10 October 2007
Cherchez la Femme
Congratulations to Doris Lessing, this year's Nobel Laureate. The always unpredictable Academy pulled another fast one on me, picking someone who's been "On The List" of the deserving for so long, I'd forgotten her! She was one of the women who were founders of the notion of the "Personal as Political", so Brava to her! I also vividly remember how she came under attack for her Canopus in Argos: Archives series of novels. How DARE a 'major writer' write Science Fiction with creatures from other galaxies commenting on situations here on Earth! And then Philip Glass turned two of the novels (The Making of the Representative for Planet 8 and The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four and Five) into Operas -- Shocking....
(And am I the only one who hears just slightest of nods to the current world situation in the fact that, although British, Lessing was born in Persia -- a country we now call Iran?)
The choice of Lessing fits in well with something I wanted to comment on anyway: how seldom it seems we view women as 'major writers'. Even I didn't have that many on my Possible Nobel list, only short story wizard Alice Munro and (speaking of the personal/political connection) poet-novelist Margaret Atwood (another possible Canadian winner would be poet Anne Carson, but the Academy has been noticeably poet-phobic of late). Young as they are both Edwidge Danticat and Zadie Smith are (or should be) just one or two solid books away from Shortlist status, with Britain's "Ali Sisters" (that's the non-related Ali Smith and Monica Ali) perhaps right behind them.
Britain's Orange Prize was organized to redress the lack of consideration women authors tend to get from the other majors. This year's winner was the wonderfully talented Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (photo at right) for Half of a Yellow Sun.
All this is very strange (dare I use the "M" word, misogyny?), particularly since there may not be a publishing industry without women. Even the Queen herself, Oprah, hasn't picked a book written by a woman in some time (Tayari Jones makes an interesting comment on the Catch-22 involved in that. Don't forget, when she started choosing books, even if they were written by men, the titles were considered "Women's Books" -- sometimes you really Can't Win....). Fortunately, some male writers 'get it' and speak about the importance of women writers to their own work.
But women's voices are disappearing elsewhere too. In the most outrageous news of this ilk, a movie studio head declares he doesn't want to make movies with women in the leading role anymore.
Even though it has been faulted, perhaps Susan Faludi is onto something with her new book The Terror Dream. At this post 9/11 "Macho" point in our history, when the woman running for president has to 'prove how tough she is', no one wants to hear from the 'weaker sex'. However, we ignore their voices at our peril.
"Women's rights is part of a larger story - about human rights, the declining engagement in public life," a force, Faludi says, that "stops people from not just being consumers, but citizens."