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By Emily Belton
Have you heard of Nick Hornby? Very likely, even if you can only place him as the author who gave Hugh Grant yet another vehicle by which to showcase his amazing capacity to play a slightly neurotic, emotionally-stunted thirty-something in the film adaptation of About a Boy. Hornby has been nominated for E.M Forster’s and Whitbread’s left, right and centre; he has, on occasion, been compared to Salman Rushdie.
Now, have you heard of Kathy Lette? She, too, writes of navigating contemporary morals, marriage, parenthood and failed relationships; yet, when describing Lette in a review, one particularly viperous critic discarded her as a “loud-mouthed nymphomaniac”.
So what’s the difference? You may not appreciate Lette’s pun-tastic “read at your own risqué” style – the ripest fruits of which include, “Marriage is nature’s way of promoting masturbation” – but she insists that she is writing exactly what women are thinking as they juggle their lives in order to “have it all”. Whether you agree with Lette’s representation or not, the fact remains that women in literature remain, in our supposedly post-feminist society, grossly overlooked and undermined by their “learned” contemporaries – both male and female.
Despite the startling statistic that ninety percent of fiction readers are women, far too often the work of authors such as Lette are sneeringly pigeon-holed as “chick-lit”, and, by extension, not worth the time of the few males of fictional persuasion – whose lives are obviously far too full formulating the cure for cancer or negotiating peace in the Middle East, at any rate.
Of course, there are literarti-approved female authors: take Hilary Mantel, for example, winner of the appropriately named Man Booker Prize in 2009. But take a closer look, and a cynic (that would be me) will see that Mantel’s Wolf Hall is a protracted history centred on the back-stabbing, head-chopping, wheeler-dealing court of Henry VIII. Fantastically innovative and intriguingly written, yes; an example of female emancipation and empowerment through literature, not so much.
These prejudices are not confined to the elite literati, of course:
sexism in the work place is rampant, no matter what equality legislation the government cares to throw at it. As students,how will we feel once we’ve graduated and find ourselves toiling away in a nine to five, 17.5% worse off than the man sitting opposite us simply because of our X chromosomes?
In a world where women are constantly rising up the ladder, but then have to clean it while they do so – how can it be said that we live in a post-feminist society? We may not be burning our bras or shunning the razor anymore, but contemporary literature can show us that there is still such a thing as a “feminist debate” – literary snobbery is alive and kicking, and it’s women who are getting the biggest beating.