Women underrepresented as reviewers and authors in literary magazines

// 11 February 2011

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Men vast majority of reviewers, authors in Times Literary Supplement and London Review of Books

A survey of literary magazines by VIDA has revealed that men outnumber women in literary magazines, both as book reviewers and published authors.

I’ve posted their piecharts for overall representation of male and female writers in the Times Literary Supplement and London Review of Books above, but you can scroll through VIDA’s full results here.

Discussions have been raging in comments at the Rumpus about whether the disparity is caused by women not submitting enough to literary journals, but as one commenter, Brian Spears, added to the thread:

The thing these numbers can do, if nothing else, is awaken the editors of these journals to the fact that they’re so strongly skewed toward male writers. Ideally, an editor would see these numbers and think “what can I do to change this” rather than looking for reasons/excuses, even legitimate ones, for why the situation is the way it is. Unfortunately, I think we’re more likely to see the latter than the former.

I wonder if the results will be discussed next week, at the ICA’s Novel Women talk? (Which I spotted via Sarah Barnes at Uplift! this morning.)

Women dominate both behind the scenes, in publishing, and at the checkout, in fiction sales. So why is it that when it comes to lists and prizes, novels by men dominate? We no longer have the term ‘authoress’ or ‘poetess’, but we still have ‘the woman novelist’. Are chick lit and commercial women’s fiction named as such, and looked down upon, because they are genres dominated by and thought to be inherently female? What gets reviewed and by whom? What gets read and by whom? What is regarded as significant and event-worthy – and by whom? And why are we still having these conversations in 2010?

For this and more come and hear Kate Mosse, best-selling author and co-founder of the Orange Prize for Fiction, Lennie Goodings, publisher at iconic women’s imprint Virago Press, Baroness Helena Kennedy, QC and Orange and Samuel Johnson prizes judge, Antonia Byatt, Director of Literature at the Arts Council and former Director of the Women’s Library, and Professor Mary Evans researcher in literature and gender at the Gender Institute.

(Via Alas, A Blog)

Comments From You

Jennifer Drew // Posted 12 February 2011 at 12:05 am

Well of course the reason is obvious – writing is an art which only males are capable of achieving; women are not sufficiently interested to submit articles to such malestream journals as Times Literary Supplement et al – or women are causing their own problems by not trying sufficiently hard enough.

Joanna Russ’s book How To Suppress Women’s Writing provides excellent analysis of the inventive excuses and justifications men continue to create in order to deliberately keep women out of that supposedly male skill – writing.

As for me I prefer to name it as men’s refusal to accept the world does not revolve around them and their interests despite their claims to the contrary and keeping women out of the arts is a very effective method of maintaining male control and male domination over women.

Misogyny in other words is still very much alive and present.

Hannah // Posted 12 February 2011 at 12:35 pm

I haven’t done any analysis of this – so feel free to prove me wrong – but I suspect that part of the reason for this gender bias is that the people who publish in such established magazines are belong to the ‘old guard’ of lit crit, those professors so ancient that they won’t shift from a post until they die. Some of them are also the kinds of well-known names that popular literary magazines need to have as ‘cover stars’ to shift copies.

From my experience of English departments and the number of older men in posts it will probably take a while to turn this around, but trust me, me and my fellow young female literary academics are working on it!

I should make it clear, I don’t doubt that there are other reasons too. I find it frustrating that so few women seem to make it into literary magazines, when nearly everyone on my English MA programme was female (80%? at least).

Thanks for linking to this, the article and discussion on the post were very interesting.

Maeve // Posted 13 February 2011 at 5:15 pm

There are many female editors and agents, and most of them treat their male authors with a lot more respect and work a lot harder for them than they do for the female authors.

Jess McCabe // Posted 13 February 2011 at 5:26 pm

@Maeve Indeed, I don’t think it’s as simple as male editors making these decisions. It’s about a whole outlook that is shared by the majority, consciously or not, that work by men is better, men are deserving of more accolades, men are the Great Writers, etc.

For example, the problem prompted a boycott of the New Yorker at the start of the year, despite the presence of many female editors.

Mercy // Posted 13 February 2011 at 8:36 pm

It’s not as simple as male editors pick male writers as female editors don’t necessary promote women’s work (in fact in Poetry Review the magazine of the National Poetry Society published poems by women and reviews of books of poetry by women went down when the magazine swapped from a male editor to a female one). Both review editors at the New York Times and Times Literary Supplement justified their lack of reviews of books by women in terms of wishing to review books that are “important” and “will endure” (breathtaking arrogant assumptions on both counts). Some male reviewers simply will not review books by women (their editors are short sighted enough to give them a choice). It’s also fair to point out that most reviewers get the job by being known to (or a friend of) the editor.

There is a catch-22 element to this too: women writers see few women getting published in places like the TLS so fewer women submit work so the editors have fewer choices… and it becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. Men do tend to submit more poems, more frequently and repetitively to poetry magazines than women (who generally need encouragement), but is that because women are reluctant to submit work or because women don’t see other women getting published?

Poetry magazines outside the establishment do actually have healthy ratios of poems by women to poems by men.

sianushka // Posted 14 February 2011 at 11:36 am

Shameless self promotion but i hope this is an issue we’ll discuss with Bidisha at the Where are the Women event on 6th March at the Watershed


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