Saturday, April 06, 2013

My moment in the mass media

I was contacted a few weeks ago by an editor from The Australian asking me for my opinion on a new award for women writers called the Stella.

The double page feature came out in the review section of the paper this morning. There are several paragraphs accurately reporting the opinions I submitted.

So what's the Stella? In Australia the premier literary award is called the Miles Franklin Award. In 2011 all of the shortlisted books for this prize were written by male authors. This prompted a group of women to claim that women were marginalised in the literary field and to organise the Stella as an award for women writers only.

When I checked out the claim about female disadvantage I found that there were some areas in the field of literature and publishing in which the numbers went against women but others where they were in their favour. It's true, for instance, that most of the reviews in literary supplements are written by men (although that's due, in part, to women being less likely to put themselves forward to review non-fiction works, such as military history).

On the other hand, women are overrepresented when it comes to elite publishing courses, recent employment in the publishing industry and membership of editorial boards.

Anyway, the part of the feature story that relates to what I submitted runs as follows (at the moment you need a subscription to access the entire story online):
Another catalyst for the Stella were the 2009 and 2011 shortlists for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, a prize established through the will of Franklin. Both shortlists were all-male affairs. Yet three of the five Miles Franklin judges who agreed to an exclusively male shortlist in 2011 were women.

Conservative blogger Mark Richardson asks: "How can women be marginalised when they have the power to make the final decision?" Richardson says of the new, women-only prize: "I have no objection to a group of people collecting funds for an arts prize, but I'm sceptical that the Stella is necessary because women writers are marginalised."

Richardson points out that "women tend to dominate the field of publishing in Western countries. Back in 2010 there was a debate in the US about the lack of men on editorial boards in the publishing houses...If you always focus on areas where the numbers aren't as good for women, you come away with a false picture of women being held down by men."

In some ways the Stella sets a good precedent. It shows that a small group of people can raise sufficient funds for a significant artistic prize. Down the track we could follow the example and establish prizes for, say, works of historical fiction set in Australia, or for paintings illustrating some facet of Australian history, or for realist painting, or for architecture which respects historic areas.

But the negative aspect of the Stella is that it continues to focus on a competitive division between men and women, something particularly unnecessary when it comes to the writing of fiction, a field that has been open to women from the beginning of the genre.


  1. I like that "if you always focus on areas where the numbers are good for women, you come away with a false picture women are being held down by men"

    It's like "zomg, we don't have enough women ceo's!!!! Patriarchy!!!!!!!"

    But women are also very rare on oil rigs, and coal mines

    "Blah blah blah there needs to be affirimative action for womynz in ceo...ships!!!patriarchy!!!! Stay out of my uterus!!!!!"

    "Uh, ok, so basically you want a program that instructs the employer to acknowledge the sex of the interviewee, but you don't want him to discriminate based on sex, gender, race?"


    "Im moving to construction"

  2. I was contacted a few weeks ago by an editor from The Australian asking me for my opinion on a new award for women writers called the Stella.

    Did you do your best imitation of Brando shouting "Stellaaaaaaa!" ?

  3. Did you do your best imitation of Brando shouting "Stellaaaaaaa!" ?

    You mean like this.

  4. Congrats, Mark.

    I think it is excellent you got some mainstream exposure. The inflappable deameanor you display in your writing makes you very accessible to readers who would otherwise be turned off the message.

  5. Make sure that women will win by banning men from competing. How very feminist. Of course it's also very sexist and incredibly insulting to women.

    As Germaine Greer pointed out in her book THE SLIPSHOD SIBYLS, the problem for women writers has always been that things have been too easy for them. Second-rate women writers have found it very easy to get published and their second-rate work has then been over-praised. This is not only bad for literature, it's bad for the women writers concerned. It ensures that they will never develop into first-rate writers.

    No writer with an ounce of self-respect would accept a Stella Award.

  6. I think that work by Germaine Greer was in regards to poetry, writing is an overgeneralization in the context of using her book.

    However, there is no need for a separate award for women nor is this an award per se for us. This is far likely an award selected by feminists to advance their cause. Therefore only the works and/or the authors they approve of will be recognized.

    As a piece of trivia, eight of the ten writers in contention for the Miles Franklin Award this year are women. Anyone with common sense knows that real life and in this example the calibre of a year's literary works does not follow a gender quota.