Today, I had a little spat on twitter. I didn’t think it was a spat at first, I thought I was asking a series of reasonable questions. But as the person I was tweeting then deleted all her tweets and refused to answer me further, I think maybe it was a spat.

I follow a lot of people in the book business on twitter: authors, publishers, book bloggers, and over the last few days, I’ve seen the following tweet several times in my timeline.
I have removed the name of the original tweeter, as she has not chosen to participate in this debate, so can’t give her permission to be quoted (please excuse my dodgy use of Paint in the tweets to come, I am no graphic designer).

I was curious, so sent the following message to her:
Someone else chipped in, and then the original poster replied, and the following exchange ensued:
At this point, she stopped replying, and deleted her tweets to me. I managed to snip images of them before they disappeared from my timeline.

Anyway, there it is. Female writers, if you’ve written a book on war, history, conflict, religion or music, you’re out. Female non-fiction readers, you’re not invited to watch this programme. If you’d all be so kind as to pick up your cookbooks and pink chick-lit tomes and head for the kitchen in an orderly fashion, we’d all be so grateful.

It seems to me that this type of thing perpetuates such unthinking sexist nonsense. We’re awash in this sort of marketing aimed at small children. My small son is three years old and has been raised in a home where we all believe in gender equality and don’t use sexist language. He started going to nursery in September. About two weeks later, we were in a shop looking at a rack of umbrellas. He pointed to a blue one and said, “I want that one, it’s for boys.” Then he pointed to a pink umbrella and said disparagingly, “This one is for girls.” I pointed out that there was no such thing as an umbrella for boys or girls and that all umbrellas were pretty much equal, but I knew I was fighting a losing battle. The views of his peers, who have been taught differently, will inevitably hold more sway than ours.

Am I overstating it to suggest that there shouldn’t be books for “boys” and books for “girls” too? As a writer of what people call “women’s fiction” when they’re being kind and “chick-lit” when they’re being a bit disparaging, I’d like to think that maybe I just write books for people.

There are still so many barriers for women, and despite what Netmums’ rather biased survey said feminism is not dead, nor should it be. Ask Malala Yousafzai, shot in the head for going to school. Ask the 80% of Egyptian women who have suffered sexual assault. Read the endless litany of thoughtlessness, abuse and anger heaped on women that is recorded at Everyday Sexism. I get tired and sad just thinking about it.

Let’s not perpetuate it further in the world of books – which should surely be a world where people who create and share knowledge and stories are free to meet, whatever their gender.


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