Are female authors still treated unfairly?

On Tuesday evening, a little bit of literary history was made. 28-year-old Eleanor Catton scooped the prestigious Booker Prize for her second novel The Luminaries.

The result was only a slight surprise. There was no Bring up the Bodies-esque front-runner. Jim Crace was the favourite with the bookies, but not a head and shoulders one. The Luminaries was always going to be a decent dark horse choice, and many had a feeling Catton would sneak in under the radar.

One common myth is that, once you’re a published author, you’re rich for life. That’s not true in most cases: for every JK Rowling there’s thousands of published authors you’ve never heard of. But winning the Booker does thrust an author in to the limelight, and one of the benefits of being thrust in to the limelight is that people are now rather interested in what you have to say.

Eleanor Catton

In an interview with the Guardian, twelve hours after she won the Booker, Eleanor had something to say about how female writers are treated, and people will listen to her in a way they almost certainly wouldn’t have done had she not triumphed on Tuesday evening.

“I have observed that male writers tend to get asked what they think and women what they feel,” she said. “In my experience, and that of a lot of other women writers, all of the questions coming at them from interviewers tend to be about how lucky they are to be where they are.”

Does she have a point? She goes on in the interview to also point out how her novel was scoffed at by men over the age of 45. The suggestion being that she was a young upstart who, at the age of 28, couldn’t possibly be taken seriously as a novelist capable of writing a book of outstanding literary merit, certainly not worthy of being shortlisted for a prize as important as the Booker.

It would seem that certain old habits of the literary establishment, with their prejudices, die hard. Whilst there are certainly successful female authors in the world, there is a general sense that perhaps they’re not getting the respect they deserve for it.

Whether you agree with this or not, this serves as a timely reminder that, as much progress has been made over the years, this issue will not disappear overnight. That it still is something that needs to be discussed speaks for itself: if male and female authors were truly equal, the gender of an author would not be considered at all.

So how do we change this state of affairs? Can we change this state of affairs? The answer, as it does with so many things, lies with you.

Libraries give us power

I know what you’re thinking, when you see that title. You think I’m going to tell you all about how the library is fantastic, and that you should all come down here to satisfy your intellectual curiosity. Incidentally, if you haven’t seen Miss Handley’s brilliantly crazy display, plus the frames of curious items some of our students did over the summer holiday then you really should.

Well, people, that’s my job. I’m here to instil a love of reading, to give you a guiding hand on your independent learning endeavours. So yes, there is going to be some of that: it’s inevitable. But as I enter my third year, and our newly opened library does too (I guess you could say I was part of the deal), it seems like a good time to reflect on the position of the library in the school. No, I don’t mean that in a “what is our five year plan for the library” sort of way. I mean it in a different way entirely…

ugandaThis past summer I spent four weeks volunteering in Uganda. I was teaching at St Andrews Primary school in Bwebajja, near the capital city Kampala. Before I went out there, I knew it was going to be an eye opener, and believe me it was the furthest out of my comfort zone I have ever been. I’m a reasonably well travelled guy: I’ve set foot in every continent bar South America, totalling 21 different countries in all. But Uganda – with its dusty roads, corrugated iron shacks on every street corner and electricity and running water that was erratic at best and non-existent at worst – stood apart as a truly unique experience.

Ever since returning, there hasn’t been a day where I haven’t thought about Uganda. I got to see a lot of the country: going on safari to Murchison Falls National Park was a real highlight. But the one thing I miss more than anything is the children from the school. These children have nothing. Those who lived on the school site stayed in unbelievably dark, damp and cramped conditions, in most cases sleeping two to a bed on a triple bunk. There is no state education system in Uganda, so in a sense they’re actually much better off than the 60% or so of children who can’t afford to go to school. But this doesn’t mean they’re wealthy. On one day during my last week, the Principal (with great reluctance) sent all those who hadn’t paid their fees home. The net result was I had about ten students out of the usual forty five in my class.

Yet, while they have more cause to complain than most, they were always so happy. Not once did I see a child feeling sorry for themselves. What I did see were children who were endlessly eager to learn, constantly asking me questions that ranged from where I’m from to who Socrates was. It really was an inspiring, humbling thing to witness.

So what has this all got to do with the library, and how you use it? It may sound so very hackneyed, but it’s made me grateful for what I’ve got. We should all be grateful to have such a well-resourced library that unlocks the doors of knowledge to those who are curious and brave enough to find the key. We had to scrape by on a few of each core text book in St Andrews, which often meant painstakingly copying whole pages on to blackboards. Those children who were asking me about Socrates and the UK don’t have the option to find the answers in the library, or to simply use Google.

“Libraries gave us power”, sang the Manic Street Preachers back in 1996. They still can, and I urge you all to use yours to empower you, especially when there are so many people around the world who are unable to access one.

Joseph Humphreys, Librarian