By Kathie Felix
Sisters in Crime has been joined in the review-counting trenches by Vida, an organization of women in the literary arts. The group was founded in 2009 “to address the need for female writers of literature to engage in conversation regarding the critical reception of women's creative writing in our current culture.”
Vida’s 2010 review census was released at the beginning of February. Titled “The Count,” the study examines a group of publications in terms of their overall representation of women and men and a count by gender of book reviewers and reviewed authors.
The publications in the Vida project included The Atlantic, Boston Review, Granta, Harper’s Magazine, London Review of Books, The New Republic, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Poetry, The Threepenny Review, The Times Literary Supplement and Tin House.
As might be expected, the news wasn’t good for women – as authors or as reviewers.
The New York Review of Books was home to the most unsettling statistics. In terms of overall coverage for 2010, the numbers revealed 79 women and 462 men. In terms of reviewers, 39 were women and 200 were men. The count of reviewed authors was 59 women and 306 men.
The New York Times Book Review offered better numbers, with 295 women and 438 men reviewing books in 2010. The number of reviewed authors included 283 women and 524 men.
One publication, The Atlantic, actually reviewed
more women writers than men. The count there was 19 women and 13 men. Overall, however, the magazine featured writing by 55 women and 154 men.
In the discussion following the release of The Count, many factors have been mentioned as possible considerations for the disparities, among them the number of published books written by women vs. the number written by men and the availability or aggressiveness of men vs. women in seeking editorial assignments.
Whatever the reason or reasons, the bottom line for many may be tied to U.S. Census figures that indicate that, as of Oct. 1, 2009, there were 155.8 million females and 151.8 males in the United States.
For others, the discussion goes much deeper than equal representation for statistical purposes. A world of unspoken expectation is shared with every generation when a spotlight shines on only one gender.
There are a variety of ways to deal with a disproportionate gender representation in the media. Studies like the SinC review project and Vida’s count can help bring awareness to the issue.
It’s also important to remember that sometimes advertiser-supported media can clearly hear the voices of its advertisers, even when it’s having trouble remembering who makes up more than half of the country’s population.
SinC board member Barbara Fister weighed in on the conversation with a comment on the Vida website following the release of the study: “Sisters in Crime, an organization founded 25 years ago to support equality for women writers in the crime fiction genre, has been tracking reviews of mysteries in the press for years. This is sadly nothing new nor something that book review editors have ever taken very seriously.”
It may be time to start thinking about an information campaign directed to targeted advertisers.
A closer look at the Vida study can be found online here.
What do you think?
Kathie Felix is the managing editor of the SinC blog. Previously, she spent 12 years as the managing editor of a technology magazine published for the education market. In an intentional match to reader demographics, the majority of the product reviewers she hired – and published – were women.