FYI: Books with Female Main Characters Are Less Likely to Win Big Prizes


Way more women than men buy books—but if you looked at the major books winning fiction prizes lately, you wouldn't know it. Novelist Nicola Griffith crunched the numbers for six major book prizes, including the Pulitzer Prize, the Man Booker Prize, and the National Book Award, over the past 15 years. And what she found was depressing.

The vast majority of awards were won by men for writing about men or boys. And when women do win prizes, it's for writing books with male protagonists. Female protagonists hardly ever won awards, and when they did, they were young girls, not grown women. "The more prestigious the award, the more likely the subject of the narrative will be male," Griffith writes. "Women seem to have literary cooties."

Why are awards so male-dominated? The Guardian points out that men have taken the top jobs at major book publishers lately, and many women in the industry face a major glass ceiling on their way to the top jobs. And since publishers can only submit a few books for consideration for awards, there might be an unintentional bias toward sure-thing male writers and protagonists.

Women in the literary world have it hard in general, too. The activists at VIDA released their annual count of how many women are featured in literary publications, and how often women authors are reviewed. They found a huge gender gap, and women of color were ridiculously rare in many publications.

Griffith told Fusion she hopes her research is just the tip of the iceberg in figuring out why women have a tough time in fiction. If enough data gets analyzed, she says, we might be able to figure out how to fix things for good.

Megan Friedman

Megan Friedman is the former managing editor of the Newsroom at Hearst. She's worked at NBC and Time, and is a graduate of Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism.