I recently listened to the fantastic heart-rending audio book, An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, a book which has received endorsements from the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama, the latter of which gave it the following praise, “An American Marriage by Tayari Jones is a moving portrayal of the effects of a wrongful conviction on a young African-American couple.” To read my review, please click here.
The reason why I mention this book is because whilst researching it for my review, I learnt that one of its many successes is that it won the prestigious Women’s Prize For Fiction in 2019. This got me wondering if there was a men’s counterpart award. Upon several google searches, it came to light that there was none and it triggered the conspiratorial recesses in my mind about the topic of gender equality in literature and to be even more blunt, the extent to which it truly exists.
According to the Founder Director of the Women’s Prize, Kate Mosse who is also a best-selling novelist, the inception of this most esteemed annual award can be attributed to the following disparity;
“In January 1992, a diverse group of journalists, reviewers, agents, publishers, librarians, booksellers – male and female – gathered together in a flat in London. The Booker Prize shortlist of 1991 had included no women at all – something which had escaped notice until the press commented on it…
…Everyone at that ad hoc first meeting was puzzled that, despite the ratio of books by men published to books by women being 60/40 in women’s favour, the leading literary Prizes nonetheless often seemed to overlook accomplished, challenging, important fiction by female authors.”https://www.womensprizeforfiction.co.uk/about/history
It goes without saying that as a black female myself, I care about the representation of women and ethnic groups in literature and many other mediums of entertainment and in professional circles. Therefore I appreciate efforts to celebrate historically oppressed groups such as women, ethnic minorities and the queer community in all its many forms i.e. The Women’s Prize or the NAACP (The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work.
I once spoke to someone about a community online that has become widely known as the ‘bookstagram’ community and in particular about how this community seems to be unevenly yoked with an overwhelming presence of mostly female young-adult (YA) fiction readers. That’s not to say that there are no mature readers for instance, or even male readers on this platform, its just that the general leaning seems to favour young females ageing from 18-34, according to statistics.
My male conversant expressed his advocacy for more female circles and I somewhat agree with him. I say ‘somewhat’ because it seems to me that certain apparatuses intended to redistribute the wealth of social capital from one group of individuals to another groups of individuals doesn’t fully encompass absolute equality. Perhaps that’s because the idea of anything being absolute or wholly itself is unrealistic, utopian even and so the socialist apparatuses are needed to maintain some semblance of equality. I guess I just favour more mixed circles as opposed to exclusively female circles or exclusively anything circles.
Just looking at all the major book awards in the U.K., there is an award exclusively for women, to celebrate the outstanding contribution of women to literature and there is also an award that celebrates BAME (Black Asian Minority Ethnic) writers, but none for men. Of course there are awards that have been founded in honour of men such as the International Dylan Thomas Prize, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Orwell Book Prize Award, but these accolades have also been awarded to women and BAME writers.
For example, in 2018, the International Dylan Thomas Prize was won by Zambian poet, Kayo Chingonyi who wrote Kumukanda, a selection of poems about the ancestral rituals of the Lavule tribe. In 2017, the same prize was awarded to Fiona McFarlene for her book, The High Places: Stories which was her debut collection of short stories.
Again, let me stress my support for such awards as the Women’s Prize For Fiction and Jhalak Prize for BAME writers. It always gives me this proud feeling when I see women and females, particularly black females celebrated for their achievements, such as Tayari Jones with her book, An American Marriage.
I like to think that as a whole, I care about all human rights, whether it relates to women’s rights, the rights of ethnic groups, gay rights, immigration rights and also men’s rights. However, it seems like in a world of literary distinction, the latter group is being covertly overlooked in the warped attempt of striving for equality.
Award-winning documentary and filmmaker, Cassie Jaye, most famously known for her 2016 documentary The Red Pill about men’s rights, used to be of the belief that;
“…men have all the rights..they have all the power and privilege.”Cassie Jaye, TEDxMarin (2017)
But after creating her Red Pill documentary, in which she came face-to-face with the object of her antipathy; the men’s rights activist movement, she in turn came to understand the following;
“If one group is being silenced, that’s a problem for all of us.”Cassie Jaye, TEDxMarin (2017)
In the literary awards community, many men sit on and even chair the various panels of book award committees in the U.K. but is this enough in the campaign for equality? Are men’s successes truly being celebrated in literature? I think the answer warrants more scrutiny on my part but I wanted to discuss it anyway , albeit prematurely, because I think it’s a conversation worth having. But what do you think? Please tell me in the comments what gender equality means to you?
Thanks for reading!