Why Women Writers Use Initials

old painting of a woman holding a book - illustrating an article about why women writers use initialsEver wondered why women writers hide their gender behind initials?

One of the answers could lie in Saturday’s (13th September 14) Guardian article called ‘The American novels that should have won the Booker Prize.’

With the Man Booker shortlist including American novels for the first time this week, the Guardian decided to ask writers to name the novels which should won – had they been eligible for inclusion.

Good idea for an article you might think?  I agree and read on with great interest.

However, out of 16 writers whose opinion was presumably deemed suitable for this task only 6 were women writers.

1.John Mullan – Humboldts Gift by Saul Bellow 1975

2. Julian barnes – The Easter Parade by Richard Yates 1976

3. Colm Toibin – The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer (1979)

4. Geoff Dyer – The Names by Don DeLillo (1982)

5. Martin Amis – White Noise by Don DeLillo (1985)

6. Philip Hensher – Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard (1982)

7. Joshua Ferris – Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon (1977)

8. Peter Carey – Plainsong by Kent Haruf (1999)

9. John Banville – Canada by Richard Ford (2012)

10. Curtis Sittenfield – Cartwheel by Jennifer DuBois (2013)

Johannes Vermeer (Dutch, 1632 - 1675 ), A Lady Writing, c. 1665, oil on canvas, Gift of Harry Waldron Havemeyer and Horace Havemeyer, Jr., in memory of their father, Horace Havemeyer

1. Elaine Showalter – The Ghost Writer by Philip Roth

2. Jane Smiley – Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich (1984)

3. Claire Messud Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987)

4. Laura Miller – Infinite Jest By David Foster Wallace (1996)

5. Sarah Churchwell – Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (2004)

6. Edna O’Brien – Train Dreams by Denis Johnson (2012)

It wouldn’t be shocking if the Guardian were not a newspaper that prides itself on fairness and equality.

A newspaper that even goes to the trouble of allowing older women model clothes in their ‘all ages’ fashion section (although I notice this inclusiveness doesn’t quite stretch to women of all sizes.)

So of the 16 writers selected by the Guardian to choose the books that they thought should have been chosen for the Booker shortlist only 6 were women.

Out of the books chosen, 12 were written by male writers leaving only 4 by women – 4 out of 16.

Ignoring women writers in newspapers like this could see us being written out of history.

I expected better.


For more about women’s stuff read this.



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