging on merit?

    I think the latter. That’s why I asked for, not a list of worthy women writers, but examples of particular writers or novels which SHOULD have won particular prizes but didn’t. Even one example of this would really bolster your argument, I think.

  14. I was just going to mention that I’m reading and loving Wide Sargasso Sea at the moment, and that I think Christina Thompson’s Come On Shore is another wonderful title to add to the non-fiction list.
    But I feel compelled to respond to Pete8.
    Pete, I think Emmett Stinson was spot-on in a post of his: ‘Ultimately, these kinds of awards don’t tell us anything about literature as a space of potential, and everything about how our culture (or at least our cultural gatekeepers) values literature.’ (http://emmettstinson.blogspot.com/2011/04/literature-is-not-genre-on-miles.html) I think that is the point being made here and elsewhere. Specific examples can be given — no doubt Ms LiteraryMinded will respond to you with some — but the issue is much greater than specific examples, all of which could be argued for and against until we’re blue in the face. Stinson’s thoughts on literary awards bearing no relationship to the thing called ‘literary merit’ (later in the post) are also very well articulated: you might find them illuminating, given in your above post you ask whether ‘these judges…are genuinely [whatever that means] judging on literary merit’. That is exactly the point. Their perceptions of what literary merit is are informed by bias.

  15. Oh, forgot about a totally underrated Aus author: Rhyll McMaster. Feather Man is a wonderful book. And Eva Hornung too.

    Pete – Your asking me to present ‘evidence’ is ludicrous. Should I read every single book entered into the Miles Franklin or reviewed in the literary pages and then tell you which ones were actually ‘worthy’ of winning or being reviewed?

    I don’t claim to be doing anything than raising a question about possible perceptions and inherent biases (as a possible reason as to why women writers are underrepresented in awards like the Miles Franklin and in the literary pages). People are obviously relating to my post, evidenced by the comments and Facebook likes etc. And people are responding, too, because this is a positive post. It asks us to look at ourselves and question where our idea of literary ‘merit’ comes from – whether it’s informed by dominant ideas in our culture. And then we can challenge ourselves and each other.

  16. Pete8: in 2009, the Miles Franklin shortlist consisted of five novels all written by men. In the catchment period for the Miles Franklin for that year, the following novels (among other good fiction by women) were published: The Spare Room by Helen Garner, The Household Guide to Dying by Debra Adelaide, The Good Parents by Joan London, Vertigo by Amanda Lohrey and The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville. Most of these novels were shortlisted for, and several won, one or more major fiction prizes for that year. None of them was even on the Miles Franklin longlist, much less the shortlist. I have read the Garner, the London, the Lohrey and the Grenville, and in my view (speaking as a former Miles Franklin judge) every one of those novels is better than at least three of the five novels by men that ended up on the shortlist.

    So there you go: specific authors, specific titles, a specific year and a specific prize. Is that specific enough for you? I’m guessing it won’t be; your tone, the manner in which you persist with your opinion and your visible beef with feminism all suggest that you’ll reply with ‘Yes, but …’ Still, you have asked for specifics, and I have given you some.

    You admit freely that of the authors named in this post and discussion, you have read only one. Your comments about the idea of ‘unconscious discrimination’ as used in this context indicate that you are not familiar even with the most basic tenets and ideals of feminism. Yet you seem to feel that this limited knowledge of the area should not be any barrier to your having an opinion about it, or to airing that opinion in public. Perhaps one of the reasons women are less visible in the literary world is that we like to be sure we understand what we’re talking about before we start talking about it.

  17. Here’s some great books I’ve read in the last year or so that haven’t already been mentioned: How to Supress Women’s Writing by Joanna Russ (a great book written by a woman and one very pertinent to this conversation. I think pete8 would find it enlightening). Lavinia by Ursula K Le Guin (shows that it’s possible to write great stuff at 80, and is 10x better than Malouf’s An Imaginary Life). For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide by Ntozake Shange (beloved but unnamed by Barack Obama). Swastika Night by Murray Constantine (aka Katharine Burdekin—predicted WW2, the Holocaust, Nazi misogyny, etc; thanks to Lucy Sussex for making me aware of it). The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel. Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan. Aureole by Carole Maso.

