If you are a woman, the propensity of facing barriers in carving out a career in any given field is high. The literary field is no different. Women writers are often dismissed as writing either ‘chicklit’ and ‘romance’ or being too sentimental and ‘feminine’ in their writing. In a world where mansplaining and male chauvinism are everyday norms, do women writers face a plethora of challenges because of their gender?
SheThePeople.Tv spoke to some women writers to know if they felt they were ever bracketed unfairly because of their gender.
Feminine experience dismissed as “domestic”
Author and Ideas Editor at SheThePeople.Tv, Kiran Manral said, “Through the centuries, women writing about the very real issues women face have been consistently dismissed as domestic. We see it with the writing of Jane Austen who wrote brilliant social commentary and very subversively for her times, but was condemned to be considered a lesser writer because her themes were women’s issues. Women writers also place their protagonists, women, at the fulcrum of their narrative, using their storytelling to define and emphasize the feminine experience. Writing about home, children, love, life, are themes that are strangely so integral to our day-to-day but considered domestic and therefore consigned to the trivial. I think it is unfortunate that women’s writing continues to be a sub-genre rather than just writing, without the imposition of a gender lens upon it.”
Author Shuchi Singh Kalra says that it bothers her that stories with a male protagonist are perceived as regular stories whereas stories with a female protagonist are classified as ‘women’s fiction’. She believes this alienates a large chunk of readers.
Gender bias faced by women authors
Author Sudha Menon recounts an experience that best illustrates this gender bias women authors face.
Walk away leaving Person 1 perplexed.
Writer Ira Mukhoty Jayal says, “I find that as a woman writer of non-fiction, I am definitely questioned more on credentials and methodology than would a man. Also, since I have dealt with historical figures who incidentally happen to also be women, I am categorized as a writer of ‘women’s history’. Whereas we never specify if it is ‘men’s history’!”
Disparity between men and women awarded literary prizes
Working from Home has its own bias
“If you work from home, the perception is that your work is simply a hobby or an indulgence. My close friends and sometimes extended family think my writing is just a way to while away time. Friends call me up to go shopping in the middle of the day and the matriarch of the household sometimes asks me why I can’t get myself a job,” – Sudha Menon
“She cannot fathom why I choose to sit at home at my desk and write all day and get so little money in return. With great compassion she often suggests that I should get myself a job so that I am not in penury.”
According to Yamini Pustake Bhalerao, “People fail to take your work seriously especially when you are a married woman and you don’t earn from your writing. That phase between identifying as a writer and yet not being published is the worst. People discredit your work as a hobby or time pass.”
What can be done?
“Whether you are a man or a woman, your writing is taken seriously only when you achieve success,” opines Shuchi Singh Kalra.
Yamini, on the other hand, believes that writers must stop hiding behind tags like “part-time writer” etc.
Celebrate women writers
Kiran Manral says that it is time to celebrate women writers and make more space for them on bookshelves, in review columns, in award lists, and have men and women pick them up to read regardless of the gender of who wrote them.
She also expressed delight at the fact that this year we’ve seen some fabulous books by women writers winning prestigious prizes. “I will be even more delighted when the ratio between men and women being awarded literary prizes becomes completely equitable, because women are writing fabulous books. As are men. We need to champion both,” she sums up.
Shuchi Singh Kalra says that marketing women’s literature like any other piece of literature can help do away with the bias. “It is important to break the conception that women’s literature is literature meant only for women readers,” she asserts.
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