On women writing

So V. S. Naipaul, the Nobel laureate, has caused quite a stir by claiming that women writers are inferior to men. Of course, some people have been up in arms about it. Some people have just laughed it off. Some people have applauded Naipaul (here's a free sick bucket).

Before I start, I am female and a batshit insane liberal, and sexism gets me mad. So no, I'm not your average bigot. Not at all. (In fact, I'd hesitate to describe myself as a bigot.)

And, for all this, I'm forced to admit that he has a point.


"Hold your horses," I say, "and let me explain my point."

Yes, there are good female writers out there - there's Doris Lessing and Agatha Christie, for example, and I'm a Jo Shapcott fan (I know that that's technically poetry, but still). Hell, I've been tipped off that Vera Britten's very good as well. I've got nothing against women writing, and I don't believe that they're inherently inferior to men.

It's just that - well, when you think of the canon of great female writers out there, (and yes, I differentiate between good and great) who do you think of? Jane Austen? The Bronte sisters? Virginia Woolf? George Eliot? Hell, would Toni Morrison count - she is a Nobel laureate, after all? (I myself would love to read Christine de Pisan's work, as with Simone de Beauvoir's.)

I don't really like any of them, except de Pisan and de Beauvoir - and that's only because I can't get my hands on any books.

And why don't I like them? Is it because they're women? I don't know, but I'll go through my reasons and find out.

I don't like Jane Austen because - well, firstly I don't like Victorian literature. It's got too much purple prose for my liking. Secondly, it reads to me like glorified chick lit. 20th and 21st century chick lit already hurts my brain enough with its stupidity and narrow-mindedness, so why do I need that and purple prose put together?!

I can't actually read Victorian literature without throwing the book down in frustration, so the same goes for the Bronte sisters.

I was turned off Virginia Woolf by reading A Room of One's Own, as despite her sharp tongue and her armour-piercing questions, I honestly hated the way she insinuated that women should stick to writing about things like shopping and Mrs. Frothingham's at-homes - actually, this is something I hate about all the "different-but-equal" talking heads: they say that women "aren't suited for" whatever the current task is - like writing about politics or putting on improv comedy - but instead are natural talents at something more "feminine" like shopping or performing the Dance of the Flowers (I wasn't talking about the Tchaikovsky, I was talking about some insipid Victorian play with vaguely neoclassical, saccharine elements). You see, I love books about war and politics - War and Peace is one of my favourite books ever, and Dreams of Roses and Fire - which is about politics and religious conflicts - is my absolute favourite ever. The books women are being told to write - about women's at-homes and women agonising about who to marry and women moaning to each other about their own stupid behaviour - are exactly the kind that I don't like.

George Eliot...this is the problematic one. You see, she's a great writer, and I've been hoping to get my paws on Silly Novels by Lady Novelists for quite some time, but I thought Middlemarch was just like a pale shadow of War and Peace. The purple-blue prose and values dissonance turned me off, despite some of the interesting plot devices used and the ending, which somehow managed to be both dry and heartwarming at the same time.

As for Toni Morrison? This has nothing to do with time period or sex - it's about how she goes on and on about poor Pecola, who can do little wrong and serves mainly to get beaten up, bullied and raped by everyone.

And the thing is, while reading all of these authors, I can swear to you that I never once took sex or gender into account. My favourite books ever are all by male authors, but I swear blind to you that I never once took sex into account. It's because they reflected life most truly; because I really cared about their characters; because I learnt things from them; hell, because they wrote well and greatly.

I don't believe for one moment that women are inherently inferior to men. I don't believe for one moment that they can't write another War and Peace or a Cancer Ward (yes, I like Solzhenitsyn, don't judge me). What I do believe is that they had better start shaping up and writing great literature about great things with great characters instead of settling for chick lit and category romances.

Only then will they get the recognition, and the great literature, which they deserve.