Home » Books in General, Non-US » Lionel Shriver rubbishes plans for dedicated Year of Publishing Women

Lionel Shriver rubbishes plans for dedicated Year of Publishing Women

13 March 2016

From The Guardian:

Lionel Shriver has called her fellow novelist Kamila Shamsie’s suggestion of a year publishing only women “rubbish”.

Shamsie made the provocative call last year, citing gender imbalances across literary prizes, reviews, World Book Night author selections, and even protagonists in award-winning novels. “I would argue that is time for everyone, male and female, to sign up to a concerted campaign to redress the inequality,”Shamsie wrote. “Why not have a Year of Publishing Women: 2018, the centenary of women over the age of 30 getting the vote in the UK, seems appropriate … The basic premise of my ‘provocation’ is that none of the new titles published in that year should be written by men.”

But Shriver, speaking on a panel to mark International Women’s Day, described the proposal as “rubbish … This whole thing of treating women specially, as if they need special help and special rules, is problematic and obviously backfires,” she said.

Shriver compared it to the Baileys women’s prize for fiction, which she won in 2005 for her novel We Need to Talk About Kevin when it was known as the Orange prize. “It is not as meaningful to me to have won the Orange prize as, say, it would have been to win the Booker. Most people who win that prize surely say the same thing: you have eliminated half the human race from applying,” said Shriver, the Bookseller reported. “But there is this problem of suggesting that we need help, that men have to leave the room and then we’re prizeworthy. The idea of only publishing women is the same thing.”

Her fellow panellist Sarah Churchwell, professor in American literature at the University of London, said she disagreed with Shriver about International Women’s Day and the Baileys Prize. “I believe both are necessary because we have not yet achieved equality. When we do achieve equality then it will be nice to have a world in which those are not necessary,” she told the Guardian.

. . . .

“The Orange/Women’s prize for fiction has been wonderful – and I genuinely think it’s played a role in the increased number of women on prize lists … But we don’t need two women’s prizes for fiction in the UK,” Shamsie said. “The Year of Publishing Women was precisely an attempt to think of how an industry that is in many ways female-dominated might look at its own biases via a dramatic but time-limited proposal. A shock to the system, in the hopes that might reboot some ingrained ideas, rather than an ongoing process … Interesting, isn’t it, how worked up people can get about a proposal that only spans 12 months? “

Speaking to the Guardian on Thursday, Shriver said she had “always been a supporter of the [Orange] prize, but that any female writer in her right mind would rather win, for example, the Booker, because it’s more meaningful.

“It’s not a meaningless experience, winning the prize – it does have an effect on your career, and it’s a very well-run, well-regarded award. But it’s still a women’s prize,” she said.

But she remained clear that the concept of a Year of Publishing Women was “a ridiculous idea … This whole bend-over-backwards business backfires, because the implication is that women need special treatment,” she said. “I’m more interested in a core cultural prejudice which is very hard to shift.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

Books in General, Non-US

35 Comments to “Lionel Shriver rubbishes plans for dedicated Year of Publishing Women”

  1. As a male author, one year of publishing only women would mean, um…well, my income would bottom out, I’d lose my house and be out on the street. So, yay?

    That’s the thing that kills me whenever this “publish only (women/minorities/etc.)” suggestion comes up. It completely ignores that all the writers who AREN’T in that category would be seriously hurt by it. I consider myself a feminist. I’ve marched for equal pay for women. There are ways to fight for progress, and “lock all men out for a year, no matter who they are or the quality of their writing” ain’t it.

  2. Oscar for best female performance, best male performance. What’s the problem?


    Edit: Oh, wait. How many genders do we have, now?

  3. There’s nothing like replacing one gender imbalance with another.

  4. You mean they can tell the difference by the writing? Or just think they can.

    Then there was that gal that dressed up like a guy pretending to be a woman …

    • It’s my experience that particular patterns in writing actually are more common in male vs.female writers, but “more common” does not mean definitive—and even those signals can disappear with experience and skill.

  5. Posts like the OP make me sad – yes, women have made great strides since the 1960’s. But we are FAR from being treated as equals by our society or our peers. There’s a glass ceiling – it might have a few bubbles in it, but it’s not broken by any stretch of the imagination.

    As long as women aren’t equally represented in print or equally nominated for prizes, we are going to need protected status. I don’t like it, but I can’t see any other way.

