Male writers still dominate book reviews and critic jobs, Vida study finds

The annual Vida count of authors across the world suggests about two-thirds of those published, and the critics who review them, are men – but their intersectionality survey is less conclusive

The 2016 Vida count has been released and it demonstrates yet again that the media can’t seem to locate enough female writers. Every year Vida – the New York-based organisation for Women in Literary Arts - counts the writers featured in dozens of literary journals and periodicals across the world, and finds that the authors represented, and the critics who are evaluating those authors, are consistently about two thirds men. For the second year, the survey also looks into “intersectional” data, and analyses factors such as ethnicity, sexuality and disability, as well.

Once again, the London Review of Books “has the worst gender disparity”, with women representing only 18% of reviewers and 26% of authors reviewed. The LRB’s figures have remained more or less consistent since the first Vida count in 2010, despite the publication telling the author Kathryn Heyman in 2013: “… there’s no question that despite the distress it causes us that the proportion of women in the paper remains so stubbornly low, the efforts we’ve made to change the situation have been hopelessly unsuccessful. We’ll continue to try – the issue is on our minds constantly.”

Other publications have done somewhat better. The New York Times Book Review has made consistent progress towards parity since the survey began, with reviewers currently evenly split, and authors reviewed at 44% women. Granta published more women than men for the first time since 2010, with 38 female bylines to 37 male. And in the Times Literary Supplement women wrote 38% of reviews but were the authors of only 29% of the books reviewed.

Vida’s intersectional results show relatively few writers of colour are working at literary journals – but the small sample sizes only highlight some of the difficulties in drawing accurate conclusions from self-reported surveys. For instance, the survey seems to show that 56% of contributors to Granta have a disability – but the data shows that only nine people answered one particular question about disabilities, with five of them reporting having “one or more disabilities or impairments”. And in a different question – “Do you identify as a person with a disability, only one person (11%) answered “yes”, one “no”, and one chose “I am unsure”; the other six (67%) did not respond. To the question “what is your sexual identity?”, three Granta contributors answered “straight/heterosexual”, one person “lesbian”, one “pansexual”, one “a sexuality not listed”, one did not respond and one ticked “multiple options”. Meanwhile, in the category described as “writers of colour”, two contributors to the London-based Times Literary Supplement identified themselves as “indigenous”. But indigenous to where? (Vida did not respond to the Guardian’s questions about the methodology, but does acknowledge: “The Vida Count is a work-in-progress and is heavily reliant on self-identification. We are learning, and we are listening.”)

“Now we are a year into ‘Making America Great Again’ and can see how these implied values are playing out”, wrote Vida in a statement, going on to describe “an unabashed war on women, alongside the systemic erasure of non-binary and trans people”. The organisation sees its role as “[shining] a light, exposing publishers’ biased publication rates so that discrimination might be more than just a feeling, so that writers, educators, and consumers might hold those publishers accountable for their omissions”, and hopes that this annual exposure will push publications to become more representative. Perhaps by the time the 2017 survey is reported, that distressing “proportion of women” will be less stubborn.


Katy Guest

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Male writers continue to dominate literary criticism, Vida study finds
Women buy two-thirds of books sold but magazine coverage is centred on men – though picture is beginning to change

Hannah Ellis-Petersen

07, Apr, 2015 @2:00 AM

Article image
Brought to book: when publishers go to court
A writer has just won a legal battle with Marvel and DC, but how do publishers usually fare in the courts?

John Dugdale

28, May, 2016 @1:00 PM

Article image
‘The greatest literary editor there has ever been’ – John Banville remembers Robert Silvers
The death this week of the New York Review of Books editor marks the loss of one of publishing’s most brilliant minds

John Banville

23, Mar, 2017 @6:00 PM

Article image
Pay-back time for publishers: authors forced to return their advances
This week, it emerged that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies author Seth Grahame-Smith was being sued by his publisher to return his advance. From Julian Assange to Amy Schumer, he isn’t alone...

John Dugdale

02, Sep, 2016 @9:00 AM

Article image
May, Balls, Clegg, Clarke: it is political biography season
As scores of politicians line up to release books, the first Theresa May biography is set to reveal far less racy details than David Cameron’s...

Jane Merrick

03, Sep, 2016 @12:00 PM

Article image
Why big publishers are ‘shying away’ from Theresa May
Small publishing houses have been snapping up deals for a biography of the new PM, so when will the traditional political publishers join the race?

Katy Guest

15, Jul, 2016 @1:59 PM

Article image
No journalist had a deeper sense of history than Ian Jack | Donald Macintyre
Endlessly curious and knowledgeable, the Guardian columnist was renowned for his interest in the industrial working class from which he came

Donald Macintyre

29, Oct, 2022 @4:56 PM

Article image
London Review of Books: An Incomplete History review – 40 years of the LRB
Rants, spats and intellectual seriousness from London’s literary elite

John Mullan

01, Nov, 2019 @10:00 AM

Article image
Writers' refuge network celebrates 10 years of finding safe havens
ICORN, the network that offers residences to writers at risk, has celebrated its 10th birthday in Paris

John Keenan

09, Apr, 2016 @2:00 PM

Article image
Calling all BAME writers: entries open for the 2017 prize
The BAME short story prize that reaches out to black, Asian and minority ethnic writers is now open for this year’s entries

Sian Cain

04, Feb, 2017 @12:00 PM