This post was sparked by a discussion I was having with Alisa Krasnostein and Kaelajael on twitter.
In this culture, men are the dominant ones, a fact that is incredibly obvious in the literary world. Women are expected to read the “classics” written by men and to appreciate them, whereas men not reading women’s work is “normal”. Women are expectted to be bilingual, to understand the works of men; men are not expected to do the same for women’s work. In this culture, works by men are “universal”, whereas works by women are considered “special interest”.
But apparently it doesn’t take much to threaten the dominant paradigm.
There is a readers challenge taking place next year (which I will be a part of but haven’t posted about yet) called The Australian Women Writers Challenge.The challenge is to read as many Australian women writers as you can, and then post as many reviews as you can. It is a personal challenge where you pick your own goals. The idea is that with so many blogs promoting women, women’s work will get a higher standard in the literary community than it currently has. Women writers will become more well-known, and stuff generally considered “special interest” will be one (small) step closer to universal.
Other people have been doing similar things. Ben Payne, for example, made a commitment to consume at least 50% women this year (The year of equal consumption), in books and music etc. These are different ways of dealing with the same problem: women’s work is overlooked and underrated.
But trying to correct this problem leaves those in the privileged majority chomping at the bit. Sean from Adventures of a Bookonaut has posted about one such response,pulling out the bingo card in the process. Although the post he discects appears to be an isolated incident as far as the AWWC is concerned, it is by no means the first time I’ve seen this type of response online.
Whenever people challenge the status quo, the status quo challenges back.
This is the same response we see from right-wing media outlets decrying the “War on Christmas”. When people attempt to include religions other than Christianity in their holiday celebrations it’s seen as an attack.
It never ceases to amaze me how small the challenge has to be for privileged folk to get up in arms. Try to celebrate women? You’re giving special treatment! What about the men! Try to be inclusive? You’re attacking us and our culture! Anything that does not support the culture is seen as a threat. But why?
Is the number of writers who can be celebrated finite? If we support some women will we have to kick the men out of the treehouse?
Is Christmas so delicate that the thought of people celebrating something else enough to ruin your entire holiday?
Seriously, what gives?
The only answer I can come up with is that it make privileged folks address their privilege. If we support women, they think of how often women are forgotten, of how many of the “best” and “classic” lists seem to ignore women’s achievements. Maybe if we start thinking critically about our lists we’ll suddenly realise that some of the men on there in the past haven’t actually been as great as we make out.