    • David, these books sound amazing. I’m excited to track them down. Ursula Le Guin is sitting in my to-read pile and will be picked up soon! Thanks so much for your comment.

  18. Love this debate. I love The History of Love as well. Throw in Sadie Jones and MJ Hyland as two stunning novelists of the21st century.
    Most of my uni lecturers were female, so lucky to be exposed to many of the names thrown about here as recommendations.

  19. Kerryn Goldsworthy: Wonderful reply. Thank you!

    No matter how many thoughtful commentaries are made about how women’s writing is devalued, you can almost always count on at least one retort putting the burden of proof back on the commentator (who has already taken much time to tease out complexities and give specifics to begin with). You just have to wonder why some people don’t *want* to look for evidence in the first place that women’s writing can indeed be devalued. Could it be that such people are (whether they are conscious of it or not) invested in a male-dominated literary landscape? (Why do their comments usually carry such a defensive tone?)

    Onto favourite women writers…

    Alison Bechdel (yes, of the Bechdel test that is linked to above) is a wonderful writer. Her observations are sharp and her characters are great. I have stayed up reading Dykes to Watch Out For on many an occasion.

    Margaret Atwood is more known for her novels than anything else, but she has a collection of her very short fiction, “Bones and Murder”, which is brilliant.

    I’m currently reading a wonderful short story by Phyllis Gotlieb, whose work I’d like to read more of.

    I remember studying Lillian’s Story back in my undergrad years and wanting to write like Kate Grenville. Also, Jenny Pausacker (now in the UK) has been one of Australia’s most prolific authors. She has written something like over 50 books, some under pseudonyms. She has written mostly for children and young adults which arguably has left her work off the literary radar further. Her book What Are Ya? should really be a classic of young adult literature in Australia – it was one of the first books to focus on queerness. Very much ahead of its time and the prose still stands up so well today.

    And Mary Gaitskill!!! She is deserving of those exclamation marks.

    PPS This is Tom Cho commenting. Just using a very old Crikey account because I couldn’t be bothered creating a new one 🙂

    • Thanks Nico and Tom (and everyone – sorry I haven’t replied individually). I must read Alison Bechdel! Nico, I agree re The Spare Room, such a powerful book and one I’d like to revisit. That’s a good attitude to have about your partner, his loss 😉

      Troy – MJ Hyland, yes yes yes. Wonderful.

      Anyone got any genre picks? Romance, SF, fantasy? Ursula Le Guin and Margaret Atwood have been brought up. PM Newton for crime. I enjoyed Kim Falconer’s Path of the Stray and want to read the next one.

  20. I was shocked when Helen Garner’s Spareroom was left out of the Miles Franklin shortlist in 2009. Such a beautiful book but one of my favourite writers.

    There are so many brilliant books by women! Lots of my favourites have been mentioned but I’d add Hilary Mantel and Jeanette Winterson too to the mix. I recently read Delia Falconer’s Sydney and thought it was great.

    My partner is an enthusiastic reader and I could count on one hand the books he’s read by women in the 8 years I’ve known him (To Kill a Mocking Bird the most recent). I’d say he embodies the wider bias against women’s writing (sounds terrible!). His loss, I tell myself.

  21. Wow. This blog makes me laugh.
    I know of about 70 Australian women authors who regularly outsell so called “bestsellers” here in Australia, make overseas bestseller lists and take out overseas awards.
    You want to talk about cultural bias??? You should look at literary bias towards popular fiction. Ignoring these women, Australian women writers, because they dont write books that would ever be nominated for the Miles Franklin is the ultimate in snobbery.
    And you have the hypocrisy to bleat on about unequal recognition of books by women whilst ignoring the many, many successful Australian women writers out there.

