The Big Question: Has the time come to close the book on women-only literary prizes?

Why are we asking this now?

The Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction was presented at a typically ebullient ceremony at the Royal Festival Hall on Wednesday. As predicted by the bookies, Rose Tremain won the women's fiction prize for her "very warm and empathetic" tale of immigrant life, The Road Home, and in a reference to the award's (mainly) male critics, said: "Come on guys, stop grumping!"

Presenting the award, the chair of the judges Kirsty Lang said that it was particularly deserved because Tremain "is one of our greatest contemporary authors and has been overlooked by the literary establishment". The Road Home was shortlisted for last year's Costa Book Award but didn't win.

What else did Ms Tremain say?

"This is a prize which celebrates women's fiction. In this year when A L Kennedy has won the Costa, when Anne Enright has won the Booker and when Doris Lessing has won the Nobel, I think there's a lot to celebrate." Tremain did not name names, but the "grumping" she referred to has been especially querulous this year.

And the judges?

Lang denied that the Orange is a form of positive discrimination, arguing that it has done much to attract readers and highlight novels that would otherwise be overlooked. She did admit that among the 120 entries there was "a lot of dross". "If they haven't had the unhappy childhood, then they make one up. Lots of grim child sex abuse." She had previously said: "The Orange has now become a celebration of female writing. It would be pointless to stop the prize because it has done what it set out to do." The other judges were Lisa Allardice, Philippa Gregory and Bel Mooney – Lily Allen having dropped out citing personal problems.

So what's the perceived problem with the Orange?

That limiting the prize to women writers is unfair and anachronistic, according to its most recent critics. The latest round of debate was kicked off in March by the writer Tim Lott, who called the prize "a sexist con-trick". "Could the establishment of a men-only prize be justified?" he asked. "Can you imagine the derision with which it would rightly be met?" He concluded that "the Orange Prize is sexist and discriminatory, and it should be shunned".

Who are the main critics of the prize?

Largely speaking, men. And Lott's comments are nothing new. When the Orange was founded, Auberon Waugh nicknamed it the Lemon Prize. The academic John Sutherland claimed that it does women writers more harm than good. Alain de Botton asked: "What is it about being a woman that is particularly under threat, in need of attention, or indeed distinctive from being a man when it comes to picking up a pen?" And Derek McGovern recently wrote in The Mirror: "The Orange Prize for Fiction has always annoyed me because it is open only to women – surely it should be called the Chocolate Orange Prize. I have to say I've never rated women novelists."

But the disapproval is not limited to men. A S Byatt claimed that the prize "ghettoised" women, and recently revealed that she has forbidden her publisher from entering her books. Germaine Greer and Anita Brookner are also critics.

So what is the justification forall-women prizes?

The novelist Kate Mosse, who co-founded the prize, said: "The prize was set up to celebrate international fiction written by women and to get fabulous books by women to male and female readers and it continues to be really successful in doing that." Part of its raison d'être was to encourage women's writing at a time when it seemed to be largely ignored by the larger prizes. However, five of the last six Whitbread/ Costas and the latest Man Booker prize were won by women.

Shouldn't the prize at least allow men to be judges?

"I'm open-minded about it," said Lang last week. "It would be an interesting debate for organisers to have. Seventy per cent of fiction is bought by women, so having a panel of women judges means they know what women like. But I think it could be quite interesting to have a man on the panel." In 2001, the organisers asked an all-male "shadow jury" to consider the long-listed books. They chose the same winner: Kate Grenville's The Idea of Perfection.

Why isn't there a men-only prize?

"Because no one has, as yet, put in the time, creativity, effort and enthusiasm necessary to start one up and keep it going," said the Orange Prize's website. The critic Erica Wagner agreed: "Nobody can do anything about that until somebody puts his money where his mouth is and launches a lads-only prize."

The novelist Nick Hornby said: "The controversy around the Orange Prize is entirely bogus. You might just as well complain that Roger Federer isn't allowed to enter the Grand National." The writer Susan Hill has joked that she is to sponsor a new prize "for a novel written by anyone who was born before 1988 in Budleigh Salterton and who is an only child... [People] can have a prize for whatever they damn well like."

What's the history of the Orange Prize?

The prize was partly inspired by France's Prix Femina, which has existed since 1904. It was announced at the ICA in January 1996 and awarded to Helen Dunmore that May for A Spell of Winter. Later, Orange Futures named 21 authors to watch in the new millennium. On its 10th anniversary in 2005 the Orange Broadband Award for New Writers was established and a "Best of the Best" was awarded to Andrea Levy for Small Island, though she has recently admitted that she felt uncomfortable about the "best of" concept.

Does 'women's fiction' still mean anything in modern publishing?

Last year, the judge Muriel Gray caused some controversy when she complained that much of the fiction submitted was on domestic themes. She was not as dismissive, however, as Paul Bailey, chairman of the 2001 men's jury, who said that "the only difference [between the juries] was we didn't go for famous names or books banging on about breast cancer, mothers and daughters - we've had all that up to our eyeballs."

Is there still a place for all-women prizes?

Yes...

* There's nothing wrong with celebrating women's fiction – men could do the same if they wanted

* The Orange is an international prize which brings attention to otherwise overlooked literature

* Historically there is still a tendency for the bigger prizes to employ male judges and choose male winners

No...

* Other overlooked groups include working-class authors, disabled writers, black African writers... there are no prizes for them

* It ghettoises women's writing, patronises women and encourages separation and discrimination

* Writers, readers and publishers are overwhelmingly women anyway. Boys, not girls, need to be encouraged to read

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
    The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

    The ZX Spectrum is back

    The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
    Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

    Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

    The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

    If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
    The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

    The quirks of work perks

    From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
    Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

    Is bridge becoming hip?

    The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
    Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

    The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

    Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
    The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

    The rise of Lego Clubs

    How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
    5 best running glasses

    On your marks: 5 best running glasses

    Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
    Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
    Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

    Please save my husband

    As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada