Are Literary Prizes for Women Helpful?

Literary Prizes Just for Women? Yay or Nay?

Do you think there should still be literary prize categories just for women? Is it actually setting back the clock on gender equality or helping the cause?

Sometimes I have wondered about this point and today wanted to put it out to the crowd (aka you wonderful peeps). For example, there is the Baileys Woman’s Prize for Fiction. It has good intentions by celebrating excellence and originality in women writers around the globe. But, is separating out women really doing a disservice to the female gender? After all, doesn’t gender equality in its purest sense mean not differentiating between different prizes for each gender?

Interestingly, the original name for Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction was Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction. Note that there is no mention of the female gender in the previous title.

However, on the other hand (just to play devil’s advocate), maybe women do need to be singled out with literary prizes. Proponents of this idea would say that women are massively under-represented in shortlisted books for literary prizes. Indeed, that is the entire reason that the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction was created, as per the Baileys Prize website:

“The inspiration was the Booker Prize of 1991 when none of the six shortlisted books was by a woman, despite some 60 percent of novels published that year being by female authors.”

And so the Baileys Prize was born. And let me just say that the under-representation of females in literary prize nominations is appalling.

But, here’s the thing, maybe treating women special, with a different set of rules than men, in this case regarding specific prizes for female authors, is suggesting that women need help or assistance in some way. It may be sending the message that only when men leave the room can women’s accomplishments be celebrated.

And, unfortunately, that makes the achievements of women in female-only literary prizes less worthy than those of men who win literary prizes open to all genders.

Here’s the thing. Absolutely gender equality is still absent in many parts of society today. But I don’t think that giving women special treatment when it comes to literary prizes is going to solve the problem in the writing field. As a female author myself, with two books so far under my belt, I do hope that gender equality will happen in my lifetime. But, realistically, I don’t know if it will become a reality that soon.

Do you think that having literary prizes specifically open only to women is helping or hindering the achievement of gender equality? Feel free to share your thoughts.

Advertisements

73 thoughts on “Literary Prizes Just for Women? Yay or Nay?

  1. Christy Birmingham Post author

    Reblogged this on When Women Inspire and commented:

    As a female author, I do hope that gender equality will happen in my lifetime. But, realistically, I don’t know if it will become a reality that soon. Here are my thoughts on having female literary prizes (as reblogged from my other blog Poetic Parfait). Do you agree? Yay or nay?

    Like

    Reply
  2. colinandray

    Equality is equality is equality. One cannot expect to achieve equality by limiting an event to one gender. If the Bailey’s Prize was in fact a result of the Booker Awards, then one of two conclusions could be drawn:
    1. The Booker Prize awards process is flawed and should be reviewed or
    2. There should be a prize for authors who do not “make” the Booker list.
    Would I want to be listed in an event that lives in the shadow of Booker???? Now that’s the key question. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    Reply
  3. melouisef

    . Maybe yes, because women generally write differently from men, try me I can tell you pretty accurately if the author is a woman or a man.And so btw women write excellent history books. A good example would be Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff. But Never rely on reviews by goodreads.com because that illustrates that most reviews are by women (sic) 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    Reply
        1. colinandray

          If we truly believe and support equality, then we must concede that a man could have written a “Gone with the Wind” type of novel. Women can write detective stories based around a male detective and men can design women’s clothes, so any barriers are probably cultural rather than biological and/or mental. 🙂

          Like

  4. Billybuc

    Christy, I’ve only got so much space in my little brain, so I choose which topics are really important….this just isn’t on my radar screen, and I don’t mean that to sound like I’m trivializing equality because I’m not. If organizations want to have separate contests for women then I say go for it. If they believe that helps equality then go for it. All I am is a writer. There are tens of thousands of women who are as good if not better than me, and they deserve all the recognition they can garner. Does something like this help in that movement? I honestly don’t know.

    hugs

    bill

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
  5. Ben Naga

    “Do you think that having literary prizes specifically open only to women is helping or hindering the achievement of gender equality?”

    A tricky one. Unless and until the current cultural cancerous sexist bias is terminally excised no attempt to rebalance it will recompense I fear. 😦 Meanwhile, one by one we attempt to flip the coin. OTOH Herr Trump continues to excite adulation. Go figure.)

