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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