    • Amy, thanks for your comment. I don’t want you to think there’s any bias against genre on this blog! I read and enjoy all kinds of books. There are reviews of fantasy, crime, SF & erotica books on this blog. Though my favourite genre is probably literary fiction. (Yes, I’m calling it a genre.)

      It’s wonderful that women make the bestseller lists overseas and in Australia, of course they do. But the literary pages and the awards do often ignore them, yes? Sorry if this seems narrow to you. Would you care to share some of your favourite female genre authors and books? I’d certainly be happy for the recommendations.

      This post is supposed to be a positive one, to point out a possible bias (and yes, you’ve pointed out another one) and then encourage us to be curious readers and get beyond it.

  22. Thanks Angela, I would.
    Two Aussie women writers that immediately come to mind are Keri Arthur and Stephanie Laurens. Both live in Melbourne and both feature regulalry on the NYT list.

    Then we have people like Emma Darcy, Helen Bianchin, Marion Lennox, Meredith Webber who have been writing and selling millions of books world-wide and ebing translated into a dozen languages (now including manga) for many many years. And newer authors like Kelly Hunter and Sarah Mayberry to name just two in a whole host of Australian Harlequin authors.

    Denise Rossetti – fanatsy/erotica. Allison Rushby – ya/contemporary. Rowena Cory Daniells – fantasy.
    Jessica Rudd’s book was great.

    You want to try a fab new Australian urban fantasy author? Try Erica Hayes. Her darkly colourful world of the fae is like plunging into the centre of a rainbow.

    The really really sad thing is that most of these amazing Aussie women authors are picked up by US/UK publishing houses because sadly, the bias towards popular women’s fiction also pervades publishing houses here in Australia.

    Some of my favourite female authors from overseas – Marian Keyes, Janet Evanovich, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jennifer Crusie.

    I’m sure I’ll think of more…….

  23. Yep – thought of more….

    Contemporary – Lisa Heidke, Christine Stinson.
    Rom Suspense/crime – Bronwyn Parry, Jaye Ford, Helene Young, Sandy Curtis.
    Rural lit – Fleur McDonald, Fiona Palmer.

    And there’s a really great book hitting the shelves early next year picked up by Harper Collins in a two book deal called Sister Pact written by two Aussie sisters.

  24. Kerryn

    Thanks for your response.

    And thank you for nominating a specific instance – the 2009 Miles Franklin – where you believe the judges discriminated against women writers.

    I do want to comment on that, but first I want to note the patronising tone your post takes towards

  25. Damn iPad …

    As I was saying,

    Kerryn, I do feel I must comment on the way you chose to engage with my posts in this thread – not just to debate the issues raised, but to question, even deny, my right to have an opinion on these matters at all, or to express that opinion publicly.

    It seems to offend you that I have not read all the books cited, that I am not familiar, to an academic level, with feminist theory.

    But what seems to offend you most is that I persist, as you predict, with my opinion.

    Well, apologies for persisting!

    I am not, like you, an insider in this industry. I have no stake other than as a keen reader and thinker.

    The 2009 Miles Franklin: the judging panel was majority female; Morag Fraser, Regina Sutton, Lesley McKay.

    These three women, you argue, discriminated against the works of several female writers. (Each of these works, you note, was amply recognised through other awards, so it seems there is a specific discrimination in play at the Miles Franklin awards).

    I assume your critique carries over to the 2010 and 2011 Miles Franklin judging panels,
    both of which were majority female, with Gillian Whitlock replacing Regina Sutton from the 2009 panel. Fraser and McKay judged across those three years.

    Perhaps you will again suggest I don’t have the right to post my views, not having read every novel on the 2009 list. However I did read two.

    One was The Slap. Your humble reader found that work to be pedestrian, despite the accolades it received. The winner of course was the wonderful Breath, by Tim Winton.

    Commenting on the judges’ decision, Fraser said: ‘It’s the best book … simple as that.’

    Sadly, if Kerryn and others here are correct, Morag, Regina and Lesley were incapable of assessing ‘the best book’, because these three women suffer from the condition of ‘unconscious discrimination’ against female writers.

