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Literary Prizes Just for Women? Yay or Nay?

Literary prizes like Baileys for females only might be a lose-lose thing

Do you think there should still be literary prizes just for women, such as the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction? Is having a separate category for women setting back the clock on gender equality or helping the cause?

Talking about Literary Prizes for Women Only

Sometimes, I wonder about literary prizes for solely women. Thus, I want to put it out there to you, the readers.

For example, consider the Baileys Prize. It’s offical name is Baileys Woman’s Prize for Fiction. It has good intentions by celebrating excellence and originality in women authors around the world.

But, is singling out women with literary prizes, such as the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, hurting the female gender rather than being helpful? Doesn’t gender equality in its purest sense mean not differentiating between different prizes for each gender? Isn’t that what women like Seiko Noda have been fighting for?

About the Baileys Prize

Interestingly, the original name for Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction was Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction. Read that again. There was no mention of the female gender in the original title. Maybe that’s why I just call it Baileys Prize; there’s no gender mention then.

On the other hand, maybe women do need special mention with literary prizes. Supporters of this idea would likely say that women are massively under-represented in shortlisted books for literary prizes. Indeed, that’s the reason that the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction was created. As per the Baileys Prize site:

“The inspiration was the Booker Prize of 1991 when none of the six shortlisted books was by a woman, despite some 60 percent of novels published that year being by female authors.”

And, so, that award for women was born. And, yes, female under-representation in literary prize nominations is appalling.

Helping Gender Equality… or Not

But, here’s the thing. Maybe treating women special, with different rules than men, in this situation using certain awards to women authors, is suggesting that women need help or assistance in some way. It could be sending the message that only when men leave the room can we cheer women’s efforts.

Unfortunately, that makes women’s feats in female-only literary prizes less worthy than those of the men who win literary prizes open to all genders.

So, here’s the thing. There still isn’t total gender equality in many parts of society today. But I don’t think that giving women special treatment with literary awards is going to solve the problem in the writing field.

As a female author myself, with two books written so far, I do hope that gender equality will happen while I’m alive. But, I don’t know if it will become a reality as soon as that.

Your Thoughts on Literary Prizes Solely for Women

Do you think that having literary prizes open only to women is helping or hurting the goal of reaching gender equality? Please share your thoughts in the comments area below.

18 thoughts on “Literary Prizes Just for Women? Yay or Nay?”

  1. I agree with Carol…. We can see this award as one applied women writers…. And I believe women have their own signature and topics, so to speak….
    Even when certain features, genres and styles could be shared with make writers as well…
    And even if a male writer could challenge himself to write as a woman, or if it is quite the reverse.
    Most literary awards don’t make a difference…. And just for the record, they are the most important recognitions such as the Nobel or the Pullitzer award…
    I think the purpose of this award strictly aims to highlight women, instead of doing otherwise. So… Yes!…
    Very interesting discussion Christy… Hugs to you. Aquileana 🌹

    1. Christy Birmingham

      Wonderful to read your feedback here, dear Aqui! It certainly has sparked a discussion here and I so love when that happens! I do want women to get the attention and respect they deserve and so I will keep writing about this topic. I still have to finish watching the video of Michelle Obama you kindly sent me. I hope you have a beautiful weekend, shining star ♥

  2. I feel it sets us back. I feel we should compete with men for these literary prizes to show that we are indeed equal. How can we fight for equality if we continue to separate ourselves?

  3. I don’t think the writing of women is ever in any way inferior to men. I would not like to see separate categories for prizes. Plow ahead until the level playing field surfaces.

  4. It’s a challenging question Christy. I’m not sure which approach best pursues the goal of equality, but that certainly has to be the objective.

    If I can expand the discussion beyond literature — I read Lean In by Cheryl Sanborn, COO of Facebook, a couple years ago. She said:

    “The blunt truth is that men still run the world. Of the 195 independent countries in the world, only 17 are led by women. Women hold just 20 percent of the seats in parliaments globally. In the United States, where we pride ourselves on liberty and justice for all, the gender division of leadership roles is not much better. Women became 50 percent of the college graduates in the United States in the early 1980s. Since then, women have slowly and steadily advanced, earning more and more of the college degrees, taking more of the entry-level jobs, and entering more fields previously dominated by men. Despite these gains, the percentage of women at the top of corporate America has barely budged over the past decade. A meager twenty-one of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Women hold about 14 percent of the executive officer positions, 17 percent of board seats, and constitute 18 percent of our elected congressional officials. The gap is even worse for women of color, who hold just 4 percent of top corporate jobs, 3 percent of board seats, and 5 percent of congressional seats. While women continue to outpace men in educational achievement, we have ceased making real progress at the top of any industry. This means that when it comes to making the decisions that most affect our world, women’s voices are not heard equally.” (Sheryl Sandberg: Lean In)

    In one of my posts (in a church context) I added this thought: Gender should never be an obstacle to leadership positions. We should continue our work to remove these barriers inside and outside the church. Not only are these barriers discriminatory and oppressive, they’re counter-productive to the well-being of our churches and the world. As Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg once said: “It’s not women’s liberation, it’s women and men’s liberation.” She’s correct. If we want a better world and better churches — have more women in leadership.

    Thanks for your pursuit of equality and the thought-provoking post Christy.

  5. I think women tend to excel in certain fields, such as relationship fiction, whereas, men (generally speaking) exceed in fiction related to espionage, as an example.
    In your original post Colinandray suggested that The Booker Prize awards process is flawed and should be reviewed.
    It would be interesting to know how much content has a role in the Booker Prize criteria and more importantly, why should one type of content be more applauded than another.
    But to answer your question I am with Papatia.

  6. Personally I don’t think there should be female literary prizes, rather women should be challenging why they are not fairly represented in any kind of non-gender-specific competitions. Having female-only competitions to me is saying that women can’t compete with males and so need their own competition to feel rewarded, which does nothing for equal rights.

    1. Christy Birmingham

      Ah, very astute thinking here, Andrea! I always respect your opinions because you back them up so well. HUGS

  7. Hmm. Had you asked last week, I’m not sure how I would have answered–not exactly. I attended a group meeting a few days ago where we discussed how can you tell a male from a female writer. You can’t by reading a passage without knowing the author. Men write as females and vice versa and the reader hasn’t a clue. What does that do to your question now? Now, I’m confused.
    On the other hand, if these are women writing FOR women, that must count for something.
    I’m no help. Need to think some more. Great question, Christy.

    1. Christy Birmingham

      There is so much to consider… And your comment here adds more to think about! Ack, I hope I sleep later but these thoughts do get me going… !

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