This essay by Natalie Haynes originally appeared on The Guardian on 6/1/15.
Books with female subjects are less likely to win literary prizes. But why do men rarely feel confident enough to write about women?
Like anyone else who reads a lot of books, I’m not a bit surprised by the news that book prizes favour narratives with male characters at their centre. In fact, literary prizes tend to favour books by men about men, as novelist Nicola Griffith’s research reveals: the Man Booker, for example, has awarded nine of its past 15 awards to men writing primarily about men, the Pulitzer has awarded eight. The first five years of this century skewed the figures for the Man Booker: True History of the Kelly Gang, Life of Pi, Vernon God Little, The Line of Beauty and The Sea, all by men and primarily about boys or men (and a tiger).
Novels focusing on women or girls are very much less well-regarded, it seems. Griffith finds only two recent Man Bookers have been awarded to such narratives, and none of the Pulitzers. She’s right to point out the obvious: stories about women are stories about half of the world. Fail to reward those stories with recognition and publicity and you’re side-lining half of human experience. Quite aside from anything else, that’s robbing us of some good future books: publishers are often more likely to publish books that they think have a chance at a prize.