I think Francine Prose is vastly overplaying her hand here:
But I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Because the recent controversy about the Guardian interview in which V. S. Naipaul claimed that no woman was his equal and that he too could instantly sniff out that telltale estrogenic ink has made it clear (in case it needed clarification) that “before” is “now.” The notion of women’s inferiority apparently won’t go away. Of course, the idea that Naipaul imagines he is a better writer than Jane Austen would be simply hilarious if the prejudice it reveals weren’t still so common and didn’t have such a damaging effect on what some of us have chosen to do with our lives.
Granted, Prose may be right that the lot of female writers hasn’t changed one bit in 10 years, but I doubt it. And leaning on buffoons like Naipaul to prove the argument is futile. There will always be people like Naipaul to provide the soundbyte, but that doesn’t mean things are the same as they were.
I also think that too much is made of the “damaging effect” of sexism. I don’t mean to dismiss it, but all kinds of writers face all kinds of prejudices. (Doesn’t some of the best writing you can think of essentially come from the fact that said writer is a consciously marginalized, looked-down-upon figure?) For instance, you have translators, whom still tend to be mostly female–wouldn’t they then face the double prejudice of being a woman and being someone whose brand of literary practice is generally marginalized and looked down upon?
And yet, they continue to live and do very good work, and the ones I know don’t have any readily apparent self-esteem issues.