Sunday, February 13, 2011

Do the men have it all?

* EDITED IN: This post originally attributed a comment to Observer literary editor William Skidelsky which was in fact made by TLS Peter Stothart (as reported in the linked Guardian article). The post has been altered accordingly, and my sincere apologies to William Skidelsky.

People are much exercised by the shocking statistics in a survey conducted by the American women's literary network Vida, showing male bias in numbers of literary reviewers and of the authors of books reviewed. The Guardian defends itself as being better than most and books editor Claire Armitstead points out that fewer women than men offer themselves as reviewers. Ruth Franklin, books editor of The New Republic confesses to being shocked at her own statistics and sets out to conduct her own survey proving that lit editors are only reflecting the situation created by publishers: publishers publish more books by male authors than by women. Bookslut's Jessica Crispin, who is equally shocked, along with her co-editor Michael Schaub, at their own record, will have no truck with such blame-shifting and the two co-editors are conducting a conversation about the implications for their own biases in choices of books for review and reviewers. Some comments on these posts are enlightening, many pleading that they read more books by men than by women because they simply like them better, discounting the question raised by Ruth Franklin of societally-induced unconscious bias - a concept which it looks as though thinkers of the 80s may as well not have bothered to flog to death. And notwithstanding our healthy and mainly female literary reading-group culture, TLS editor Peter Stothard raises hackles by opining that while women read more than men, they mainly read the kinds of books that are not worthy of review in his publication.
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