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
  6. Resa

    Women are not equal to men, yet.
    I see the most open minded, wanting of gender equality & thoughtful men, (friends) upset, even angry that Trudeau has created a gender equal cabinet in our government.
    Specifically to your question; in countries where women are “supposed” to be equal, I think 1 prize for the best writer should not only be gender equal, but race equal ( Oscars?) The categories should be best mystery, best non fiction, best biography, etc. & not best male or female in any category.
    Nonetheless, thinking globally, there are a ridiculous amount of countries where women are vastly undervalued compared to ours, even not allowed to be educated. I think prizes for women in specific could help in certain places. Then maybe those men don’t have to feel threatened.
    There are women, whom apparently, do not want equality. That weakest link is another topic.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. Christy Birmingham Post author

      Such a thoughtful comment, Resa… Thank you. I think the undervaluing of women is unfortunately going to happen for a long time to come… Awareness takes a long time… Here, here, great about the Trudeau cabinet, in my opinion!

      Like

      Reply
  7. Rajagopal

    Interesting question, Christy, that is difficult to answer. In an age where gender equality is being advanced at all levels, I wonder why we are even looking at options that will only sharpen the gender divide instead of dissolving it. Societies around the world have progressed substantially from an era when women writers were compelled to take male names just to secure publishers. The case in point is George Elliot, whose real name was Mary Ann Evans. And where are we today? Gifted writers like Jane Austen, Emily Bronte, Emily Dickinson, Maya Angelou, Kamala Das, Kamala Markendaya, Agatha Christie, Enid Blyton, Arundhati Roy et al made the grade competing on equal terms. In India, the first batch of women fighter pilots just passed out for combat mode in full readiness to fly supersonic war planes. Hence setting up separate awards for women writers is a regressive measure turning the clock back.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. colinandray

      Absolutely agree. There are many claimed male/female ability differences, but so many are a result of cultural heritage/repression etc. If a woman (or man) is not provided with an opportunity to do something, how can we possibly say that they are unable?

      Like

      Reply
  8. davidprosser

    If there are literary prizes out there specifically for men then of course women must be allowed their equivalent. But if not then any prize for literature should be based on the quality of the work alone. Without this, I think a women’s only award is in fact demeaning to women as it suggested they can’t compete on equal terms.
    xxx Massive Hugs Christy xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  9. Dave Small

    It’s a challenging question Christy. I’m not sure which approach best pursues the goal of equality, but that certainly has to be the objective.

    If I can expand the discussion beyond literature — I read Lean In by Cheryl Sanborn, COO of Facebook, a couple years ago. She said:

    “The blunt truth is that men still run the world. Of the 195 independent countries in the world, only 17 are led by women. Women hold just 20 percent of the seats in parliaments globally. In the United States, where we pride ourselves on liberty and justice for all, the gender division of leadership roles is not much better. Women became 50 percent of the college graduates in the United States in the early 1980s. Since then, women have slowly and steadily advanced, earning more and more of the college degrees, taking more of the entry-level jobs, and entering more fields previously dominated by men. Despite these gains, the percentage of women at the top of corporate America has barely budged over the past decade. A meager twenty-one of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Women hold about 14 percent of the executive officer positions, 17 percent of board seats, and constitute 18 percent of our elected congressional officials. The gap is even worse for women of color, who hold just 4 percent of top corporate jobs, 3 percent of board seats, and 5 percent of congressional seats. While women continue to outpace men in educational achievement, we have ceased making real progress at the top of any industry. This means that when it comes to making the decisions that most affect our world, women’s voices are not heard equally.” (Sheryl Sandberg: Lean In)

    In one of my posts (in a church context) I added this thought: Gender should never be an obstacle to leadership positions. We should continue our work to remove these barriers inside and outside the church. Not only are these barriers discriminatory and oppressive, they’re counter-productive to the well-being of our churches and the world. As Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg once said: “It’s not women’s liberation, it’s women and men’s liberation.” She’s correct. If we want a better world and better churches — have more women in leadership.

    Thanks for your pursuit of equality and the thought-provoking post Christy.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
  10. Aquileana

    I think this award strictly aims to highlight women as a specific group… It is more a compliment than an understatement, as I see it… I said more on my comment at WWI… Happy sunday, CB. Aquileana 🌟

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  11. MindandLifeMatters

    Reblogged this on Mind and Life Matters and commented:
    A must read article that asks a very interesting question! Does it speak Gender Equality to have a Literary Award just for women writers or does it put the whole notion backwards?
    The fact that there were very few women nominees in spite of having 60% women authors begs a question at the same time how/what do we gain by having literary awards just for women! What do you think? Yay or Nay to Literary Awards for Women?

