Sunday, March 02, 2014

Book Review Inequality Still Happening

For a number of years, I was a member of the U.S.-based organization, Sisters in Crime (SinC). During that time, I received regular newsletters updating me about events and other noteworthy items. One of the interesting projects they had going at that time (I was a member from about 2003 to 2010) was to take a look at the ratio of reviewed books written by men and by women. SinC asked volunteer members across the country to monitor book reviews in their local magazines and newspapers. Granted, the information gathering was informal and the findings perhaps anecdotal, yet year after year they found that male authors were reviewed far more frequently than women. Based on various stats, however, the ratio of men to women writing crime fiction was much closer than the reviews reflected. As I recall, various executive members, (possibly the president) notified some of the publications where the discrepancy was most obvious and over time things improved.

Due to financial constraints, I discontinued my SinC membership, so I don’t know how much progress they’ve made since then. But I was really interested, and somewhat appalled, to read that the preference for reviewing books written by men is still prevalent with some publications, and in other genres besides crime fiction.

A piece npr books discusses the annual findings of a women’s literary organization called VIDA. VIDA spends eight months of every year tracking not only who’s being reviewed in major publications, but who is writing the reviews. They’ve found a clear disparity between men and women. For instance, The Atlantic, The London Book of Reviews, The New Republic, and The Nation, not only have 75 male reviewers to 25 females, and this split is exactly the same for books reviewed. I strongly doubt there are three times as many men writing novels as there are women. What’s particularly disturbing is that these stats haven’t changed in four years. You can read the piece to see how some publications have responded to VIDA’s findings, but the bottom line is that inequality is still there. No one is suggesting that publications insist on a 50/50 split, but 72/25, and in one case 80/20? Come on. This is 2014. If these publications want to stay relevant (see my Feb. 23 blog), then isn’t it time they better acknowledged the contributions of women writers?

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