Thanks to Gillian Jerome and the women who have signed on to CWILA for the sharp visuals that tell a story we all know to well: the number of women reviewing and being reviewed in the most mainstream and the most staunchly literary venues in Canada, like the US is shockingly low. Here' a visual from the 2010 Vida Count.
Notice that VIDA chose to reverse the pink and blue. CWILA lets the familiar colour pattern remain. Here's a snippet from Gillian Jerome's introduction:
Editors and reviewers make choices. That’s their job. And for better or worse the choices they make matter deeply, not only to the public trajectory of individual authors and books, but also, and more importantly, to the quality and tone of our national conversation about the arts. Canadian Women in the Literary Arts (CWILA) was founded in the spring of 2012 with the aim of taking stock of certain crucial features of this conversation, in particular, what has felt for many women to be the gendered register of its tone.
Indeed they do make choices. And they tend to couch those choices in hollow arguments, as the TLS stated, that they need only concern themselves with "the best" and "the best," is often male.
“The TLS is only interested in getting the best reviews of the most important books,” 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.”--Peter StothardHere's my response to the 2010 count: Gatekeepers & Glass Ceilings. More shocking to me than the numbers has been the relative inability of editors to face the statistics squarely and respond to them intelligently. After all, it's not our errors or oversights but the way we face them, that shows our true character. There's a few elegant responses from editors on the CWILA site and I say bravo to those of you who see this as a manageable problem--it is. And it's all of our problem.
Having said that, the numbers do present a complicated issue after we take in the sheer mass and volume of women's silence, and the silence around women's work. What to do about it. In my Gatekeepers piece there are several very clear suggestions. One important step is a boot camp for women. Here are some light, but also deadly serious tips for women in the literary arts to consider. I do have plans to make this event happen. If you are serious about wanting to take part, or to provide support, please leave a comment below or contact me, or CWILA.
We also need to seriously address the relationships of women and power, women and mentorship. Here are some basic thoughts on that.
My response to the CWILA count can be found here. I'll be adding links to this over the day, as I find the time.Earlier posts on the subject:The Lemon Hound Literary Rule, July 7 2010 Books, books, dying on the vine, July 2010 On the Discussion of Spahr & Young's Numbers Trouble at Poetry Foundation, November 2007 Two posts on the Paris Review:Oh, it gets very dull indeed, but someone has to point out the obvious. Again, and again, and again. I won't even begin to describe the racial elements of the selection. No doubt I've already been strung up on the peg reserved for women such as myself. Shrill and otherwise.More on the Paris Review
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 30, 2005
I'm a fan of the Paris Review. Who wouldn't be? All those great interviews. Pretty heady stuff. Recently I noticed a newish feature, this DNA of Literature. Remarkably the Paris Review has offered up many of its early interviews with writers such as Truman Capote and William Carlos Williams online! Amazing. However, the DNA also reveals what shouldn't be too much of a surprise: there are few women writers out there. Very few. Two worthy of being interviewed in the 50s, perhaps 3 in the 60s. Even into the 1990s when the magazine included--at least on the website--a whopping 86 interviews, only 16 of those were with women. 16. So far for the first decade of the 21st century we have 10 women out of 40.
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2007
An email from The Paris Review announcing a new volume of interviews, and before I can see anything what's apparent is the absence of women once again. Of the sixteen names included in the email, three are women: Toni Morrison, Alice Munro and Eudora Welty. But look at the archive index of interviews from 2000 to 2005. That's a long time, a "modern" time, a time when feminism was "post," right? I mean, we were being told that there was no need to continue the shrill banter. But here are the recent numbers: in the five year period between 2000 and 2005 there were 51 interviews, 39 of those with men, 4 being non-white subjects (as far as I can tell...). I know this isn't scientific, but it's irritating.
