Back in 2011 I wrote a post about Women Only Writing Competitions. At the time they seemed to be a ‘thing’.
Recently two men have independently stumbled across that old post whilst searching for ‘men only’ writing competitions and each left a comment indicating that they don’t think it necessary to have such discriminatory entry requirements. And I agree with them – surely it’s the standard of writing that’s important and not the sex of the writer. Women have come a long way since the days of writers such as the Bronte sisters, who had to hide behind male pseudonyms. I feel we can now compete on equal terms.
Since 2011 other forms of restricted entry have emerged, for example asking for entries only from the LGBT community or from minority ethnic groups or from writers of limited financial means or from particular age groups. I assume that these entry restrictions are imposed because the competition organisers are either looking for stories from these particular viewpoints or the prize is a bursary aimed at those in need or it’s been found that writers from these groups are reluctant to enter open writing competitions. These are all valid reasons for using specific competitions to encourage writing in particular groups.
However, I hope that in the future all writers will feel comfortable entering all competitions, confident that their stories will be judged without prejudice. Meaning that in the future competition organisers (or publishers) might specify if a particular character/story type is required rather than the type of author required. Of course bursaries for those on a limited income should continue to be awarded to those talented writers in the most financial need.
In the meantime here are a few ‘restricted’ competitions, lifted from the pages of this month’s Writing Magazine:
The Nan Shepherd Prize for Nature Writing – for unpublished writers who consider themselves under-represented in nature writing, through gender, class, sexuality, ethnicity, disability or any other circumstance. Closes 10th September 2019.
The Mo Siewcharran Prize – for unpublished UK novelists from a BAME background. Be quick! Closes 29th July 2019 (but will run annually).
Mslexia Fiction and Poetry Competitions – open to women only. Close various dates in September 2019.
Passager Books are seeking submissions of poetry, memoir and short fiction from writers over 50. Closes 15th September 2019.
#1 by lynnforthauthor on July 23, 2019 - 1:32 pm
In an ideal world, i would agree with you, Sally. But i don’t think the playing field as regards women writers is level yet. We are getting there, granted, but still a way to go. You only have to look at book reviews and book reviewers in the broadsheet press to find that men still dominate. .
#2 by Sally Jenkins on July 23, 2019 - 6:24 pm
Thanks for the comment, Lynn. I must admit I don’t study the books section in the broadsheets so hadn’t realised this.
#3 by juliathorley on July 27, 2019 - 11:10 am
If competitions are judged anonymously, I think it’s fair to assume that gender, race, inclination or other determining factor plays no part in who wins, but as Lynn says, in real life things are still different. Perhaps the only criterion that might usefully be applied to comps is age.
#4 by Sally Jenkins on July 28, 2019 - 6:31 pm
Julia, I agree with the age thing to ensure children compete with those of a similar age. However I’m not so sure when it comes to adult comps being restricted to over 60s or whatever age limit is picked.
But you are right about anonymous judging leveling the playing field. That is a good thing.
#5 by aramblingcollective on October 3, 2019 - 6:23 am
More women write books than men. More women read books than men. More books by men are published than those written by women. Why is that?
It could be than men are better writers than women. If so, then we need to look at what men are doing that us more effective then women. Could it be then women will read books written by men and women, but some men won’t read books written by women? Good old fashioned sexism? Take a look at your favourite crime writers. Quite a few are women.
Anyway, it could be the entrenched views of the publishing industry, the old boys network. This group who makes the decisions does not reflect the community it serves. Would you risk money publishing a novel that you did not identify with, for an audience that you had never met?
Women have only had a couple of hundred years, at best, to publish their own writing. We are nowhere near a level playing field of equal representation in publishing.
So to those people who say it is unfair to have women-only shortlists, I say this. Up until very recently in history, ALL of the shortlists were male only. If you feel your career is suffering because of lack of opportunity, think about all the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of women who were denied opportunities in the past. Those stereotypes and unconscious gender biases remain. We might not be able to create a level playing field in this generation but we can ALL work together to help provide future females with the same life opportunities that males have taken for granted.
Women-only shortlists aren’t here forever. They’re a booster to propel women from the shadows into the spotlight.
Why are you bothered so much about this shortlist? There are plenty of others without this caveat. Did it bother you all of the times when only men were shortlisted? Did you protest and write strongly-worded letters to The Times?
Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk. 😀
#6 by Sally Jenkins on October 3, 2019 - 11:27 am
Thanks for such a detailed response and I take your point that women have some time to make up. Good to have you join the debate!