Celebrating Women Writers of History.
I was part of something very special last Sunday – a Women’s History event at Eltham Library – close to where I live in Australia. Smile – I do think it is rather apt that I live close to a township called Eltham, with streets named Dudley, York, Henry, Marlow, Wycliffe, and so on. But I digress. What I want to talk about is why I passionately believe in the importance of Women’s History events.
So, what first ignited the organization of the four Women’s History events at Eltham library? Late last year, three major papers in England listed what they regarded as the best history books written in 2016. These lists caused an uproar of protest. Why? The Telegraph listed 19 works written by men and only three by women, the Independent listed 8 works by men and two by women and the Times list of nine books only included one written by a woman. For a week on twitter, the hashtag #Historybooksbywomen was shared around by writers, women and men, who knew these lists did not reflect the reality of the history writing world. Soon, this hashtag started to include women writers of historical fiction and I saw my name included as a writer in this field. Of course, that made me very curious about what was going on. When I discovered what had initiated this hashtag, it left me mulling, once again, over the situation women writers so often face. Like women in so many professions in our modern world, women writers, far too often, face an uphill battle to be simply recognized, and be respected as equals to men.
According to a recent survey conducted by Macquarie University, “women make up approximately two-thirds of the author population” (Cited by Stella). In traditional publishing, the number is even higher: 72% female and 28% male (http://thestellaprize.com.au/the-count/2015-stella-count/). As a writer of history fiction, I am aware that women writers of historical fiction out number the men in our current literary world. How can I not be aware of this fact when I am part of a committee organizing a Historical fiction conference in Melbourne for later this year. The Historical Novel Society Australasia has over 60 speakers – mostly women with a sprinkling of men. When I gaze at my research books, it is overwhelmingly clear that the bulk of these non fiction works are also written by women. So the question I ask, is why don’t book lists and published book reviews reflect this reality? Are those UK book lists telling us women are inferior writers? I say no to that, loud and clear. I believe what it really indicates is the gender inequality rampant in the writing world.
Initiating the Women’s History events at the Eltham library was my way to speak up for what I saw as another injustice to women writers. I have been committed writer for close to twenty years. In that time, I have found women writers to be far more willing to give generously of their time and energy. I have also seen those same women virtually silenced by their male counterparts. At writing conferences, men, time after time, will seize the centre stage because that is what men tend to do, and many women – especially women of the baby boomer generation like me – will let that happen because they have been conditioned to be the listeners, and be the ones to move and continue a discussion, rather than the ones to take control of it. While this is changing, it clear society still has a problem with empowered women, women who seize their voices and refuse to step aside for ambitious men.
So, these four events were planned, with the support of Cath Hart at Eltham Library, with the goal of showcasing the shining lights of our local women writers of history. Last weekend, we had the brilliant Catherine Padmore chairing a brilliant and fascinating panel that included local authors Kathryn Gauci and Kate Mildenhall, as well as Kelly Gardiner, Barbara Gaskell Denvil, Elizabeth Jane Corbett, and Glenice Whitting.
Our next event is for non fiction authors on Saturday 11th, when we will hear from authors Katie Holmes, Janis Sheldrick, Christina Twomey, Liz Conor, then we have a meet an author event on Saturday 18th (Elise McCune, Rachel Rossignol, Elizabeth Jane Corbett and me will talk about novels and writing in general) and on March 25th the final event, when we conclude our event with a lively discusson with Professor Josie Arnold, from Swinburne University, Barbara Gaskell Denvil, Kelly Gardiner, Glenice Whitting about the powerful and different ways that fiction and non fiction tell the stories of the past, and why women are so good at telling these stories. We will close our Women’s History Month with light refreshments and wine.
Hope to see you there!