February 05, 2011
Women and men in the TLS
There are some issues on which, as a normally cautious interviewee, I have always felt strongly - and been happy to talk about to anyone. One of those is the need for newspapers to have writers whose interests are close to those of all its readers. Sometimes, especially at The Times in the 1980s and 1990s, it was necessary to promote some brilliant women writers and editors, against recommendations from male colleagues, in order to make it more likely that this need was fulfilled, At the TLS, while rejecting 50-50 quotas for books and reviewers, I take very seriously the idea that congruence between our writers, readers and subjects is likely to be better than the opposite - not just in gender but in other respects too. So when a reporter from The Guardian caught me on Friday morning to discuss a new American survey on women writers, reviewers and literary editors I was happy to talk. In some ideas of ideal worlds there would be equal numbers ofmen and women writing, reading and reviewing books. If that is an ideal, it is still, like most ideals, still unfulfilled. I expected, as I told the Guardian, that, if any idealist were counting, the TLS would be judged better than others. Without going into details of the London and New York reviews of books, this turned out from the reporter's story to be the case. I also knew, from past attempts to understand this issue, that a big problem was the base figure against which the choice of books for books for review should be judged. If the TLS is the main British reviewer of books on philosophy, eighteenth century literature, nineteeenth century history, ktl, how hard should we try to redress any already existing gender imbalance in writing on those subjects? TLS readers would not, I think, wish us to stray very far from our more important commitment to seek out what was best and commission the best pieces that we can. The Guardian reporter said that women read more books thanmen - and that this might be an issue too. I repeated that it would be useful to know the number of books written by men and women that were in the areas likely to be reviewed by the NYRB , LRB and TLS. There were many popular genres, romantic and certain kinds of historical fiction, for example, that had long been dominated by women writers and readers, which were not much reviewed and would distort a proper comparison. I could - and probably should - have said that there were other genres, little reviewed, that are similarly dominated bymen. As a result, there have been complaints today: was I suggesting that books written and read by women were somewhow inferior? No, It should not need saying. It feels very strange that I should have to be saying that 'no' at all.
Instinctively, one might think that by far the best criticism of two of the greatest short novels in English ("The Turn of the Screw" and "The Scarlet Letter") would be by women. The third great short novel ("Heart of Darkness") is too distinctly male to count. One might (intuitively) have thought that it would have been a sensitive woman who would have pointed out the impossibility of Harold Bloom's reading of Emily Dickinson's "The Tint I cannot take--is best--" (in "The Western Canon"). Surely some woman has come forward to prove that the theme of male renunciation in "Sailing to Byzantium" is bogus? The sound symbolism of that lyric is replete with references to Maud Gonne. For some reason, they would prefer to keep quiet about most of these subjects. Or their contributions are not superior to male ramblings. Even the greatest story or tale: [F. Scott Fitzgerald's Babylon Revisited will be free with The Daily Telegraph on Saturday, February 5, and The Beast In the Jungle by Henry James will be free inside The Sunday Telegraph on February 6.] "The Beast in the Jungle." It must be ideal for a feminine reading.
POSTED BY: CLAYTON BURNS | 6 FEB 2011 05:20:41
Well, if they are short of women reviewers they could try approaching the universities that offer postgraduate English and Creative Writing courses. Perhaps even run a competition...? Literary agents and publishers seem to pay attention to unis. Having just completed a PhD that was 50% critical and 50% creative I expect I could rustle up an accessible yet meaty book review for TLS. Interestingly the majority of Creative Writing PhD students at Lancaster are female. But possibly we're all so busy doing our research and writing, teaching first year students and, er, running homes?! that maybe we don't have the time to be touting for work at the TLS. Whereas, pardon me, perhaps the male cohort do. [Let's also mention Oxbridge and London-centric under our breath too.]
POSTED BY: CATH NICHOLS | 7 FEB 2011 11:19:30
You have to go all the way back to Woolf to give the TLS the barest whiff of a female presence? I think that says it all.
POSTED BY: LH | 14 FEB 2011 16:00:33