    • Minorities have to fight their way up. Being protected just makes them look weak — and makes them weak.

    • But what price are you willing to pay for it?

      Getting your ‘protected status’ might be a bit like putting you on a reservation — or maybe in a cage. Hard to be seen as equal from in there …

      Of course since the need for ‘protected status’ is a fault of the males, let’s lock all of them in cages. Hmmm, still not looking equal out there …

      That is one nice thing about today, you can use a pen name to hide, confuse or even lie about which way the plumbing works.

      FYI, while there are several male science fiction writers I follow, there are several female ones as well … 😉

      (Or at least I ‘think’ they are, it’s hard to tell with some of the names used … 😛 )

      • D. C. Fontana. Just sayin’.

        D. C. Chester

        (And no, she’s not the reason. 🙂 Although I did admire her work.)

      • Allen – I’m not blaming men for the issue at hand. I’m not some kind of ‘man-hater’ who thinks men should be put in cages. Never have been. I’m pragmatic on the issue of gender equality when it comes to publishing, awards and prizes.

        There are many women in the ‘lower echelons’ of publishing who promote male writers instead of women who write at the same standard. So blaming it on a single gender would be well off the mark.

        It’s a social issue – as in collectively human society has some more growing up to do. In this century women aren’t collectively forced to give up their entire lives once they get married, to take on the persona of wife/mother/helpmate for their husband. They have choices that women of the 1800’s only dreamed of.

        It is still a long hard muddy slog to get each issue brought out into the open – air the dirty laundry and clean up the mess.

        • And I didn’t think or say you were, but any time we use a ‘fence’ to ‘change’ things, we’re either keeping something out — or keeping something in. Neither will get you ‘equal’ status because the fence proves to all that see it that the two are not equal.

          • My point is that women aren’t equal and have never been regarded as equal in human society. It is what it is and it ain’t what it ain’t.

            Shriver’s mistaken – the discussion isn’t ‘rubbish.’ Acting as if there isn’t a problem doesn’t solve the problem. It’s a coping mechanism called denial.

            The first step is to get up on the old soapbox and start protesting. Which puts one in danger of being subject to a troll feeding frenzy.

            I don’t think that excluding men from publishing for a year is going to help. (Taking their income is NOT going to make them support women.) I like the idea of going 50/50 – that would be much more realistic. We would likely get more like 30/70 – still in men’s favor. It would be progress, and we need to make progress.

            It would STILL be protected status – and until women are treated equally it’s necessary to force progress. It’s part of the process – air the laundry, clean up the mess.

            • If You got as many submissions from women as you did men, and the writing was equally as good from both, then yes, 50/50 is reasonable. The problem with trying to set quotas is that people start worrying more about the numbers than the work. I saw it plenty of times at work. Salesperson A did three times the sales as B. The fact that 90% of those sales called back to cancel didn’t mean a thing to the company that let B go, even though almost all of their sales went through.

              Heck, remove the names and use numbers for the reading/sorting and let the chips fall where they may.

              ‘We need three more from the X stack to make our 50/50!’

              ‘But we’ve got all the good one out of X already. There were twice the number in the Y stack, still a couple good ones we were going to use next round.’

              ‘X stack. Three. We have to make quota.’


              Politics: A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage. — Ambrose Bierce

        • Nice you don’t think we should be put in cages. Really appreciate that.

    • This is easy. Just make up some awards for women. Why expect someone else to do it?

      • You have heard of the Baileys (nee: Orange) Prize and the controversy surrounding it, yes?

        • Never heard of it. I confess to knowing about Nobels, Pulitzers, and Bowkers.

          But now I can add Baileys to the list. That’s the obvious solution. Make up more awards for women until they hit the target number.

          • So did you read the article, or even the excerpt posted here? Because both advance an argument as to why “make up some awards for women” may not be the hoped-for solution, and why the situation isn’t quite “easy.” Shriver specifically addresses making up some awards for women.

            I don’t know the Bowkers. Did you mean the Booker? Because the Orange Award, from what I understand, was in fact a reaction to the fact that a Booker long list included no fiction by female authors. (I don’t know the year.)

            But really it’s not about awards. As Shriver herself notes, it’s more about the core cultural prejudice that is much harder to shift than “make up some awards for women.”

            • I don’t know the Bowkers. Did you mean the Booker?

