The Place of Women in Literature


For decades now the stereotype of a writer is a chain smoker surrounded by pet cats. Dipping their feet into the pool of alcoholism with a steady addiction to coffee, they have an eccentric personality, a god complex, all whilst exhibiting signs of  depression and an unkempt appearance hunched over their typewriter or computer in a three piece suit in desperate need of a dry-clean.


It’s fair to say this stereotype fits a few freelancers we’ve probably all spotted who all but sleep at Starbucks. A few literary geniuses come to mind- Ernest Hemingway and Roald Dahl anyone? It’s easy to think of an author for each generation and have it be a man every time. For we have been taught that this was the only possibility. To be an author, one must be creative, intellectual, disciplined and strong willed. For decades this was seen as impossible for a woman.




But before these stereotypical traits were fully formed, women were doing the same job yet weren’t gaining the same recognition Jane Austin began writing under her alias Thomas Bennett, well aware her writing wouldn’t be taken seriously with a female name. Zelda Fitzgerald allowed her husband F Scott Fitzgerald to publish her stories under his name until she finally published Save the Last Waltz during her time in a mental institution.




Mary Shelley was the affectionately titled ‘fairy goth mother of horror’ due to her classic novel Frankenstein. Unfortunately many forget about her contribution to the genre, assuming that it was written by a male counterpart. The contributions made to literature by women go on from Sylvia Plath’s incomparable The Bell Jar, Agatha Christie’s murder mystery series and Alice Walker’s The Colour Purple to present day novelists such as Zadie Smith’s much loved NW, Lisa Jewel’s Before I Met You and Jojo Moye’s Me Before You. The most famous is JK Rowling having built an entire empire off a book series that 10 publishers rejected. But even Rowling at the end of the 20th century had to use half of a pen name as her publisher believed ‘Joanne Rowling’ sounded too feminine and would scare off potential readers.




Not only have female authors made their mark on the industry, they have also helped to shape and evolve popular culture. The use of female characters, whether they’re the protagonist or supporting, strong or weak, have shaped the opinion both genders have of women. Daisy Buchanan from F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, was deemed as the epitome of beauty during the era of elegance and opulence whilst also displaying the inequality between men and women in her infamous quote about her daughter ‘I hope she’ll be a fool; a beautiful fool. That’s the best thing a girl can be in the world’. Whereas in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, Daenerys Targaryen embodies many traits of a heroine and screams feminism to which Martin’s response was “Well I’ve always seen women as people”.




Whilst this indicates a marked improvement in the representation of females in fictional works, this does not equate to gender equality in the real world. Respected and revered figures within literature, responsible for these characters and plot lines, are still largely male. In 2016 is this really an acceptable way for women to be represented in an industry they’ve given so much to?


Do you think women are fairly represented in literature both as characters and authors? Let us know your opinion by commenting below, heading over to our Facebook page or on Twitter at @SANTMAGAZINE #womeninlit


Words: Kemi Akilapa


TAGS: #women; #literature; #feminism


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