07 February 2010

Claire Messud writes:

Here’s the deal: men, without thinking, will almost without fail select men. And women, without thinking, will too often select men. It’s a known fact that among children, girls will happily read stories with male protagonists, but boys refuse to read stories with female protagonists. J.K. Rowling was aware of this: if Harry Potter had been Harriet Potter, none of us would know about her.

And we don’t change our spots when we grow up. Last year, I was one of nine judges awarding an international literary prize for a writer’s body of work. Each of us nominated a candidate, and five of us were women; but only one of our nominees—only one out of nine—was female. (I myself enthusiastically nominated a man.) Our cultural prejudices are so deeply engrained that we aren’t even aware of them: arguably, it’s not that we think men are better, it’s that we don’t think of women at all.

Four years ago I read The Golden Compass, which has a female protagonist, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Of course, I had ceased to be a 'boy' by that point. I admit that the vast majority of my fiction reading these days is written by men. And yet, at the age of 12 I absolutely loved Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman's fantasy novels. Funny how that works.

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