Books about women less likely to win prizes, study finds

Study of six major awards in the last 15 years shows male subjects the predominant focus of winning novels.



Analysis of the last 15 years of winners of six major literary awards by the critically acclaimed author Nicola Griffith has found that a novel is more likely to land a prize if the focus of the narrative is male.

Griffith looked at the winners of the Pulitzer, Man Booker, National Book award, National Book Critics’ Circle award, Hugo and Newbery medal winners over the last 15 years. She collated the gender of the winners, and that of their protagonists, finding that for the Pulitzer, for example, “women wrote zero out of 15 prize-winning books wholly from the point of view of a woman or girl”.

The Man Booker, between 2000 and 2014, was won by nine books by men about men or boys, three books by women about men or boys, two books by women about women or girls, and one book by a woman writer about both. The US National Book award over the same period, found Griffith, was won by eight novels by men about men, two books by women about men, one book by a man about both, three books by a woman about both, and two books by women about women.

“It’s hard to escape the conclusion that, when it comes to literary prizes, the more prestigious, influential and financially remunerative the award, the less likely the winner is to write about grown women. Either this means that women writers are self-censoring, or those who judge literary worthiness find women frightening, distasteful, or boring. Certainly the results argue for women’s perspectives being considered uninteresting or unworthy. Women seem to have literary cooties,” wrote Griffith in a piece laying out her analysis in a series of pie charts.

“The literary establishment doesn’t like books about women. Why?” she asked. “The answer matters. Women’s voices are not being heard. Women are more than half our culture. If half the adults in our culture have no voice, half the world’s experience is not being attended to, learnt from or built upon. Humanity is only half what we could be.”

Her analysis came as the summer issue of Mslexia, the magazine for women writers, explores the the “silent takeover by men of the top jobs” in British publishing. Industry expert Danuta Kean laid out how, since 2008, the “women at the top of the three biggest corporate publishing houses have stepped aside – in each case to be replaced by men”.

Penguin managing director Helen Fraser retired in 2009, pointed out Kean, Random House chair and chief executive Gail Rebuck stepped down from the day-to-day running of the company in July 2013, and Victoria Barnsley has been replaced at HarperCollins by Charlie Redmayne. Little, Brown chief executive Ursula Mackenzie has also recently announced she would be stepping down from her position in July, replaced by David Shelley.

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Filed under 2015, literary awards, study

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