The ‘White Queen’ – the DVD of a the historical series for the small screen was just the stuff I love to binge watch – Machiavellian plotting in high places, gorgeous women in and out of period dress (that’s the male bit of me) and unusually, presenting the tale from the point of view of feisty female protagonists instead of hairy-chested males (that’s the feminist bit of me).
Now ‘The White Queen’ is based on a novel of faction by Philippa Gregory. As a best selling writer of stories revolving around the kings and queens of Britain, this author has broadened our view of powerful historical figures, particularly the women of royal lineage whose stories, hitherto, have often been just vaguely sketched footnotes. Some, such as the maidens and dowagers in the aforementioned series, have even largely been erased from view because of a lack of contemporary accounts. In the past the commentary on events was largely written by males of males. My DLP (Darling Loving Partner) enjoyed this only season of TWQ as much as I, so I purchased for her the recently released print version of that saga’s sequel, ‘The King’s Curse’. Hopefully this will also be transformed into a visual presentation. Now this male has never read Ms Gregory – but there’s no aversion whatsoever to doing so. I have enjoyed many, many tomes written by women – a sizeable number of which I suspect were intended almost solely for women. As a result of that, I also figure my world view has been widened, hopefully for the better. No, my problem is not that a book is lacking hairy-chestedness and written by a non-male. It is another issue entirely. It is one not mentioned by Aviva Tuffield, but one which perhaps also needs addressing before what she wishes can come to pass.
In her excellent opinion piece, ‘Female Authors Help Broaden Men’s Horizons’, Ms Tuffield examines the great divide between the reading histories of the two genders. She postulates that the ‘world views’ of the majority of young to-be menfolk are limited by the literature selected for them at school, thus guiding what they choose for themselves later on. I know all about the former as, in my time, I have fronted innumerable heterogeneous classrooms – proficiently so I feel. Part of doing so is taking the path of least resistance when it comes to the selection of such reading material. This is not something I am entirely proud of – but if one looks at the priority of getting kids to read – it is a position I felt somewhat justified in adopting. Largely speaking, girls are self starters when it comes to taking a book (or kindle) in hand and devouring the printed word contained within (on?). Therefore tomes selected for classroom use often are (were in my case) designed to entice the lads to be similarly enthused.
Ms T worries about what are termed the ‘dick’ tables. These seem to be positioned to the fore in airports and at the chain sellers. On these, male penned novels, biographies and sporting non-fiction reign supreme. As far as the selection of works to be reviewed by critics in our major dailies are concerned, again authors with xy chromosomes are decidedly in the ascendency – do more males write books? Perhaps there is a correlation, although it should never be used as an excuse, if that is the case. In fairnesses, both these imbalances should be rectified.
Overall, Aviva T asserts that all of the above ‘…thwarts girls’ ambitions.’ My feeling is that that maybe a tad strong. I also suspect that secondary girls who don’t ‘…know women could write books.’ would be very much an extreme minority. I do praise the creation of the Stella Prize as a means of overcoming this sexism in literature, an award for which, to use a non-politically correct term, only authoresses are eligible. Those guys who whine, ‘Where is the one for male authors?’ should very much be put back in their boxes, with the lids slammed down hard.
But to address the opinion that ‘…boys and men prefer to read only books by and about males.’ then, in my view, there is something else at work here. Something bloody well needs to be done about the covers of many books written by women. Although this is at it’s most off-putting to younger possessors of xy, it has also discouraged someone as ancient and hoary as myself from taking down from a shelf books by favourite novelists of the feminine persuasion. Some cover art, by its design or colour (pink), screams out, ‘Don’t even think about it unless you’re xx!’ I suspect this perhaps works both ways too, Ms Tuffield. Pointedly, the less gender specific the outward wrapping is, the more likely the issue that is causing your concern could at least be alleviated back to a more satisfactory balance.