Thursday, June 9, 2011

Do Women Write Better Than Men?


Okay, ladies and readers, it's a can of worms, but I had to open it.

I know that Mr. VS Naipul and his assertion that men write better than women is last week's news, and that he did not win any friends or readers from fifty percent of the population (and a much greater percentage of book buyers, since women buy a lot more books.)

I also realize that Mr. Naipul (as he strokes his Nobel prize) obviously does not care.

But as I've mulled over it this last week (when I should have been thinking about my plot line) I've come to the conclusion that I do care.

And what really bugs me is not whether men write better than women, or women write better than men, but rather that anyone should make a distinction.

It never occurred to me when I was growing up that I should like books by female authors better than books by male authors, or vice versa. I just liked BOOKS. I read Nancy Drew, but I also read the Hardy Boys. I discovered Golden Age crime fiction through Christie, Allingham, Marsh, and of course, Dorothy Sayers. But at about the same time, I was reading Galsworthy and Delderfield and Winston Graham. And Ian Fleming, although under the covers with a flashlight, as my parents did not consider James Bond "appropriate reading." Funny to imagine now that those books were hot stuff!

And then I discovered CS Lewis and Tolkien and Charles Williams--the Inklings, as they were known, a group of MALE authors who lived and taught in Oxford, and who met regularly at a pub called The Eagle and Child (The Bird and Baby, as it was known) to talk about writing and books and life. If I was envious of anything, it was not that they were men, but that they enjoyed an intellectual camaraderie that seemed beyond my wildest dreams.

So imagine my shock when I realized a good many years later that there were men who bragged about the fact that they had never read a book written by a woman. I was gobsmacked, as the Brits say.

And it occurs to me now that I've never heard a female reader say, much less brag, that they have never read a book written by a man.

Nor do I think that women write better than men. They may write differently--scientists will tell you that women are biologically programmed from birth to pick up emotional cues, which might translate into a deeper insight into character--but that's a gross generalization and I can think of many male writers who create beautifully nuanced and complex characters, male and female. That's what good writers do.

As for the camaraderie I so envied, I think women writers have achieved it--we at Jungle Red are an example, if I may say it.

But my feminist hackles are up, and not just my feminist hackles, my Humanist hackles. How is it that one half of the human race can consider that the other has nothing worthwhile to say?

Isn't it past time that we moved beyond such silliness?

And in the meantime, I'll keep reading.


  1. My favorite thing is when people get all excited that a man can write (well as opposed to lamely) in the voice of a woman. Like this is some fabulous tour de force. I can do that backwards and in high heels.

  2. Funny Hallie:). Though I've not ever seen you in high heels!

    this is why I feel the Sisters in Crime organization is so valuable--they fight to challenge the assumption that men's books are worth more (in reviews and advances) than women's.

  3. My reaction to reading Naipul's comment was

    Unless the author is forming letters via inking his penis, gender has no bearing on writing.

  4. Silliness, and misogyny as well. Who does he think he is? And who cares what he thinks? Why should he say such a thing? I guess he doesn't realize that his buying public is mostly women.

  5. "How is it that one half of the human race can consider that the other has nothing worthwhile to say?"

    Make it 'half-minus-one.' Probably half the books I read are by women, and I don't recall ever looking for my next read based on the author's gender. Tell me a good story - that's my sole criterion.

  6. Actually, there are more women in the world than there are men. It's something like 51% to 49%. So Naipul is even dumber than he seems at first blush, since he seems hellbent on alienating that many potential readers. Shrug.

    There's no accounting for taste, but to make such a big deal out of it? That sounds suspiciously like sour grapes to me.

    One of my book clubs seems to read books written mostly by women; the other is the opposite. I find myself enjoying those written by female writers the most almost every time. I used to enjoy more male writers, but looking at my bookshelves right now I see an awful lot of women's names represented in recent years.

  7. Julia, you crack me up. I'm going to be carrying that picture around in my head all day . . .

  8. Obviously some women write than some men and some men are TOTAL IDIOTS.

  9. Oh, puh-leeze.

    Yup, Julia, you just made my day.

    But Debs, I'm glad you brought this up. The more people who can sneer about his, the better.

    Remember, Jungle Reds, a few years ago we had a contest, with snippets of different authors, to see if people could tell if a man or a woman had written it? and NO ONE COULD.


  10. It's also a question of publicity. Men are always more aggressive at getting the word out when they publish a book(there are a couple excellent examples in FB). But they do it too blatantly because they don't have any sense of humor!

    And I love what Julia said -- "gender has no bearing on writing"

    I did the experiment Hank mentions with graduate students, and they could not tell if a man or a woman had written the stories I gave them...

    On with the fight against inking penises!!!