Naipaul’s Comments Were Offensive, But What about the Question?

a stack of books including works by VS Naipaul, Suzanne Collins, and JRR Tolkien

Image by anna_t via Flickr

By now, VS Naipaul’s misogynistic comments been thoroughly mocked in the manner they deserve. What has been largely overlooked, however, is that as Amy Fallon reported in the Guardian, he made these claims after having been asked “asked if he considered any woman writer his literary match.” This context in no way excuses his sexist tosh. Rather, it indicates that the problem goes far beyond one man’s narrow view of the world.

That the question was asked at all suggests that it is still up for debate whether women writers are really the equals of men (yes, I’m aware that this framing leaves out writers who don’t fit into the gender binary; this reflects the view held in those parts of the literary world in which the quality of women’s work is still considered questionable). In other words, that this sort of question is still treated as an appropriate part of an educated conversation illustrates the continued prevalence of sexism in the literary world.

Naipaul’s sexism is only rare for being so explicit. One need only look at VIDA’s 2010 Count to see that sexism in the literary world is structural and widespread. I only wish that laughing at the worst examples of misogyny were enough to fix the problem.

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6 comments for “Naipaul’s Comments Were Offensive, But What about the Question?

  1. June 5, 2011 at 8:18 pm

    Great piece. We ought to be seeing the larger picture of this issue–absolutely!

    • Jun
      September 3, 2012 at 11:48 pm

      I never even heard of the guy and having read that arltcie, I’m even less likely to purchase any of his books I don’t care how good they might be. By making such a sweeping assessment, the dip shit just alienated a potentially huge audience. Then again, by making such a comment, women just might go out and buy his stuff just to see if his words are where his mouth is. I admit that I tend to read more women than men. Its the nature of the genre. I read romance and there aren’t many men who write it (or write it well). When I read science fiction, I read more men than women.I have a brother who’s the same way. He tends to read male authors rather than female. It’s no doubt a gender thing.

      • ekswitaj
        September 6, 2012 at 3:48 am

        Jun, you do realize that the first science fiction novel (Frankenstein) was written by a woman, right?

  2. mona.d
    June 24, 2011 at 9:31 pm

    I quite agree with you and the prior poster. The big picture is essential. Is sexism alive and well in the civilized world. Decidedly it is. OK, may as well include the less civilized world as well.

    As celebrity interviews go, this was pretty standard fare. Does the questioner deserve examination. I would say so. Of course what does inspire such a twit question? Oh yes, this was the Guardian. Oouee. And the interviewer, undoubtedly male, was a what … a deep literary thinker? Does his question actually reflect anything other than a desire to probe for another sensationalist tidbit? Crass. That is simply what it was.

    And the response, yes, the response is the part that goes to your point of the very big disappointing picture. It is a picture of the literary arts reduced to a cricket match played out on a heath in the very smallest and darkest place of the heart.

  3. September 3, 2012 at 11:27 pm

    Wow, VS thinks hihgly of himself. Thanks for sharing this with us, Michelle. I hadn’t heard anythign about it. I have a english minor, made up mostly of British and American lit classes, and I’ve never heard of Naipaul. I have read George Eliot, AS Byatt and even Paul Theroux. I only scored 3 out of 10 on the test, which I hope is actually a good thing. A story’s depth and resonance with me doesn’t depend on the author’s sex. I have both female and male authors on my bookshelves, although I’ll admit, there are more by females. Because I relate to their stories more? Possibly. Why? Because they’re more likely to write about love and children and experiences I understand since I’ve lived through similar ones.I’m a huge fan of Jodi Picoult, btw, Amy. I have Clancy on my shelves as well. Vince Flynn, Robert B Parker, CE Lewis and other male authors. I salute anyone who can tell a great story, whether literary or mainstream, male author or female.

  4. James
    December 5, 2014 at 7:57 pm

    Jan Morris? She’s far Naipaul’s superior in prose style, and of the same generation though elder. I can only imagine how she would one-up him on this…

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