Sometimes, there just isn't enough facepalm in the world.
Writing in this week's Telegraph, journalist and author Amanda Craig elected to comment on the fact that, for the first time in its 41-year history, the shortlist for the Costa Prize consists entirely of works by female authors, pointing out that while the quality of women's writing is great enough that this development shouldn't shock us, it nonetheless stands in sharp contrast to the overwhelming male dominance of the literary scene. The statistics she cites in support of this claim are stark enough -- and, indeed, well-circulated enough by this point, thanks to all the recent focus on VIDA's yearly analysis of reviewing trends -- for her observations to constitute a reasonable assessment of what is objectively understood to be a legitimate concern; at the very least, the idea that Craig's assertions could be construed as either revolutionary or even slightly vitriolic is ludicrous, given the scope of the existing debate.
And yet, in what can only be described as a collective display of unabashed misogyny, the article's comment thread is dominated by men who, in accordance with the laws of cognitive dissonance, have seemingly opted to debunk Craig's point by engaging in exactly the sort of unthinking sexism that, in actuality, proves her right.
"'Women rule the literary world': therein might be the reason for the incredible decline in the quality of literary output these last decades," says one Axilleus, which is a painfully accurate summation of what his fellows seem to believe. Some other choice remarks include:
"Men are more interesting."
"Most of the stuff I have read by women is absolute drivel."
"More feminazi drivel... Perhaps Ms Craig hopes that more all women literary prize lists will increase her chance of getting on one!"
"As a man, I can't remember the last female author I read... Maybe if women stopped bleating about how educated and equal they are, and started participating in areas that actually benefit society, I'd end up reading more of their books."
"Women's fiction is a bit like women's football. Just a wee bit tame."
"Do women ever stop bleating?... The great majority of men find women's writing virtually unreadable."
"When will some, fairly inadequate, women stop barking on about inequalities.">
"Will women ever stop carping about how unfair life is? Particularly as women seem to have so many more advantages than men."
"Women are never satisfied! Moaning when they get what they want, moaning when they get what they asked for! No wonder men don't take them seriously."
Responding to a female commenter's dislike of Ian McEwan's novel Saturday, one man responds that: "[it] was an outstanding book. May I suggest you read it? If there is any bit you don't understand, just let me know. Ignorant, ignorant woman."
Another describes Craig's piece as resulting from "institutionalised misandry" and "40 years of subtle (and not so subtle) militant [feminism]," before going on to complain that: "men have natural instincts which drive us to protect women and family -- women have no such instincts. This basically leads to a muffling of criticism or resistance of the hateful, family and liberty destroying philosophy."
Yet another chimes in to recommend The Prisoner's Friend by Peter Drake, describing it as: "Tough, difficult stuff set in the Great War (fought by men, please note); tough guys and a real story. None of your female written, chick lit rubbish." (Tough, difficult writing and real stories apparently being beyond the reach of us mere womenfolk.)
Someone else, objecting to the statistical fact as cited by Craig that women buy more fiction than men, has this to say: "In other words, women sit around reading and writing fairy stories while men roll their sleeves up and get on with the jobs that keep our society and economy going." Marvelous.
And then, this wonderful suggestion: "In the interests of the male readers, the books should be separated according to gender and then we [men] would save so much wasted time."
One commenter even goes so far as to claim that British women are being rejected by British men because, in his estimation: "foreign women are more inclined to be less stroppy and vindictive about men and maleness, as well as about the relationship 'balance' including sex / gender roles and characteristics." (Pardon me while I vomit quietly into the nearest bucket.)
And on it goes. The sheer scope of misogyny on offer is simply staggering -- and all from a group of men provoked to outrage by the mere suggestion that sexism still exists! Honestly, it's all a plot by those bleating, moaning, carping, ignorant, inadequate, drivel-spewing, chick-lit-rubbish-writing feminazis -- if only they'd shut up and pen something worthy of male attention, there wouldn't be an issue; or better yet, they should stop reading, period, and just get on with having jobs and paying bills (although presumably they shouldn't do too much of this, either, lest it lead us further into the Evil Ways of Militant Feminism, whereby wicked women abandon their hearths and children due to social vindication of our natural heartlessness).
I've said it before in reference to rape culture in gaming, and I'll say it again in reference to sexist bias in literary culture: the use of misogyny to defend against the accusation of misogyny does not refute the presence of misogyny. Let me put it simply for you: If a female writer makes the statistically supported claim that the literary establishment is predominantly male-centric on account of sexism, and your response, as a dissenting male, is to claim that women are both inherently less interesting and worse writers than men -- all while using traditionally dismissive and heavily gendered language to belittle her as a person -- then congratulations! You are being sexist. Even -- in fact, especially -- if you believe these to be objective, inalienable truths, you are still being sexist. On account of how, you know. They're not.
And just to clarify: there is nothing self-contradicting in Craig's assertion that women are both equal to men and excellent writers but still getting a raw deal, because even within ostensible meritocracies, sexism is still a distorting influence. The Costa shortlist stands out as anomalous precisely because of this fact, and while it points at a positive change in literary culture, the troglodytes protesting even that much progress stand as testament to exactly how far we've still to go.