I’ve read a bit over the past week about the Orange Prize, which is a literary prize awarded to a woman and judged by a panel comprised exclusively of women, as a response to the literary subjugation of women in the literary world. There’s been a bit of a kerfuffle; A.S. Byatt (author of Possession) denounced it as a sexist prize, with which Tim Lott agrees. So one side of the camp (and the award’s organization) claims that it needs a prize because women have not received their proper due, whereas the other side of the camp argues it’s unnecessary. Various heated arguments have ensued, if by ‘heated’ we mean ‘various bloggers have contributed their free two cents.’
Lott makes a few good points, opening with:
Here is a selection of groups that have been consistently under-represented among the winners of the UK’s two major book prizes, the Booker and the Costa/Whitbread: the white working class (0); West Indians (1); black Africans (0); disabled writers (0).
No one has funded a prize for these groups. However the Orange Prize was set up in 1996 to give women their own prize – because of perceived under-representation in the Booker. Despite 12 years of consciousness-raising by the Orange, the Booker still doesn’t give women their just mathematical due – a 3:10 ratio remains. But given that women have won five out of the last six Whitbread/Costas, does the level of injustice remain enough to justify the Orange?
Although the idea of applying ‘mathematical dues’ and ‘ratios’ to anything concerning writing hurts my head.
It’s a post both The Girl Detective and We are in debt took umbrage with and argued with, to various degrees of efficacy. My students would be quick to point out that calling anyone “Neanderthals” outside of an anthropoligical/taxonomical context is immediately ad hominem (a phrase meaning “against the man,” which may be particularly appropriate in this context).
Which also probably describes my own thoughts on this, as well as the probable argument that I am not entitled to them. I should not think about such issues because, as an average white male, I have no right. That Debt blog notes that “there’s no such thing as a reverse -ism,” but I’d disagree with that, especially in consideration of a phrase later used: “Leave it to a man.” Right. Because all we white males believe precisely the same thing and act precisely the same way, and we’ve all subjugated and oppressed every woman we’ve ever met because to do otherwise threatens our alpha-supremacy in the world.
The author later notes “The author of this silly piece seems to think that women are a “dominant” group, like “whites” (wrong)” but I wonder if that’s truly the case. First, a quibble: technically, women are more numerous, as a gender, than men–isn’t the population split still, like, 52% to 55% (versus, wait, I can do this–48% and 45%, respectively) in favor of women? I get that the trouble spot is in the definition of “dominant,” and that to be more populous does not necessarily equate to dominance, but still it isn’t technically wrong to state that women are a dominant group, for most definitions of the term. Not to mention that simply calling an argument ‘silly,’ or ‘wrong-headed’ or whatever doesn’t actually forward any real argument, and, indeed, if nothing else, brings the debate down.
The argument seems to be whether the Orange prize is necessary, but I have to admit I have trouble believing any literary prize is actually necessary. I don’t really get them, any more than I really get the whole Oscars thing; what, exactly, is a best picture, and on what level was No Country for Old Men better than Zodiac (I can think of many ways it was worse, but few better)? Given a real ballot with nominees (of any medium or genre) of any actual merit, terms like “better” actually cease to exist, I think. And does it really denote anything? Looking over Wikipedia’s list of nominees and winners, the only book on it I’ve ever read is Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, which I thought was overrated. I’ve picked up books by the usual suspects (Zadie Smith, Margaret Atwood, Ian McEwan, etc.), but have felt the same way toward theirs; nothing to inspire me to read beyond the first ten pages.
Maybe bad writers need awards to get recognition in a marketplace of books by people who know how to tell stories? Who’s Booker, and why does their list matter so much? There was a recent blogbate over Zadie’s Smith’s decision, as judge and jury for the Willesden (sp?) Herald’s award, to not award anything because it wasn’t good enough; who, besides WH, decided Zadie Smith is some arbiter of quality? More important, one of the members of the Orange jury is Lily Allen. Of MySpace fame.
Has Lily Allen ever even read a book? Her comments on Radiohead’s ‘devaluation of art’ seem to demonstrate she is perfectly content to argue based on superficial preconception with neither basis nor experience to bear them up.
One of Girl Detective’s arguments is:
I’d love to see a society in which women’s needs are catered to in the marketplace – where, say, every billboard has a picture of a naked man on it – and products for men just don’t exist. I wouldn’t want to live there – I’d just like to poke around a bit.
Does this mean that products for women, in the current marketplace, “just don’t exist,” whereas men’s every need is catered to? Also, I wonder where GD lives; I live in Hollywood, and there are plenty of naked men on billboards. Plenty of giant images of sharply chiseled jaws like none of us really have, washboard abs like none of us will ever really manage to get… etc. What female needs aren’t catered to, exactly?
No, really, I’d love to know, because as I’ve learned in my marketing class, built-in need-based target markets are a fucking gold mine, and I’d love to not be a broke-ass grad student anymore.
Speaking of mines, I’m sure this is probably one, and I expect debate/discussion (though not all together much, because who really reads this blog yet?), but if we can refrain from calling me a whiny Neanderthal, that’d be awesome.
Because, I mean, come on, it’s kind of the obvious strategy, isn’t it?