Sunday, June 12, 2016

So who has it worse: female writers or working class male writers?

the higher the bar the lower the social mobility in this chart
Trick question, the answer, of course, is working class female writers. There's a reason why Peter Carey has won the Booker Prize twice and Jeanette Winterson, Monica Ali and Zadie Smith have never won it. Peter Carey went to the poshest school in Australia, Zadie went to her local comprehensive. But my point is that its tougher for a working class man or woman to get published and taken seriously than it is for someone of the upper middle class. At least this is true in the UK and Australia - two countries where the class system still dominates and where social mobility is practically impossible. Australia pretends to be classless but it isn't and the UK doesn't even pretend. America too has almost zero social mobility and it's virtually impossible for an outsider to break into the Ivy League dominated North East coast world of letters. In America to be white and poor is to be despised and mocked. You can't get away with that kind of thing in the UK but even the Guardian is going to staff its offices mostly with posh private school types who aspire to be working class saviours rather than actual working class writers. Same at the BBC and all the other papers. Same at the New York Times. The posh, the connected, the well off who can afford to spend a summer interning for free in London or New York. 
But back to the original question. If the talent is equal, who is more likely to be published and reviewed - a working class male writer or an upper middle class female writer? It's the latter. Power always diffuses to power. In the literary world and in the media world being of the wrong class is much more of a handicap than being of the wrong gender. There are a lot of prizes for women's writing and organisations for female writers. As far as I know there isn't a single prize anywhere for working class writing. I'm not qualified to discuss race, but I can imagine that, say, a poor black woman has the hardest obstacles of all to overcome. Wrong class, wrong gender, wrong race for the literary agents and the publishers. Get ready for disappointment. As the great Zora Neale Hurston once more poetically put it: "I've been in sorrow's kitchen and licked out all the pots."