International Women’s Day event: Do women write differently from men?

Kirsten Tranter

I’m very excited to be talking tonight at Shearer’s Bookshop in Leichhardt in a session chaired by writer and Stella Prize co-founder Kirsten Tranter, along with novelist and journalist Emily Maguire, literary agent Sophie Hamley and crime writer Lenny Bartulin. We’ll be responding to three questions. Do women write differently from men? Do we judge women’s writing differently from men’s writing? Why do these questions matter right now for readers and writers, and for reviewers and judges of literary prizes?

Emily Maguire

Apparently the session is sold out, which is good news, because it suggests that this is an important subject and one which people want to talk about.

I’m extra pleased to have been asked along tonight because this subject of writing by women is something I’ve been thinking about a lot, especially since the announcement of the Stella Prize and the ensuing conversations it’s provoked. I’ve been wanting to blog about it here for several weeks but have been caught up with other things (hello PhD, Overland fiction and Double Entry).

Lenny Bartulin

The thing that’s caught my attention is the idea that we might be judging women’s writing according to an aesthetic which is somehow inherently male, and therefore misjudging it – or, not according it its true value. And it seems to me this idea might imply that there’s something inherently different in the texture of women’s writing that distinguishes it from men’s.

Elizabeth Lhuede expresses it well in ‘Women Writers in a Man’s World: A reply to Tara Moss‘, a brilliant piece on being educated to privilege men’s writing over women’s. Among many other things, Lhuede said:

Sophie Hamley

‘As for the creation of the Stella prize exclusively for women’s fiction*, it may be that the ‘best’ women writers will be judged according to an aesthetic which reflects the values of a dominant (presently male-dominated) culture; the prize may serve to make these women authors more visible, and attract for them the attention and rewards necessary to hold their own against comparative male writers; hopefully they’ll be feted and interviewed, invited to appear on festival panels, sell more books and survive. They’ll provide the role model for younger women writers to respond to. Or maybe an alternative aesthetic will gradually develop as women readers focus more of our attention on what and why we judge to be ‘great’ in women’s writing. Perhaps we’ll develop an aesthetic, collectively or individually, which better reflects the breadth and diversity of Australian women’s lived experiences, culture and values.’

I’m very interested in this possibility of a new aesthetic arising from women focusing our attention on what we consider ‘great’ in our writing, and why. I’m also not convinced that women do write differently from men. (Not convinced that such global categories exist.) So I’m keen to see how the conversation unfolds tonight and intend to take notes so I can write about it here. In the meantime, here’s how Lhuede ended her piece – and this I agree with unreservedly.

‘Whatever happens, it will happen because women readers, critics, reviewers and writers take each other’s work seriously, and treat each other with the respect owed to professionals; it will be because we continue to develop and question the basis of our own tastes and preferences, as well as actively seek out writing by women which we can champion and enjoy.’

*I believe the Stella Prize is for writing by women, not exclusively for women’s fiction.

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