A House for Ms. Biswas

Each time I hope that the gender gap in literature might be narrowing, each time I envision Women Doing Literary Things’s peaceful organic end, along comes a Naipaul with idiotic remarks on the supposed inferiority of women’s writing. This is why we need forums where women writers support each other, communities which encourage work dealing with domestic, the ordinary, and the so-called banal (and zombies and apocalypses too, of course). One such space is She Writes, an online group of women writers. With over 15,000 members from 30 countries, it’s great place to hang out with kindred literary women, and I’m delighted to announce that WDLT essays are now a weekly (Wednesday) feature on She Writes! Please do check the site and the feature out.

Fittingly, this week’s WDLT essay deals with the deeper implication of Naipaul’s remarks. Writer Tina Biswas, in her essay titled A House for Ms. Biswas, confesses that Naipaul was the writer who inspired her to write. How did he get this business of women’s writing so wrong?

“When growing up, I would choose male authors over female ones, because of some misguided perception that men wrote about more serious matters (I’m now not sure what exactly constitutes a serious matter), and even if they were not writing about serious matters, they were at least writing about silly matters in a serious way.

This sort of bias can only come from a deeply prejudiced society. The kind of society where men are chefs but women are cooks. Where men are just men but women are wives and mothers and daughters and sisters. So when Naipaul accuses women of having a “narrow view of the world”, he means that they have a domestic view of the world, and from his chauvinistic standpoint, this domestic view is petty and banal and uninteresting and can only ever be inferior to the grandly political. But for such an insightful writer, he therefore completely fails to comprehend the relevance and importance of the domestic and how even his own life story has been shaped by not only the great sweep of history but also the small but equally powerful brush-brush-brush of the interior life. So when women choose to write about personal relationships and men think that is not important or interesting, that is their failing and their inability to value that which is closest to home.”

Please click here to read the rest of the essay.