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We don’t need prizes for women writers

Some of the 15 women on this year’s Granta list of new novelists to watch. Instagram/@grantamagazine

There’s a point at which all special treatment “becomes patronising”, says Martha Gill in The Observer. When it comes to giving female authors a leg-up, “we’ve reached that point”. In 1996, when the Women’s Prize for Fiction was established, female writers still suffered a good deal of discrimination: the 1991 Booker Prize had an all-male shortlist; Granta’s first batch of 20 young British novelists to watch, in 1983, contained just six women. But if the scene back then was a “boys’ club, hazy with cigar smoke and littered with discarded wives”, women have since “conquered the literary world” with the thoroughness and speed of Genghis Khan sacking and plundering his way through central Asia.

The debut authors now eliciting “excitement and attention” are all women: this year’s Granta list featured just five men. Twelve of the New York Times’ current top 15 fiction bestsellers are written by women. In this context, female-only prizes aren’t just unnecessary, they’re “disheartening”. Why should women be made to feel they’ve achieved something based on “identity rather than on merit”? It’s one of the rare industries we dominate – yet many cling to the idea that female authors are victims, and thus need to be “pitied and helped”. The bestseller charts and literary award shortlists tell a very different story. Women should be dedicating their awards to the oppressed: “male writers everywhere”.