International Herald Tribune staff writer Alan Riding, reporting from London, laments: Whyizzit that there are so many women taking creative writing classes but so few who go on to win the top literary prizes? Here’s Riding:

“Today, across the West, women are well represented in art, architecture, music and film schools and they account for a majority of students attending literature and creative writing courses at college.

“Yet, while women no longer regard the creative arts as a male province, when it comes to winning or even making the shortlist of prizes in fiction, poetry, art, architecture and music, they still fare poorly. Why? Are professional women artists less talented than their male colleagues or are women simply being denied equal opportunity?”

The answer? Those darned men who hand out the prizes, of course, with their silly “masculine aesthetic”! And sure enough, Britain?s Booker Prize, perhaps the most prestigious literary award in the English-speaking world, went last year to Alan Hollinghurst for his fourth novel “The Line of Beauty.”

Riding continues:

“We found that books written by men were significantly less intimate than those written by women,” Debbie Taylor, editor of Mslexia,  said of a study carried out by the magazine. And she added: ?Men?s texts referred typically to sex, exteriors, violence, work and tools. Women?s texts referred typically to relationships, interior, clothing, children. Women inside. Men outside.”

So U.K. women now have their own literary prizes, the Orange Prize and a poetry prize awarded by Mslexia. As you might expect, some Brit women novelists are outraged that in the country that produced Jane Austen, George Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Dorothy Sayers, Muriel Spark, Iris Murdoch, and A.S. Byatt, and where Sylvia Plath produced her best work, women writers need an affirmative-action program in order to prove their worth. The Orange Prize fems, as might be expected, pooh-pooh this line of reasoning.
“?My argument is that literature in general has been dominated by men for so long that we don?t know what?s good anymore or what?s good is defined by masculine aesthetics,? Taylor said. “That?s an important reason to justify the Orange Prize and our prize. Some women say they don?t want to be ghettoized, that their work is good enough to stand alongside that of men. I say, fine, if there were a fair judgment.?”

My own theory is that the reason many women writers feel marginalized is that they write marginalized. Check these covers here, here, here, and here. What do they all have in common? Maybe that they look as though they were designed by Manolo? (And you can see dozens more covers just like these on the fiction shelf at your local Borders.) And what guy would want to buy or read–much less write–this book?

If there?s a “masculine aesthetic,” there?s also sure as heck a “feminine aesthetic.”