Last year, the novelist Kamila Shamsie wrote that 2018 should be a year of publishing only women, with no new titles coming from men whatsoever. I thought this was satire when I first read it, but turns out she’s actually serious.
‘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.’
In an article last week, the journalist and author Lionel Shriver attacked the proposal, describing it as ‘rubbish … This whole thing of treating women specially, as if they need special help and special rules, is problematic and obviously backfires.’
I couldn’t agree more. While taking half the population out of the equation would certainly make it easier for women to get published, it would also completely demean the achievement of getting published. No longer would publishing be a merit based system, instead one sex would be given special privilege over another. That is the very definition of sexism.
In such a system how many men writing fantastic work would get passed over for publication in favour of something inferior just because it was written by a woman? It comes down to opportunity of choice vs opportunity of equality. Skewing the result does not create equality, it does the complete opposite.
‘Interesting, isn’t it, how worked up people can get about a proposal that only spans 12 months?’
A proposal which would take careers and livelihoods away from every male writer, and she has the audacity to question why people would oppose her idea. Not only that, but she goes about it in such a glib, patronising way that hardly merits a constructive conversation.
I wonder why these women haven’t suggested the same approach when it comes to the less desirable occupations. Why not replace the 99% male dominated industry of garbage collection with purely women instead? Why is it only problematic when the occupation is male dominated? No one bats an eye when it comes to occupations like nursing and teaching being entirely female dominated. It seems the feminist doublethink only works one way, and only applies to the comfortable, well-paying jobs.
Is publishing really such a male dominated industry in the first place? The biggest news in the literary world last week was JK Rowling eating cake in a library. Some men even chose to publish under female names, why would that ever happen it was so detrimental to be a woman in the industry? And from the statistics I’ve seen, more women than men are employed at publishing houses by a large margin. So if there is a supposed bias in the publishing industry, then doesn’t it logically follow that it’s women rather than men who are perpetuating it?
I think publishers probably chose to publish the writing that they think is worth their time. The writing that will sell books, regardless of the sex of the author. It seems to be an unpopular opinion though. Sex and gender are dragged in to everything these days, and any attempt to question the narrative immediately gets you labelled as a misogynist.
If some publishing houses refused to sign up, then it would be for the literary pages and booksellers and bloggers and festivals to say they wouldn’t be able to give space to the male writers who were being published that year. Many male writers would, I’m sure, back the campaign and refuse to submit their books for publication in the given year, while also taking an active part by reading, reviewing and recommending the books that were published.
It takes some special mental gymnastics to propose a system for fighting alleged gender bias by creating a system of favouritism. But to then to go on to assume the excluded would buy in to voluntary self-discrimination? I struggle to wrap my mind around the delusion that takes.
I believe in egalitarianism and free speech, and even people like Shamsie should be able to spout whatever bigotry they want, but what worries me is that someone, somewhere might actually listen to what she has to say.
© 2016, Gavin Zanker. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.