From the (Pakistan) Express Tribune:
Quick, off the top of your head, name five books that have gotten critical acclaim recently. Chances are the books you’ve named are mostly those written by a male author. ‘But that’s just because I read genres that are more male-dominated,’ you might argue.
Or, ‘Well, men write better books than women.’ Such arguments are overly simplistic (not to mention misogynistic, in the case of the latter) and ignore the deep-rooted sexism that is prevalent in the world of literature today.
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Pakistan breeds sexism in literature
According to the author Saba Imtiaz, female-dominated genres are comparatively less-respected. “Women-dominated genres [like romance] are considered to be second-tier, ‘easier’ to read and write, and that lack of recognition of how long it may take to write that work is quite dominant,” she says. Her novel is sometimes categorised as ‘chick-lit’, a term Saba thinks is dismissive and belittling. “I’m sure that when I was younger I used the word ‘chick-lit’ too; I would hope that I am more aware now of how ridiculous a word it is,” says Shazaf Fatima Haider, author of the wildly amusing novel How it Happened (2012), who is equally offended when her novel is categorised as ‘chick lit’. “I don’t think of myself as someone who writes only for women, nor is the book solely read by women, so it’s quite amusing to see the quick categorisation based on the theme,” she says. “It is a novel about marriage and weddings and it is, therefore, usually considered as a woman-only book, which is a bit of a daft and one-dimensional way of looking at it. But that’s our gendered outlook at life for you.”
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Shazaf says that famous, lauded authors and critics are also complicit in this denigration of literature written by women. “[Nobel prize-winning British author] VS Naipaul famously said that he didn’t consider any woman writer his equal. He also said, ‘I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me,’” explains Shazaf. “Naipaul has also said in interviews that women writers’ views are narrow and sentimental. So yes, I think this sort of bias exists, though not many are brave enough to express it so overtly.”
It is not just critics who view books by female authors differently. Readers also respond differently to these books according to their gender. “Women tend to either identify with or despise a character or scene or the entire book,” says Saba. “But that’s because (in my book) the protagonist and her best friend are women and so there is more for women to compare or identify with. Men tend to be either entirely dismissive or terribly curious,” she adds.
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There is also a tendency to assume that female writers are drawing from their personal experiences when it comes to assessing and critiquing their work. “In addition to labelling women’s writing ‘frivolous’, there is also a tendency to draw in a female writer’s personal life and background into the conversation and critique, whereas a male author’s writing is never critiqued in this manner,” says Saba.
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“In my experience, I think people are quick to assume I wrote my book to work out issues that are personal to me. I think people generally have an easier time imputing intellectual and aesthetic playfulness to a male author than they do to a female author — they can understand a woman writing from hurt or rage more than from a place of greater dispassion or from sheer aesthetic pleasure.”
Link to the rest at The Express Tribune and thanks to Diana for the tip.