The problem is that there are a lot of people in the world who would prefer to believe in a standard of value that produces only male writers as “best” than to imagine that maybe, just maybe, that standard is a function of a desire to privilege a standard of literary value that is derived from a sense of what masculinity is.Do read the whole post.
Now, this might not be a desire on the part of the judges themselves; it might simply be something they’ve inherited from a two century long American tradition of regarding real literary value as something threatened by a “damned mob of scribbling women,” using words like “domestic” and “sentimental” as a short-hand for what Nina Baym calls “the encroaching, constricting, destroying society” against which an American writer has to struggle manfully in order to be considered literary. Her argument — which, to my mind, is unanswerable — is that the entire American canon of great books, on which the standard for American literary greatness gets derived, isn’t just male in a descriptive sense, but is subjectively male: to be an American writer is to write about struggling with a feminized domesticized society embodied by the figure of the woman. As a result, since the “great” books seem to be overwhelmingly about men on boats running away from women, the woman writer, as Baym puts it, enters American literary history as the enemy. It may not be sexism. It may just be this. But what’s the difference, in practice? When the need to believe that it is possible to “ignore gender” trumps, in practice, the need to consider whether it is possible to do so, what are we to conclude? If you assume that it is possible — and that this panel of judges has “ignored gender” — then how is any conclusion possible other than that women are just not good writers?
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Judging the Judges, Again
I've come across another interesting post on the PW woman-free Best List, courtesy of the Mumspimus, by zunguzungu, Repressive Anti-Sentimentalism: Best [Male] Writers of 2009: