Does the brilliance of an author’s writing purely rely on the chromosomes that they are born with? Does the audience you attract rely on your name? Do people appreciate your writing less depending on your gender? Of course not, so why is it that many female writers have chosen a pen name to disguise their gender in print?
Take the Bells – a family who were vastly significant in Victorian literature, who you may know as the Brontës, famous for novels such as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Or George Eliot, writer of Middlemarch whose real name was Mary Ann Evans – even J.K Rowling, who chose to use her androgynous initials in order to appeal to both boys and girls. This was done to comply with the societal trend that men’s writing is preferred to women’s – obviously reflected in the awarding of The Nobel Prize for Literature. The Prize has been awarded since 1901, and in that time it has been awarded 110 times to 114 laureates. Out of these only 14 were awarded to women.
The first woman to be awarded this highly regarded prize was Selma Lagerlof, a Swedish writer, in 1909. Despite her father wishing for her to stop her education Selma trained and worked as a school teacher for 10 years at a girl’s school in Sweden; during which time, she put much emphasis on the storytelling of myths and legends, and after receiving support from a wealthy benefactor was able to write down and publish her work.
The context of the time in which she was writing includes the growth of the woman’s suffrage movement, and the impact of Lagerlof’s win was phenomenal. Lagerlof was a speaker herself at the International Suffrage Congress that took place in Stockholm 1911, and contributed massively to the campaign that led to women’s rights gained in Sweden in 1919. Several other countries were following suit around the world, as this was a global movement: Canada in 1917, Britain in 1918 and The United States of America in 1920.
The Nobel Prize is not the only example of an instance that appears to be prejudice against women in history, however in the last ten years there has been massive improvement in the position of women in literature with exactly 50% of the awards going to fantastic female writers. Recent examples of women to have won this Nobel Prize include Svetlana Alexievich, and Alice Munro who won in 2015 and 2013 for their works on soviet history, and collection of short stories.
Despite this there is still so much to be done. The fact that it has only been 2 years since women have been able to hold the right to vote in Saudi Arabia, emphasises that equality for women is still a major issue today regardless of the western world’s progressive mind set.