Saturday, 13 March 2010

Gender Bias in Poetry

I'm not your most regular of bloggers these days. Most of my time must be given to imaginative adventures in the 16th century, as I pull together this rather mammoth (now 4 year) project, putting words into the mouth of Christopher Marlowe. Or rather, when things are going well, having him put words into my mind so that all I have to do is write them down. It does help to imagine he is doing the writing sometimes, to side-step the burden of pretending that I am a literary genius.

However, I am a distractable creature and occasionally my attention is sufficiently attracted elsewhere for me to put Marlowe aside for an hour or two. Such was the case recently when I was sent an e-mail by one Michele Ledda, advertising an event he was putting on for Leeds Salon, debating the issue of censorship in poetry. This arose from a petition I signed a couple of months ago, protesting at the AQA's withdrawal of Carol Ann Duffy's poem "Education for Leisure" on the basis of a complaint by someone who misunderstood the poem, and had decided that it glamorised knife crime. You can sign the petition yourself here.

It struck me that the panel of five knowledgeable poets and writers who would be debating this issue were all male. This is not, of course, the first time I have noticed such a thing, but I was moved on this occasion to send a cheery e-mail to the organiser drawing his attention to the oversight. He requested permission to post my e-mail and his response on the Poetry Business website. The ensuing to-and-fro has taken somewhat more of my time than I had originally intended. You can read our correspondence here. What emerges is that, despite it being 2010, we are still having to go over the same ground that was first ploughed in the 1960s.

A few months ago, a letter was written to the editor of Poetry Review, Fiona Sampson, protesting at the differential treatment of male and female poets in that august journal. Thumbing through as many issues as you please, you will notice that male poets are given more review space, are given more single-poet reviews, and are not given gendered appraisals. Less collections by women are reviewed, they are rarely given single-poet-reviews, tending to be lumped together three or four at a time, and are often considered with respect to the author's sex, as opposed to her general humanity. In addition, most of the reviewers are men. (And as we know, men tend not to read/rate books by women, wherease women read/rate books by both sexes). As a result of this letter, and what was considered to be an unsatisfactory response, a number of us set up a forum for discussion gender bias in literature. Anyone detecting a gender bias in the publishing and reviewing of literature who would like to do something about it should go here.

When I tweeted my dismay at gender bias in poetry recently, a chap suggested "Perhaps women writers just don't cut the mustard." One should always agree with one's opponents before pointing out the ludicrous nature of their position. "You're right," I said, "Ability to write is famously located in the testicles."

We do not let it bother us or get us down. We continue to work, diligently, speaking up when necessary, looking forward to the time when the literary endeavours of men and women are equally valued and respected. Possibly when we're dead, but then that's a growth period in any decent poet's career. For now, I turn myself over to the spirit of Christopher Marlowe who was in life, more than most, both man and woman.

1 comment:

  1. I *would* say that those who don't treat women as (at *least*!) equal aren't worth worrying about - but sadly to judge from your post there appear to be far too many of them to dismiss...