Traditionally a restless time of the year, this August has seen a new offensive in that great conflict of the moment: the gender war. Under attack, admittedly not for the first time, are male writers.As well as anyone who offends the SJWs orthodoxy, and as the Hugo Awards debacle shows, they are more than happy to pursue a scorched earth policy in this war…
On the BBC’s Edinburgh Nights, Kirsty Wark expressed shock at a recent report which revealed that only two of the past 15 winners of the Man Booker Prize had female protagonists. Two eminent women writers, the poet Jackie Kay and the novelist Maggie O’Farrell, were on hand to stoke the flames of outrage.
“An awful lot of men don’t create credible, interesting, older women characters,” said Kay, identifying Philip Roth – a traditional hate-figure in these discussions – as a writer whose female characters are “either absent or not complex”. There is also a bias of cultural perception, according to O’Farrell: while men were seen to write fiction, what women wrote was “women’s fiction”.I suppose it comes as no surprise that the BBC isn’t exactly neutral in this war, does it?
Meanwhile, in other parts of the literary village, William Boyd, whose new novel Sweet Caress has a female protagonist, was criticised by the novelist Charlotte Vale-Allen for having “no viable comprehension of how women actually think” , while Jonathan Franzen was getting it in the neck because his new work – yup, another heroine – includes a comically ferocious feminist who insists that her husband sits down when he pees.Perish the thought! Surely these can only be fictional creations meant to embarrass the movement?
Gender identity and bias have become the themes of the moment. Sexual politics, public and private, have become interestingly febrile. Grim stories of everyday sexism are exposed and ridiculed online. The actual nature of gender has become gloriously and hilariously uncertain. These swirling influences and pressures make it all the more important that the bossy voice of the cultural establishment is ignored by writers and readers.Yes, quite! The Hugo debacle showed that the SJWs can’t have it all their own way without a fight.
Inconveniently for some, fiction is an expression of how the world looks through one pair of eyes, interpreted by a single brain. There is something odd and faintly sinister about the relatively new idea that artists and writers should be engaged in moral improvement.Indeed there is. But I suspect it’s not going to go away, wish though we might that it would.