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.
“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 Stothard
Here’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.
Books, books, dying on the vine, July 2010
Two posts on the Paris Review:
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 30, 2005
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
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2007
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.
Here’s a post from Stothard who has to go all the way back to Virginia Woolf to find an image of a woman to support his comments.
February 05, 2011
Women and men in the TLS
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.
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.
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.]
I think that says it all.