Statistics compiled by VIDA, an organisation representing women in the literary arts, appear to show gross imbalance between men and women in leading literary magazines and newspapers. They publish far more poems by men than women, far more reviews of books by men than by women, and a large majority of reviewers are men. The statistics show an even greater imbalance than I would have suspected. In 2010, the London Review of Books, for example, used 168 male reviewers and 47 women, and reviewed books by 195 men and only 68 women. The TLS used 900 male book reviewers and 341 female, reviewing 1036 books by men and only 330 by women. In a Guardian article, a TLS editor defended its record by saying:
“I’m not too appalled by our figure, as I’d be very surprised if the authorship of published books was 50/50. And while women are heavy readers, we know they are heavy readers of the kind of fiction that is not likely to be reviewed in the pages of the TLS. The TLS is only interested in getting the best reviews of the most important books.”
According to the TLS, then, it’s to do with “best” and “most important”. These, apparently, are not the books women read, and the best reviews are those written (mainly) by men.
That attitude reveals rather a lot! But the figures themselves don’t tell a complete story. I wonder, for instance, if specialist poetry publications achieve a more equal gender balance than the more general literary publications (I don’t know the answer to that one). It could be that there are far more male reviewers than female and far more books published by men than women, although figures don’t seem to be available to prove or disprove those assertions. This interesting article by Ruth Franklin suggests that more books are published by men than women. However, it’s too small a sample to constiture real proof. If such assertions were borne out, is it really the role of magazines and newspapers to work towards a greater gender balance? For example, should a magazine publish poems by a woman even if they aren’t as strong as poems it could have published by a man, just to represent the genders equally? And if a magazine, with space to review 10 books, receives 50 books by men and only 20 by women for review, should it review 5 by each gender as a matter of policy, or simply try to review the most interesting books, irrespective of other factors?
In case anyone is wondering, I’ve compiled figures from the last nine issues of Magma (Issues 40-48). I haven’t included anthologies and I’ve ignored poems when I wasn’t sure whether the writer was male or female:
Reviewers: 20 male, 14 female
Authors of Books Reviewed: 39 male, 52 female
Authors of Poems Published: 214 male, 242 female