Books written by women or men from the perspective of a female character are less likely to win major literary awards than books written from a male perspective or about men, research by author Nicola Griffith has found.
Griffith analysed the last 15 years of winners for six fiction awards – the Man Booker Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, the Hugo Award, the National Book Award, the National Book Critics’ Award, and the Newbery Medal.
Griffith, an English-American novelist who lives in Seattle, said: “It’s hard to escape the conclusion that, when it comes to literary prizes, the more prestigious, influential and financially remunerative the award, the less likely the winner is to write about grown women. Either this means that women writers are self-censoring, or those who judge literary worthiness find women frightening, distasteful, or boring. Certainly the results argue for women’s perspectives being considered uninteresting or unworthy. Women seem to have literary cooties.”
Nine of the last 15 winners of the Man Booker Prize have been written by men about men or boys, with three by female authors about men or boys. Only two winning books were written by women about women, and one book by a woman about both sexes won the prize.
The Pulitzer Prize came out worse, said Griffith, with no winning books in the last 15 years being wholly from the point of view of a woman or girl.
“For the prize that recognises “the most distinguished fiction by an American author,” not a single book-length work from a woman’s perspective or about a woman was considered worthy,” said Griffith. “Women aren’t interesting, this result says. Women don’t count.”
The most diverse prize was the Newbery Medal, awarded to American literature for children or young adults. From its last 15 winners, five books were by women writing from a girl’s perspective, and three were by men writing from a female perspective.
Griffith said: “The literary establishment doesn’t like books about women. Why? Is it connected to the Cartesian dualist mind/body divide in which women are viewed as very much on the body/bad side of the scale rather than the mind/good? The answer matters. Women’s voices are not being heard.
"Women are more than half our culture, if half the adults in our culture have no voice, half the world’s experience is not being attended to, learnt from, or built upon. Humanity is only half what we could be."
“Assuming the data say what I think they say, that women have literary cooties, why? And, more importantly, how do we get rid of them?”