Week in Review: Feb. 7 – Feb. 11

*Week in Review is a weekly post that highlights some of the major stories related to gender issues this week. Some of these stories may have already appeared in our News Feed or in the week’s Gender Checks. We’ll at times include a longer analysis of stories as well as bring attention to stories that may have slipped through the cracks of the week’s news cycle.

Women in the publishing industry

VIDA, an organization for women in the literary arts, recently released statistics from 2010 that showed a disparity in the number of female book reviewers and books by women that are reviewed in magazines and literary journals compared to men. The group showed its findings through 40 different pie charts looking at 14 magazines. Only on two charts did women outnumber men (cover to cover authors at The Atlantic and in authors reviewed at Poetry). Here are some examples of their findings:

Graph by VIDA
  • Only about 14 percent of the authors reviewed by The New Republic werefemale — 55 male authors and nine females.
  • The New York Times Book Review had 438 male bylines and 295 female bylines,and those reviewed a total of 807authors, 283 of which were women.
  • The New York Review of Books women had 39 bylines to men’s 200 and 59 female authors were reviewed compared to 306 men.

The issue was picked up across the web, mostly by women and a few men, and spurred debate this week around why this gap exists.

On Slate, Meghan O’Rourke noted that the findings become surprising, because “writing isn’t a field historically dominated by men, like theoretical physics.” She poses a number of possible reasons, but also points out that the issue that these statistics show is perhaps how “seriously” books by women are taken.

Ruth Franklin at The New Republic with some help crunched the numbers to find out how many books were published by authors of each gender in the past year. With those in mind, she noted: “…The magazines are reviewing female authors in something close to the proportion of books by women published each year. The question now becomes why more books by women are not getting published.”

Reasons suggested by commentators included that its a matter of a socialized bias that men’s stories are considered the best and most important and also that women, as a result of this being ingrained in them as well, are less confident and therefore less likely to submit or promote their work.

Laura Miller at Salon.com argued that perhaps males tend to read books written by men, while women are more likely to read books by both genders. (That same argument has been used by Disney and others to explain that female-focused films, like the princess movies, appeal to too narrow a demographic — just girls).

Or perhaps its a flaw of the establishment that is the literary world and not a reflection of popular culture and readers as a whole. In his critique of some of Miller and Franklin, Jason Pinter points out on Huffington Post that “if more popular fiction was treated fairly, I’m certain the gap would close, if not shut altogether.” He notes that Franklin’s numbers ruled out genres that are typically not reviewed, which tend to be written by women.

Margot Magowan suggests that the gap will continue to exist unless women are empowered to believe that their views, ideas and opinions are valid and worthy, just as men’s are.

Here’s a roundup of links to some of the other comments and news on the subject:

What do you make of the findings? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.


6 thoughts on “Week in Review: Feb. 7 – Feb. 11

  1. Jenaveve Linabary February 12, 2011 / 2:22 pm

    Wow. This is really interesting, and really sad. It’s incredible that those numbers make such a statement.

  2. joybacon February 15, 2011 / 4:47 pm

    In a recent grad school class, I was referring to an article and, by habit, said “he” when referring to the author. In fact the article was co-authored by three women. Clearly my language use also reflects the findings of these studies, that even someone like myself who is very gender conscious would assume that an author being studied at the master’s level would be male.

  3. Jasmine Linabary February 15, 2011 / 6:10 pm

    Joy, thanks for sharing that observation. I know I’ve been guilty of that myself on occasion.

    On a positive note, as @danielpink pointed out on Twitter, women wrote four of the top five hardcover nonfiction books on the most recent New York Times’ Best Sellers list.

  4. Jessica Davis February 16, 2011 / 12:09 am

    Interesting finding. Most of the books I read these days are by women. Good Reads is how I find new authors, not the NYT best seller list.

  5. Jasmine Linabary February 16, 2011 / 5:05 pm

    Jessica, thanks for your comment. It brings up an interesting point from Laura Miller’s Salon.com article (see link in post). She references research done in 2005 that involved asking “100 academics, critics and writers” to discuss the most recent books they read. The findings? Four of five of the men’s last book was by a man. Women in the study were split fairly equally. The majority of men found it hard to recall a novel they read by a woman recently.

    I like this idea from her as a simple case study: “Ask six bookish friends — three men and three women — to list their favorite authors or favorite books, without explaining your motivation. Then see how many male authors the women list and whether the men list any female authors at all.”

    It might be an interesting social experiment, just to see how much what is done in book reviewing (as demonstrated through the VIDA study) carries over into the general public.

  6. Jess Davis February 17, 2011 / 2:05 am

    Mostly, I’ve been re-reading Harry Potter, which was penned by a famous woman. The others I found in Goodreads have been mostly women. But I’ve been reading fiction. Most nonfiction I read is by men.

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