February is Black History Month in North America so I thought I would read books written by women who identify politically as Black; although not necessarily American. I’ve lined up Harriet Jacobs slave narrative, Patricia Hill Collin’s From Black Power to Hip Hop, Jennifer Hayashi Danns with Sandrine Leveque’s Stripped, Sapphire’s The Kid, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Toni Morrison’s Beloved. I’m looking for more recommendations of Black women writers in time for Black History Month in the UK in October.#readingonlybookswrittenbywomen
This is a Feminist blog but it is one inspired by a man: V.S. Naipaul to be exact. Inspired isn’t quite the right word to use here since it does imply some sort of artistic vision and a lack of anger. Mostly, it inspired a lot of rage; I’d like to think righteous rage. And, really, I don’t actually want to give Naipaul any real credit for inspiration when it was his dismissal of all women writers for their “sentimentality [and] the narrow view of the world” that made me froth with rage. Naipaul is obviously entitled to his opinion, even if it is misogynistic and all kinds of stupid, but the real problem is that his opinion is reflected in the purchasing and reading habits of men across the world. This is what we need to challenge: the erasure of women from the literary and cultural world. Feminist writer Bidisha calls this cultural femicide. I’m inclined to agree with her.
… women are everywhere in the book world and even on the bestseller lists. We are the overwhelming majority of book buyers, book readers, book editors, agents, PRs, event attendees, festival-goers, champions of literature, literature teachers, writers and book club members. We read the comically major majority, in a really major way, of all fiction. We support the entire industry from within and without. We are everywhere except in the nicest place: the prestige podium, that zone of acclaim furnished with prizes, honours, respect, speaking invitations, special commissions, credit, mentions, recommendations and a place in the canon.
Women read and buy more books than men and we read with a fairly close approximation of gender parity. Men do not give women the same respect. Most men who read only read books written by men. J.K Rowling is the most well-known example of this phenomenon in the 20th century: she published the Harry Potter series under her initials because her publisher felt they could not market the book to boys if it was written by a woman. The fact that it is one of the highest selling series of books ever seems beside the point: written by a woman and it simply wouldn’t sell. Even if the books are brilliant and engaging.
Strangely, women are the majority of employees in the book industry: everything from publishing companies to literary prizes to conferences. So why do we support male literary efforts when they do not accord us the same respect? Why do we not take advantage of the biggest tool for activism that we have in a capitalist Patriarchy and stop financially supporting male authors? Why don’t we demand publishing companies spend as much money advertising books written by women as they do by men? Why do we still buy anthologies of poetry, plays and short stories when the default is always male? Why do we still live in a society where some of the greatest writers are accorded no respect because they have vaginas? Why are we still in a system that forced the Bronte sisters and Mary Anne Evans [George Eliot] to publish under male pseudonyms? Why do we support an industry that required the same of Joanna Rowling 200 years later?
This blog, then, is a piece of feminist activism because it is about celebrating the literature written by women and about women: about our friendships and our lives. I’m not going to stop reading books by men altogether [mostly because I run the Mumsnet Feminist Book Clubs and we’ve already picked this year’s books which do include some by men writing about domestic violence and porn] but, rather, this is about only buying books written by women. It is about taking the only stand possible in capitalist patriarchy and financially supporting brilliant women writers with a view to ending this cultural femicide. It is about loving literature and loving the brilliant women who write it.
On twitter: #readingonlybookswrittenbywomen