Diversity blues

Male, pale and stale is the way to fail

by Black Sheep, 9th November 2021

Male, pale and stale is the way to fail

Did you hear? Middle-aged, white male wins Booker Prize shocker. Again. But hold on; all is not as it seems.

Forgive me for wading in here, but given I’m the ‘One Man’ with a pen alluded to in Welsh Border Life, this story is sort of my bag. And I’d already been piqued the week before. You see, what this story does is mask a growing injustice.

Where to begin? Well, how about this for a grenade? The female domination of publishing houses is leaving male authors on the shelf. Discuss.

Yes, yes, I can hear the sisterhood sighing as I write. And I’m probably about to offend another sizeable chunk of the population in a minute, too. But first, know this. I didn’t say it. A woman did.

It was the Pulitzer prize-winning American author Elizabeth Strout, to be precise, who last month came out and announced what no bloke with a pen can say at the moment: that the publishing industry needs to address the sidelining of male authors.

Almost two-thirds of paperbacks in the bestsellers list are now written by women. “If it was all male-dominated that would be a bad thing,” says Strout. “We need to mix it up.”

Diversity is, laudably, the name of the game in publishing these days. The last two Booker prize winners may have been middle-aged and white, but they were also gay. Meanwhile 2020 saw no men whatsoever shortlisted for the Costa first novel prize. And in the last ten years, the split between women and men in the paperback bestseller lists has gone from near parity to a yawning gap of 62 percent against 38 percent.

“Most of the people making the decisions - the editors - are young women, and that’s a factor,” says literary agent Clare Alexander. “When I was an editor I think I would’ve got fired if I’d only published female authors.”

As a sheep of colour, I probably shouldn’t be getting into such hot water. But I’m going to, because some of my best friends are male, pale and stale, and that lot are in danger of becoming marginalised. I mean, it’s bad enough being a fat old bloke in the Covid era as it is.

Now I know what some of you will be thinking. It’s high time the fusty old Jacob Rees Moggs of this world got a taste of their own medicine, right? Well, once maybe. But the thing is, it’s no longer their medicine. Do the maths and you'll realise they didn’t create the glass ceiling, or sail the MV Empire Windrush into Tilbury in 1948.

All those old prejudices were borne from way back. From the days of Britannia and scarlet tunics, through to the post-war years when the sun started to set on the empire.

The enlightenment began in the Sixties, when teenagers discovered free love, racial integration, the pill and Ravi Shankar. Ever since then the barriers have been coming down. Slowly but surely. And all the new SAGA interns and latest free bus-pass holders? They’re the very people who helped make this happen. They wrote the first editions of the equal opportunities manuals. Yet now, with cruel irony, they’re the ones being discriminated against.

Well enough is enough, I say. It’s time to fight back on behalf of the entire MPS+ community (that’s male, pale, stale, not members of parliament. The + can stand for heterosexual, cis gender and 'likes beer', if you want).

In fact the revolution has already started. You see, me and Lone Wolf met last week in The Billy Goat Inn, and after a few pints of stale pale ale we formed Grey Pride Llanyllanllan.

We’re already planning our first Grey Pride March on the Marches. It’s going to start outside the Post Office in Oswestry on a Thursday lunchtime and finish next door at the Wetherspoons. We can’t go too far, obviously. What with all those hip replacements. But it should be a good do.

And then, when I get home, I’m going to sit down, write a book and send it to a shame-faced publisher.

The title? Fifty Strands Of Grey. Although I may just have to self-identify as gender-fluid. And write under a ewedonym. (Sorry!)

J K Ewing should do it.

A mutton for punishment, Black Sheep welcomes all comments. Email to air your points of view. You can also read Black Sheep in Welsh Border Life every issue. Download for free here. Or follow him on Twitter @onemanandhispen

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