WHY JUST WOMEN?
WHY JUST WOMEN?
There are a number of responses to this question.
Firstly, Words And Women developed organically from a public reading on International Women’s Day, March 2011. The audience was a mixture of men, women and children; the readers were all women. Women writers reading together had appeal; the work was exciting, contemporary and well-received. We discovered a desire for women to come together to support and celebrate their work, and this positive development has encouraged us to continue creating similar opportunities. Showcasing and facilitating women’s writing doesn’t deny the work of others, it adds to our common cultural wealth.
There is a long history of women-only organisations providing space and opportunity for women, such as the Women’s Institute founded in Canada in 1897 or the National Women’s Register which has a network of over 400 groups across the UK, and these are firmly embedded in our culture and widely accepted.
There is also a tradition of competitions, awards and anthologies which have a specific focus whether age, geographical location and sometimes health, as well as gender.
Our view is that our organisation which seeks to support and celebrate women’s creativity forms part of these traditions.
CREATING OPPORTUNITY AND THE OCCUPATION OF PUBLIC SPACE
Mary Ann Evans, writing in the middle of the 19th century, had to change her name to George Eliot in order for her work to be taken seriously. The Bronte sisters adopted the pseudonym of the Bell Brothers fearing their novels would be looked on with prejudice if they used their own names, and it is not unusual today for women authors to mask their gender in order for their books to be more widely read, a euphemism for read by men. City of Dark Magic sports the name Magnus Flyte on its cover but its authors are female (Christina Lynch and Meg Howrey). J.K. Rowling was encouraged to use initials for Harry Potter so the books would appeal to boys as well as girls. Academic research indicates that men tend to favour male authors over women. 150 years after the Brontes and prejudice is still on the bookshelf.
Attitudes to women’s writing are changing but there is still a way to go. Research by Vida, a US arts organisation which actively explores the critical reception of women’s writing today (www.vidaweb.org) releases an annual tally of how much public space is given to women’s books. There is still a situation of gender disparity both in terms of reviews and reviewers. For example, The Times Literary Supplement reviewed 313 female and 907 male authors in 2013. 726 of their book reviewers were male and only 297 female. It’s not all bad news, Granta is almost there in terms of parity but as the figures demonstrate there is unquestionably room for change at the top of the literary ladder. In scriptwriting, the disparity between male and female produced work is even more dramatic. Women write only 17% of the plays that hit the stage. In 2013, of the top-grossing 100 films only 7.4% of the screenwriters were women (University of South Carolina’s Media Diversity and Social Change Initiative).
Words And Women seeks to create not only an ethos of support and encouragement but to provide where possible opportunities to create and showcase the best of new writing by women in the East of England.