Here’s one to raise your hackles:
“I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me…And inevitably for a woman, she is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing too.””
So sayeth Nobel-prize winner author V.S. Naipaul. There’s more brilliance on display in this Guardian article. Obvious idiocy is obvious, so let’s set that aside for the moment. Focus for a second on the content of the statement “I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not.”
The “or not” is puzzling, given the binary proposition that either the writing is by a man or a woman. But he’s implicitly saying that there is a difference between “writing” and “writing by a woman.” Writing by a man is normal writing, writing by a woman is different. Once he has this framework in his head, it becomes tautological that writing by women is never as good as writing by men, because he’s defined writing to be writing by men. This thinking is a reflection of those men who, in response to encountering the existence on college campuses of something like “Women’s Studies,” decry the lack of “Men’s Studies.” Then they stare bewildered when you explain that men’s studies is, in fact, every other course at the college.
Furthermore, suppose there is some statistically provable stylistic difference between the writing of men and women that he is picking up on. What is it that he does with this information? He dismisses the writing. Once he knows a women wrote it, he also knows he doesn’t care about what she has to say.
And who is Naipaul’s example of a woman writer who doesn’t measure up? None other than Jane Austen, that chick-lit hack whose stories and plots have been inexplicably cribbed almost as often as Homer’s. Of her, he says “[I] couldn’t possibly share her sentimental ambitions, her sentimental sense of the world.” Again it’s not surprising that he feels this way. She was writing at a time when women occupied a certain social role that was inferior to the role of men. And because men did not ever occupy women’s role, they were largely oblivious to the reality of that existence. So of course he couldn’t share her “sentimental ambitions”. There is nothing about her existence that he could share save the weather and gravity.
Naipaul is very comfortable in a world that has evolved socially to ensure that people like him are comfortable. When he was younger, it is almost certain that his teachers, mentors, and colleagues were all men. His father was also a published author. This is what Naipaul considers normal. Please don’t write things about rape, objectification of women, or gender inequality, it’s too “sentimental.”
What is amazing to me is the grotesque lack of intellectual curiosity to investigate that existence or to understand what it is that women who write (not “women writers”) are trying to communicate. It all strikes him as “banal” because he’s heard it many times but has never chosen to listen. Are you complaining about rampant domestic abuse again? You sound like a broken record…