The #readwomen tag has exploded recently on Tumblr and Twitter and the second I saw it I knew it was something I just had to do. I don’t talk about my feminism much anymore, preferring for various reasons to avoid heated debates with people, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not fiercely proud to support my fellow women and this year my aim was to ensure I read more books by women than men. Not because I think either is inherently better, but because I think women writers are so badly undervalued in most literary circles that I needed to do my personal part to go against that.
If I’m asked who my favourite authors are I’ll always say Terry Pratchett, Kurt Vonnegut and PG Wodehouse. They’re the authors I grew up on, bonded with family over, cried laughing with. To me, #readwomen is not about apologising for that, or even feeling bad for it. I love what I love. But I also want to acknowledge that there’s probably societal factors behind why I love them, or at least why I’ve been able to love them. I think that the general view is that male writers are the titans of comedy, fantasy and sci-fi (the accuracy of that in reality is debatable) and that’s why my favourite writers are so widely read and appreciated… Not because there aren’t equally talented female writers in the same genres (Dorothy Parker? The endless amounts of talented female YA writers?) but because those talents haven’t received the popular support.
To me, actively choosing to read only books by female writers for a month is a concerted effort to be more aware of my reading choices. If I were to just read books picked from short lists for prestigious awards would I read mainly male writers? If my local Waterstone’s displays are anything to go by then yes, probably. Not to say that those writers don’t deserve appreciation… But when you are making the effort to look out for female writers on those shelves, only to find one for every five men, it becomes obvious how little value we place on women writers.
I do think that in the past few years female writers are come leaps and bounds in having their work recognised. Gillian Flynn, Suzanne Collins, JK Rowling… They’ve all had groundbreaking success. But for every success there are so many blasted by people as ‘chick lit’. Young me read only classic books that were men’s political commentary on the world… 24 year old me wants to read much more than allegories. I want to read books written by people like me for people like me as well.