‘genderally’ speaking

I mentioned two survey questions last week, which asked about reasons for reading and reasons for writing poetry. At the time, I didn’t say who was carrying out the survey, as I wasn’t sure it was relevant. But what is a survey without results? And now the results have been published, and they raise further points for discussion.

So I’d better go ahead and say that the survey was sent out by Mslexia, which is published with the tagline “the magazine for women who write”.

They’ve been around for a number of years and are suported by high-profile writers (Jo Shapcott is judging their poetry competition, for example.) Every copy of the magazine that I have seen over the years has been well-produced and contained high-quality writing. But I still can’t bring myself to subscribe to a magazine for *women* who write.

Perhaps this is based on my belief that we shouldn’t need to know who the writer is to be able to judge the work they have produced. Why should the gender of a writer matter?

I know they say J K Rowling published using only her initials in an attempt not to discourage boys from reading her novels (I’m not sure whether this was her idea or that of the publisher.) And I read once that the editor of Playboy insisted that Ursula K Le Guin’s short story was printed under the name U K Le Guin. But as a reader, I don’t think I’ve ever cared much about the writer until I’ve been so impressed by what I’ve read that I want to find out more.

Of course, some people say they know immediately whether the writer is male or female: Naipaul recently caused a minor ruckus with his comments. That piece from the Guardian includes the paragrah:

[Naipaul] felt that women writers were “quite different”. He 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.”

Although I’d question what exactly he is comparing and finding unequal – I haven’t seen the full text, but surely it should be that the writing is “unequal to mine”? – I’m afraid I felt the whole story got far more exposure than was reasonable. I suspect he’d also say that male writers were unequal to him, so I’m not sure what the fuss was about.

One of the problems was, presumably, that he did the unthinkable and criticised Jane Austen, saying he “couldn’t possibly share her sentimental ambitions, her sentimental sense of the world”. I’d forgotten that when I made my criticisms of Pride and Prejudice the other day. But I don’t suppose anyone will be writing an article in the newspaper about my comments.

Incidentally, I failed miserably at the Guardian’s test to guess the sex of a writer from an unidentified text. And the gendergenie thinks this blog post was written by a male.

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

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