Author: Sarah LEstrange
Is there sexism in the literary world? That’s what a new study by VIDA would like answered. VIDA is a relatively new US organization aimed at raising the profile of women in the arts.
VIDA conducted a count of the male to female ration of contributors to major literary magazines. They also made note of the gender of authors whose books were reviewed. You can look at the results of the study here - it’s very easy to follow as it’s made up of handy pie graphs. The results can be summarised quite simply: men are more prominent as commentators in the pages of magazines like The New Yorker, Granta, The New York Review of Books and the Times Literary Supplement. Read more about the reaction to this report in the USA and UK here: Slate, The Guardian, The New Republic.
The Book Show wondered what the situation is like in Australia so I asked three literary editors to reflect on their own review commissioning habits. I spoke to Susan Wyndham – Literary editor of The Sydney Morning Herald, Jason Steger – Literary editor of The Age and Stephen Romei – The Australian’s literary editor and former editor of the Australian Literary Review. They were open and honest in their appraisals and say that there’s a slight skew towards male commentators in their pages too, although their regulars are split 50-50.
The reasons for this skew were presented by the editors as:
- the greater willingness of male reviewers to pitch to the editors
- the dominance of women in genre fiction which doesn’t tend to be reviewed in literary pages, to Jodi Picoult’s chagrin (Jodi Picoult complained about the rave reviews Jonathan Franzen’s novel Freedom received – she wrote this on Twitter Is anyone shocked? Would love to see the NYT rave about authors who aren’t white male literary darlings, read the rest of the New Republic article here)
- a tendency to commission more male reviewers of serious books by male authors
- the possibility that men publish more books (we’d need publishers to do the sums on this though, so this is just speculation).
The literary editors also say that while they’re aware of the gender split in their review pages, they don’t believe it’s good policy to have gender dictate their commissioning criteria. Listen to my package on the Book Show here.
So, what’s the gender split on the Book Show? I did some ‘back of the envelope’ sums and this is what I came up with:
Since July 2010 we’ve had 13 male and 12 female reviewers (that’s almost an even split) and 14 male authors and 11 female authors reviewed. Check my sums here.
In terms of interviews and other segments on the show, since July 2010 to 22 February 2011 (excluding Summer programs):
The presenter has interviewed 132 men and 75 women.
The Book Show producers (all women) have interviewed 51 men and 37 women.
In the Off the Shelf segment, there have been 24 men and 9 women.
While the reviews are pretty evenly split , the rest of the Book Show is weighted towards male commentators. Is this because men as still more dominant in the public sphere? Because we’re drawn to subject matters more likely to be written by men? Is there an unconscious bias?
What do you think?