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
  12. D. Wallace Peach

    This is a really interesting question because I can see it both ways. On one hand, awards should be about the book, not the author. On the other hand, if women aren’t getting the same opportunities based on gender then why not let readers know that there are great female writers that they may enjoy. I make a point of reading plenty of books written by women and they’re great 🙂

    Like

    Reply
  13. macjam47

    Separating women out for a woman’s only honor or award, is taking women back to when we weren’t allowed to vote, hold office, not only not work outside the home, but hold positions of authority in the workplace. It hurts equal pay for equal work. When women are trying to assert themselves as competent, able equals to men, it says we are not up to the “equal” concept. Maybe the people who are designating winners of awards should take a serious look at women authors.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
  14. Ste J

    I’m always of the thought that if a book is good enough it will be recognised as such despite the author’s sex. A lot of it is probably down to the way books are chosen for the awards, with a few of the big name awards there seems to be bias amongst the panel both judging and choosing which doesn’t help.

    However an award purely for female authors could be used as a tool to highlight quality literature so often missed by the public, I think as with so much in life, if it marketed well as an empowering award for women as well as to showcase great literature then it is a winner. Until women are accepted on equal terms it seems perfectly valid.

    Liked by 3 people

    Reply
    1. Christy Birmingham Post author

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts… I do see why this debate continues as equality is not yet reached… so much to think about! You offer good points here (not surprising, given your intelligence!)

      Like

      Reply
      1. Ste J

        I think a lot of it is down to the spin its given, both ways of looking at the situation are equally fair points and valid, it just depends who is wielding the mic so to speak when are talked about in positive and negative terms. intelligent comment is demanded when you write my friend, you do stimulate the ol’ mind.

        Liked by 1 person

        Reply
  15. valentinelogar

    It is a two edged sword. Even in those countries where we have supposed gender equality we know there is no such thing. Awards are clearly still biased, whether in literature or other arts. Really? Just last year a man won woman of the year. Yes, I said it.

    I think it is important for women and men to recognize excellence, until this happens across the board maybe it is important for there to be gender / race / orientation awards.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. Christy Birmingham Post author

      A man won woman of the year… oh dear… equality better not be slipping away from us… in some ways we have made progress but there is still such a mountain ahead… Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Val

      Like

      Reply
  16. Sue Dreamwalker

    It’s hard to say Christy for you will always offend someone who is for or against it..The gender shouldn’t be what is judged here, but the content and skill of that which is presented to the awarding body and it should be judged upon its merit not put into a category of male or female..

    🙂 We are One! 🙂 I just happen to be in a female body this time around! 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
  17. Debbie

    I find myself agreeing with you, Christy. On the one hand, it’s nice to know there are special prizes just for women, but on the other, maybe that’s the sort of thing that’s so “politically correct” that it just feels wrong. A writer is a writer. We don’t all write alike, cover the same topics, choose the same themes. There should be plenty of room in our profession for diversity, and we should celebrate our differences, rather than pandering to a certain mold. Works shouldn’t be judged based on the author’s gender, location, education, whatever; they should stand on their own merit. Perhaps more contests ought to be “blind” author submissions?!

    Liked by 3 people

    Reply
  18. Heena Rathore P.

    Such a thought provoking post, Christy! I always think about all the suffering as well as privileges women have to go through under the disguise of discrimination. I mean I know we need equality to eliminate the sufferings, but at the same time, we’ll have to be prepared to give up the privileges that come with it.
    I guess there shouldn’t be a separate category for women for awards as it WILL be gender bias…
    Hope you’re having a great day!

