Pride and Prejudice

I now have a list of seventeen things that I’ll be writing blogs about in the next few weeks, not taking into account the fact that new inspirations turn up every day. I missed posting a blog yesterday as work, travel and internet problems conspired against me. After a three hour drive back from Bunbury to Fremantle, a late dinner with the charming Reeces (Bob Reece makes a mean fish pie) and unpacking my bag once again at the Fremantle Children’s Literature Centre, I lost another day of blogging. Sigh.

The Bunbury kids were fabulous. They were bright, focussed and full of good ideas. The sixty-five Year 7 and 8 kids who turned up on Friday for their writing intensive were particularly impressive.

At the end of every day, when they each have a draft of a story underway, an assortment of the students get up in front of the group and share their stories. It’s a nerve-wracking exercise for many of them but one thing that always strikes me as worrying is how few of the girls are willing to risk reading their work in public. Though the majority of the participants in the workshops are girls, out-numbering the boys by two to one, most of the boys are keen to share their work while the girls sit back, their hands folded in their laps, watching and listening politely but shyly refraining from going public. It drives me crazy.

It’s not to say there aren’t forceful, confident girls who have no reservations about putting up their hand for attention. But in general the girls need more cajoling than the boys. I rarely have to cajole boys into sharing their work and more often than not, when I call for volunteers to read what they have written, half the boys raise their hands enthusiastically while only a tiny proportion of the girls are willing to overcome their self-consciousness without prompting. I love the boys’ enthusiasm and confidence. Sometimes, I feel guilty choosing a girl to do a reading when there are six boys waving their hands for attention, busting to share their work. But on the rare occasions when the situation is reversed and the boys are silent while the girls are forceful, I always try and balance the representation. I want to hear stories from both genders, from both male and female perspectives.

Some people argue that girls are more confident in single sex situations. But the world is made up of two genders. If girls can’t feel brave enough to be heard in a safe environment where they are in the majority, in an environment where only a handful of bright, literate and sympathetic boys are present, what hope do they have of being heard in the wider world? I don’t believe it has to be this way but passivity is deeply enculturated for young women.

This morning, my daughter, Ruby, had an opinion piece published in the Melbourne newspaper, The Age. I’m very proud of her. I was proud of her on the cold Sunday mornings when she ran out onto a muddy field to play soccer as a teenager and the way she was never shy of participating on debating teams, in musical bands or any public forum. But I saw the ways in which she was subtly discouraged too and I have felt that same discouragement myself.

I’ve lost count of the number of literary events that I’ve attended where the men on stage outnumber the women two-to-one, or the literary festivals where only a third of the writers on the program are female while the audiences consist almost entirely of women. As often as not, at least in literary circles, it’s not a conscious prejudice. It’s a subtle, insidious and pervasive assumption that the way things are is the way they should be. So little pride and so much prejudice.

Kirsty is an Australian author of books for children and young adults.

“Books are windows into other ways of being.”

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