Sunday, April 12, 2015

Gender Imbalances on the Literary Scene

Last year, I wrote about the significant inequality between men and women writers at certain well established magazines and newspapers. For instance, VIDA discovered that there were far more men reviewing for those publications than women. They also found that far more books by male authors were being reviewed than by female authors. This speaks to an earlier blog I wrote where one survey found that men prefer reading male authors and women prefer the work of other women. Studies have shown that the ratio of men to women writers is about equal in literary fiction, so the question VIDA raised was why the imbalance and can it be fixed? First, though a quick explanation of VIDA.

VIDA is a research-driven organization that monitors and exposes inequalities between contemporary male and female writers. They do an annual count every year (their methodology is explained on their website) to compare the genders of book reviewers at major publications, if one gender is reviewed significantly more than the other and so on. As mentioned, their 2013 count revealed major imbalances at publications such as The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, and The New York Times Book Review.

VIDA’S 2014 findings show an improvement in some areas, but ongoing imbalances in others. As you read the report, keep in mind that VIDA admit that numbers don’t tell the whole story, but they do raise questions that are similar to other organizations that have also been monitoring possible gender imbalance, or even bias.

This year, VIDA took the count a step further by trying to establish the number of women of color on the literary scene. It was a challenge and obstacles had to be addressed, one of which is the sensitive issue of racism. What really struck me (although not as a complete surprise) is the pathetically small representation of women of color on the literary scene. VIDA says that their dataset is incomplete, but this too as improving, as participants become more open to revealing information in the hope of positive change. Let’s hope so.

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