Hearing The Voices of Women

The shortlist for the 2014 Stella Prize is out there, and I have started working my way through it.   2 down and 4 to go!

The Stella Prize celebrates Australian women writers, but it also aims to do much more.  To encourage women to write, to inspire debate, and to lobby for the equal inclusion of women’s writing in our education system.  The figures show that not only are women writers underrepresented as winners of literary prizes, and in our education syllabus, but they are also underrepresented in mainstream media reviews, which are critical to the marketing and sales effort for authors. 

At a recent lunch to celebrate the shortlist, Annabel Crabbe told the story of Yvonne Ward’s book, Unsuitable for Publication: Editing Queen Victoria.  Ward goes back to the original letters and journals of Queen Victoria, which were – after her death - edited for publication from 44 volumes down to 3.  The two editors were men who had little interest in her conversations with other women, or with her family.  Our view of this fascinating woman has been shaped for nearly 100 years by a very limited subset of the material available.  Ward’s book is an attempt to reveal the richer range and depth of Victoria’s voice than earlier, more short-sighted collections have shown so that we can understand who she really was, not who certain men wished she had been. 

Even today, we still have men trying to suggest what women should write about and how they should express their opinion.  One such gentleman who comments on The Hoopla made a strategic error in suggesting in effect to Corrine Grant that she should not be ‘…commenting about some very complex political and financial issues without having any actual experience in those areas…….’.  Corrine’s response, ‘Celebrity Mummy Blogger says “Sorry”’, is a fabulous and funny riposte to such presumption. 

Some might consider it strange that in 2014 we need to have a Stella Prize, or that we need to have websites such as The Hoopla and Birdee to allow women to have intelligent conversations with each other.  There are plenty of examples that point to the need, but I think it is also a question of ‘want’.  Virginia Woolf probably wouldn’t be surprised that women still want literary and opinion ‘rooms of our own’, places where women’s voices can be heard on their own terms.  While mainstream media continues to be dominated by men’s voices, and to define women’s interests as limited to celebrity gossip and recipes, women will seize upon alternative forums to consider and debate the world. 

Stay tuned for the announcement of the Stella Prize winner on April 29.