‘I’m tired of the sex­ism’: Keyes re­flects on her de­ci­sion to read mainly fe­male au­thors

Irish Independent - - Front Page - Martina Devlin ::

“I READ to find out what people are think­ing and I don’t need to find out what men are think­ing – their voices dom­i­nate all me­dia. It’s a lot harder to find out what women are think­ing and one way of do­ing it is by read­ing what they’re writ­ing,” the au­thor Mar­ian Keyes says.

MAR­IAN KEYES is in a pas­sion. Not be­cause of any one man in par­tic­u­lar – on the con­trary, she feels sorry for the ex­pec­ta­tions loaded on to men as a group.

But what’s re­ally fir­ing her up is the male-im­posed sys­tem which priv­i­leges men – other­wise known as the pa­tri­archy.

And re­ports of its death are greatly ex­ag­ger­ated. Sex­ism con­tin­ues to be an every­day prob­lem, but Keyes has an all-in­clu­sive take on it.

“Sex­ism da­m­ages ev­ery­one,” she says. Men as well as women.

Women have been held back by it for cen­turies and the pace of re­form re­mains slow.

As the French thinker and writer Si­mone de Beau­voir put it in ‘The Sec­ond Sex’: “Her wings are cut and then she is blamed for not know­ing how to fly.”

But Keyes spares a thought for sons, brothers and nephews in to­day’s world.

“Men in gen­eral may hold on to the money and the power be­cause of the way our so­ci­ety is struc­tured but in­di­vid­ual men are re­ally suf­fer­ing from this very nar­row, strict tem­plate that they are told to fit them­selves in­side,” she says.

“The fact that they are meant to be the bread­win­ners, that they are meant to be strong, that they can’t show fear or self-doubt, de­pres­sion, any grief or sor­row.

“That they have to present as un­hurtable, un­wound­able – it’s no sur­prise that we have such a high male rate of sui­cide.”

The in­ter­na­tional best­seller is known for writ­ing funny, in­sight­ful fic­tion about what it’s like to be a woman in the mod­ern world.

She’s queen of the witty one­liner and hu­mour comes eas­ily. But sex­ism is no laugh­ing mat­ter for her.

“Women obviously are also very much dam­aged by sex­ism but I think maybe if more at­ten­tion was paid to the fact that men are dam­aged by it too, it might change gen­eral opinion to­wards it,” she says.

Her solution? “Ed­u­cate our sons not to rape rather than ed­u­cate our daugh­ters not to get raped. Ed­u­cate our sons in re­spect.”

Keyes made the re­marks to me dur­ing an in­ter­view that can only be de­scribed as mus­cu­lar for the monthly ‘City of Books’ pod­cast, which I host.

She re­gards so­ci­ety as twotier and cites pe­riod poverty by way of ex­am­ple – women who can barely make their rent each month are obliged some­how to find the money for san­i­tary pro­tec­tion.

“If men got pe­ri­ods, san­i­tary prod­ucts would be free,” ac­cord­ing to Mar­ian.

How­ever, she has ideas for over­turn­ing sex­ist at­ti­tudes, such as en­cour­ag­ing more men to avail of pa­ter­nity leave.

Some fear they’ll lose out on promotion, she says, but rec­om­mends safe­guards to pre­vent this.

Mar­ian, whose lat­est novel ‘Grown Ups’ has just been pub­lished, is out­spo­ken on a range of sub­jects dur­ing the pod­cast, avail­able on the Dublin City Li­braries web­site, Ap­ple, Spo­tify and other plat­forms from to­day.

She makes no apolo­gies for her “po­lit­i­cal choice” to read pre­dom­i­nantly women writ­ers: “I just want to sup­port women.”

And she re­flects on why men tend not to read nov­els by women al­though women are gen­der neu­tral in their choice of read­ing ma­te­rial.

She is crit­i­cal of the trend whereby male writ­ers are given more prom­i­nent re­views and other cov­er­age in the me­dia and stronger sup­port by book­shops.

“Nov­els writ­ten by men are au­to­mat­i­cally given more weight than nov­els writ­ten by women,” she says.

Keyes, who has sold 35 mil­lion books world­wide and been trans­lated into 36 lan­guages, tells how she du­ti­fully read all the so-called greats such as Philip Roth, John Updike, Martin Amis, Ju­lian Barnes and Sal­man Rushdie.

Glow­ingly re­viewed, their work didn’t res­onate with her. “For me, I didn’t find any emo­tional res­o­nance in them whereas in gen­eral [in] books writ­ten by women I do.”

She is well aware she’ll be crit­i­cised in some quar­ters for her de­ci­sion.

“I am be­ing sex­ist be­cause I’m tired of the other kind of sex­ism,” she says. “I read to find out what people are think­ing and I don’t need to find out what men are think­ing – their voices dom­i­nate all me­dia.

“It’s a lot harder to find out what women are think­ing and one way of do­ing it is by read­ing what they’re writ­ing.”

‘Grown Ups’ by Mar­ian Keyes is pub­lished by Michael Joseph, an im­print of Pen­guin. ‘City of Books’ is spon­sored by Dublin UNESCO City of Lit­er­a­ture and Dublin City Council in as­so­ci­a­tion with MOLI, the Mu­seum of Lit­er­a­ture Ire­land

PHOTO: MARK CONDREN

PHOTO: MARK CONDREN

Best­seller: Nov­el­ist Mar­ian Keyes says nov­els writ­ten by men are au­to­mat­i­cally given more weight than those by women.

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