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
  19. inesephoto

    I don’t like the idea of any women-only prizes. Doesn’t seem right to me. Either you are brilliant or you are not – it has nothing to do with your gender, race, weight and social status. Something has to be fixed in the reviewing system. Another solution – there should be male-only awards too 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    Reply
  20. DG MARYOGA

    It’s a nice feeling to re-connect with you and read your always interesting posts,dear Christy!I’m afraid the gap is still open and the way to gender equality long,but we remain engaged in all efforts to any social equality until we all have the same status.Nevertheless,your topic “Literary Prizes Just for Women … ” is discrimination.Isn’t it? Best, Doda 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    Reply
  21. Marje @ Kyrosmagica

    A tricky one Christy. I suppose as long as there is the equivalent for men then that’s fine. Nice to shout out about the best of female and male writing too… at the end of the day writing is about the quality of the writing not the sex of the person writing.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
  22. fais

    It is not as simple as it May seem, I think restricting a mental skill or ability to a gender is derogatory but I also know there isn’t equal pay between genders nor there is equality in chances given in certain jobs nor do men care for children after birth as paid maternity leave, so I am torn between logic and reality

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
  23. Jay

    That’s a great question and I would lean toward not having any gender divisions. It feels icky and inherently sub-par. But I think there are some good intentions there so I can’t discount it easily.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  24. markbialczak

    Interesting conundrum, Christy. Of course women deserve equal literary recognition as men, as they do in all thing in this life we share. So as long as there is a whiff of inequality, I can understand why Bailey’s started this award. However, I can also see the side that says women are powerful enough to stand on their own in the non-gender-specific awards already out there. Hmmmm. Hey, in the Grammys and Oscars, they have best-of categories for men and women. Do you think that solves anything, Christy, or makes it worse?

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
  25. SingleFocus

    I don’t think that gender equality should be a factor. I don’t see anything wrong with the Award. The winners should not think less of their achievement just because men writers get no consideration in this Award.There should be no controversy in recognition of writers, gender based or not.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
  26. Robert Matthew Goldstein

    I think a separate award is justified by the differences in the way women and men are socialized in Western culture. Even is the two genders were raised with exactly the same social expectations the fact of living in different bodies with distinct reproductive agendas makes the experience of being a woman unique.

    We still live in a culture that still argues over who has a right to control the minds and bodies of woman.

    A woman who can transcend this and give expression to her lived experience in a way that helps everyone to better understand the experience of being a woman should get an award.

    The greater the obstacles to self expression, the more noteworthy the achievement.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  27. Maniparna Sengupta Majumder

    A perfect gender equality exists nowhere on this planet. In some countries, women are ‘better’ placed in comparison to others, where, they are bereft of even education and other things. So, I think, a literary award exclusively for women would not be a bad thing. Of course, on the downside, it can be said, literary works should not be discriminated in this way and, an award like this would encourage gender inequality in the long run- but everything has its downside as well as some up ones… 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
  28. Cynthia

    Love this. And as I was reading, I thought about how there is Affirmative Action and scholarships for Latinos and African Americans…and all because they have faced real struggles in achieving equality in all sectors.
    So, actually, I think prizes for women encourage them to come forward and help shatter the gender wage gap, the idea that women can’t do some things as well as men, etc.
    To be sure, we’ve still never had a woman president, and it’s so interesting how society has so many mixed messages it sends to women: be thin but then you’re anorexic, don’t have sex with anyone before marriage but you’re a prude if you follow that rule, wear makeup but you risk looking slutty, if you’re not a size 2 you’re overweight, etc. There’s the idea that a father has to “give away” his daughter – a throwback from dowry days.
    And recently, I read an article about how a couple women had a bake sale and charged “by the gender” to make a point: men still make more money then women, dollar for dollar. The bake sale ladies charged males $1 to buy a cupcake and women something like $.80. People were polite face-to-face but then many males went online and started really harassing the cupcake organizers, calling them all sorts of ugly names and even issuing death threats.
    So..ya know…in adding all this up, I personally think it’s great women get scholarships or chances at prizes based on gender. When society is blind to gender, race, sexual orientation, etc., then perhaps these sorts of things will become moot.
    Excellent question and fun to answer! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
  29. Elouise

    Wow. Great topic. I’m torn, but not without an opinion! Given the horrendous lack of encouragement and recognition for women writers, I would be happy for both kinds of competition or recognition. This would, of course, need to be reciprocated by men–meaning they need to come clean about where the men’s club is (and the women’s club is not). In an ideal world, I’m for full and open equality. In this world, given multiple cultures and clear discrimination against women, we–as women and as like-minded men–must do what we can for young women writers. This would include supporting publishers who get it and are willing to go out on a limb on behalf of women everywhere. It isn’t about competitions; it’s about mentoring and encouraging each other so that some day…..!

    I just ordered your new volumes of poems, thanks to Kevin’s post! 🙂 Yay!

    Elouise

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s