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When It Comes To Women’s Writing, How Do Publications Stack Up?

28 February 2014

From National Public Radio:

If it seems like male authors get more attention, there are hard numbers to back that up: The VIDA count.

VIDA is a women’s literary organization, and the “count” is the result of eight months spent tracking gender disparity in leading publications. VIDA tallies the gender of authors whose books are being reviewed as well as the gender of those doing the reviewing.

The VIDA numbers have changed very little over the last four years. The Atlantic, The London Review of Books, The New Republic and The Nation have all had an overall ratio of 75 men to 25 women, including both reviewers and those reviewed. At The New York Review of Books, it’s 80-20. VIDA’s count director Jen Fitzgerald says the numbers are so clear that they’re starting to change the conversation.

. . . .

“I don’t know the numbers in terms of what’s being published, how many books are by women and how many books are by men,” says Pamela Paul, the editor of The New York Times Book Review. The Timesshowed improvement in this year’s VIDA count: In 2013, the number of male and female book reviewers was almost equal, and they reviewed 332 books written by women and 482 by men. Paul took over as editor during that time, and she says diversifying the book review section was a priority for her.

“It is not hard work at all. That’s the big secret — it’s not hard,” Paul says. “There are so many good books out there by women, and there are so many incredibly good book critics out there who are women. So I actually have to say that I didn’t find it to be an incredible strain. I don’t think any of our editors at the Book Review felt that we were unduly burdened.”

. . . .

But Beha says other changes are needed too. He contends men and women approach the magazine differently with ideas and that may also affect the numbers.

“Speaking broadly, of course, a male writer comes to you with an idea and you say ‘This isn’t quite right for us, try us again.’ If I say that ‘try us again’ in the email, I may get a response the next day with three new ideas,” Beha says. “And there is a tendency, I think, among female writers to emphasize the ‘this isn’t right for us’ part, rather than the ‘try us again’ part.”

Link to the rest at NPR and thanks to Meryl for the tip.


14 Comments to “When It Comes To Women’s Writing, How Do Publications Stack Up?”

  1. Whenever I see somebody saying that the ratio of X to Y in something is lower than the ration of X to Y in some more general sense, I immediately start looking for confounding variables.

    More male authors than female authors get reviewed. Fine. How does the ratio of male-author-reviews compare to the ratio of male-author-published books? How does the ratio of male-author-published books compare to the ratio of male-author-submitted books? From the mentions in the article, I’d guess that they aren’t that far off each other, or they wouldn’t have mentioned it in the first place.

    Never fear, though: once this much attention gets drawn to a disparity, an unofficial quota system’s imposition is never far behind.

  2. This practically shoots itself down for bad data. If you’re determining the sex of an author by name, you’re more likely to reveal your own prejudice than any particular truth.

    And, considering how many pen names seem chosen specifically to conceal the sex of an author, such a count would seem bootless on the face of it. If the sexes of the authors was NOT determined by their names, what other method was used — telepathic questionnaires? Special knowledge? the Glittery Hoo-Ha grapevine?


  3. Doesn’t surprise me.

    The last paragraph reminded me of a study I read a few years back. The author said that a large part of wage disparity starts at the job application/interview. A lot of job applications have a line asking what kind of hourly wage are you looking at? Men in general filled in much higher numbers than women. Women generally valued themselves less or were worried they would be rejected by asking too much from the start. The point being that aggressive self confidence often pays off.

    • The other issue with wage disparity is that quite a few women still withdraw from work outside the home during the years that their children are young, while most men do not do this. Thus, when we compare average earnings over the course of a lifetime of work, women come up short.

      I could comment on this disparity, but Lois Bujold said it all much more eloquently in her novel Ethan of Athos. Great read! I recommend it!

    • Yeah, it pays off – for guys.

      A woman having aggressive self-confidence generally means she’ll be viewed as bossy, not a team player, overbearing, etc. So you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. :/ Act demurely, and you don’t get the job for ‘lack of confidence’, or act like you’ve got ambition, and don’t get the job because you’re ‘too pushy’.

      It sucks. Also – not surprised by the article.

      • I understand what you are saying but guys do have the same problem to a lesser degree. Aggressively self-confident guys usually come off as douchebags to other guys. It’s just the tolerance for it is higher than from women.

        If Charlie Sheen’s character in Two and a Half Men didn’t temper things with humor and occasional flaws (or better yet beatings) there’s no way guys could watch him.

  4. In my analysis of the top 100 Amazon kindle books of 2013, women came out on top, 70 to 30. And, yes I used names, which isn’t perfect, but it won’t bias the results by much. In cases where the gender was ambiguous, I looked at the author page, which usually had a photo or some other information that was quite definitive as to gender. And in my count, Cuckoo’s Calling was credited to a woman.


    • Let me just add, that for all the concerns about sexism among the literary gatekeepers, such as media and academic critics, women seem to be selling well with readers, which is what counts. Lots of that success is in the romance genre, which has really became mainstream since the rise of Indie publishing. Imagine that – take away gatekeepers and women get the respect as writers that they deserve for satisfying readers with stories they like.

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