  26. Amy – cheers! More books for the to-read list. Erica Hayes sounds cool.

    Pete – Kerryn brought the facts but of course that’s not enough for you, even though you claimed earlier that was what you wanted. No, we can’t ‘prove’ any biases that might be unconscious or socialised, but it’s a possibility isn’t it? And why should the female judges of the Miles Franklin be free of it? They operate in the same culture as the rest of us. I’ll say it again – there’s no harm in addressing the possibility, it makes us take a look at ourselves and question any possible biases we may have. That can only be a positive thing. We all have our own tastes, and ideas of what we think is good or worthy (or even, entertaining). There’s no harm in questioning where those ideas come from. Whether on some level, at some stage we may have been influenced by certain dominant and/or perpetuated ideas in our culture.

    Benjamin Law has written a balanced (and funny) article about how the gender bias exists across art forms as well, ie. theatre & music: http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/2681300.html It can’t be denied. We need to address it, and one of the ways to address it is to raise ideas about why it exists and persists. And that’s what I’ve done. It should cause no offence.

  27. I was just reflecting that many of my favourite books I read growing up were by women – Joan Aiken (the Wolves of Willoughby Chase, the Dido Twite series), Diana Wynne Jones (Howl’s Moving Castle and so many others), Laura Ingalls Wilder (Little House on the Prairie), Elyne Mitchell (Silver Brumby series), Susan Cooper (the Dark is Rising series) and of course LM Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables). I read plenty by men too, of course – but I wonder, do boys get offered books by women as much? I know heaps of men who read Diana Wynne Jones’ books and loved them, but I wonder if Little House in the Prairie is not so encouraged…

  28. Pingback: Do you have a gender bias about what you read? I think I might do… « Bite The Book – Book Reviews and Industry Views

  29. Pingback: Blog of silence, Melbourne book blogger meet-up and talking romance – Book Thingo

  30. Without agreeing to the necessity for a women’s only prize – I have doubts about whether that hurts or helps to be honest – it is reasonable to assert there are gender biases in this area as in all others. As a man who has read only a quarter or so of the “literary” fiction mentioned, I’m amazed not to see Suri Hustvedt mentioned as a modern author and Shirley Hazzard as 1 of the finest writers of the 20th Century (and I would think, generally acknowledged as 1 of Australia’s greatest authors). Cheers

  31. Of Australian SF / Fantasy, I probably read more woman authors than men. Certainly when I look at the list here, I do.


  32. Alice Munro, Doris Lessing, Nadine Gordimer, Edna O’Brien. Is there any Australian equivalent, read and recognised internationally?

    A while ago I wondered why Henry James was so celebrated compared to his (in my opinion) much more readable and equally literary contemporary Edith Wharton.

    We’ve always got Di Morrissey and Colleen McCullough, huge successes. Which raises the question – does a thumping good yarn have to be incompatible with literary merit?

  33. Pingback: Cultural Update: April « Godard’s Letterboxes

  34. Pingback: Monday musings on Australian literature: Where are our women writers? « Whispering Gums

  35. Pingback: Women’s writing and the literary prize – Peta Mayer

  36. Hi Angela,
    Thanks for this very interesting post. I was wondering if the award has been created since 2011? I’d be interested in featuring it on my blog. And as a personal point of view, since I arrived in Australia, I have the feeling that women are not recognized (in any part of society) as much as (let’s say) in France. I feel that there’s a kind of misogyny… this is only my opinion as a french woman, and I find it fascinating to experience all these differences. Thanks for reading!

    • Hi Angelique, I think they’re hoping to launch it in 2013. But they’ve already run quite a few events promoting and discussing writing by women. See the website: http://thestellaprize.com.au/ It’s so interesting to have your outsider point of view on that. There is still a lot of misogyny in Australia, I can barely watch TV because of it (mostly in advertising). Hopefully more balance will begin to be restored in book prizes and in the review pages. I think (hope) it is actually starting to happen, I just hope it continues to.

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