              Probably are the Bookers. My familiarity with book awards is close to zero.

              Maybe they do want to change cultiral prejudices. But, I’d say they will fail. The culture doesn’t pay any attention to these books awards. It’s the territory of a very small group that finds them interesting.

              Look at the silliness over the Hugos last year. Nobody knew anything about it except for a small group. So, it’s easier to target a small group than a culture.

              Make more awards for the group that cares about awards. Make a big deal out of it. Award the prizes to good books. The world is full of people calling on other people to do something. I’d suggest they do something for themselves rather than wait for someone else to do it for them.

  6. Identity-focused navel-gazing is a serious trap, guaranteed to make anyone it catches weak.

    Don’t we have a human race to write about, with all of its warts and glories? Who cares what we look like, or how we use our plumbing?

  7. Romance publishers should have a dedicated Year of Publishing Men.


  8. I had a friend, a prominent writer, male, who put women on his podium with him, sent their mss out to agents and publishers, not bec they asked, but because he could see some could use a wing escort. That was the most effective kind of change I’ve seen. It helped.

    Some walk with others. Some dont. Look for the ones who do, would be one way. There are other effective ways. I’d suggest not isolating but joining with those who have true heart for helping others succeed, not just themselves.

    Not sure what occurred at Academy Awards this year [boycotting and mocking], actually helped clear the complaint. Matters of importance to groups and individuals, tend to fall back under the waterline if not kept in conversations ongoing. I think meetings and convos and negotiations ongoing are often an effective way. Said, MLK. Far good enough advice by my sights.

    • How you go about promoting change matters at least as much as what you seek to achieve. And these kinds of campaigns very often tend to lose sight of the original goals and end up focused on process and numbers, muddying the waters instead of effecting real change.

      In the oscars debate the case was made that Will Smith’s movie was not terribly memorable *despite* his performance. Whatever one may think of Oscar voters, they do not have a category for “best performance in a forgettable movie”.

      Professional advocates get wrapped up in the advocacy game and more often than not end up hurting “thier” cause.

      Right now there is a (minor) online flap ragging on the Berlanti group, producers of Flash, Arrow, Supergirl, Legends, etc, for daring to cast a white actress in a throwaway *villain* role that might add up to ten minutes screen time for a role with a non-race specific name and backstory, because in her limited comic book appearance (ending in a quick ugly death) she was drawn as asian (eurasian, given the name).

      The issue is an eyebrow raiser because they are complaining about a production house that has cast traditionally white iconic characters–Jimmy Olsen, Iris and Wally West with 60 years history behind them–with black actors; who are actively trying to find a way to get live action exposure to DC’s premiere black heroine, VIXEN, and whose casts are as diverse and politically correct as any ivory tower pundit could dream of. (Black homosexual male scientific genius? Black latin female at the center of an ensemble show? Check and check.) And it’s not enough?

      Pendulum swings start that way.

      In TV speak there is the concept of “jumping the shark” which has many meanings but one of them is “losing sight of what you started out to do”.

      When boosting one cause requires promoting a “solution” harming everybody, including the people you think you’re helping, it might be time to go do something else.

      • goodpoints all. Have watched many a movement over a lifetime, go into fizzle or fundie mode. MLK’s plan for change is the most clear I’ve ever seen. The one left out by many who meant well at the beginning, is : self purification. Meaning question one’s integrity in order to have it.

  9. This will never happen. Seriously… Just another pet-peeve post calling for action that simply won’t ever occur. So getting one’s pants in a bind about it is an utter waste of time.

    (I’m referring to Kamila Shamsie here, not Lionel Shriver.)

    Yes, people, we ARE living in the real world, not Fantasy Island. Deal with it.

  10. I am so surprised that only one person in the comments noted that a year of publishing only women would deprive male writers of income for one whole year. who on earth could be in favor of that?

    • This was all a ‘hey look — we’re doing something for women!’ from the word ‘go’ …

      A very good reason ‘not’ to do it would be to not risk losing all those male writers, who might seek another, friendlier publisher, or do the unthinkable — with a whole year to wait they might try that self-pub thing they keep hearing about …

      (never mind the possible lawsuits …)

  11. Now that I think about it, I can think of nothing that would help independent authors more than a year of no male authors from the traditional publishers. Go for it.

    God Bless diversity, for it’s found in KDP.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.