Questions No Avid Book Reader Really Frets About…

A week after publishing ‘The Public Voice of Women’, Mary Beard’s lecture on the silencing of women throughout history, the London Review of Books issued a pre-emptive defence of their own editorial policy on women contributors.

The statement went out on an episode of Radio 4’s Open Book in which presenter Mariella Frostrup asked why women writers are reviewed less, and write fewer reviews, than their male counterparts.

Who really cares about this sort of stuff? Do book readers? I’m one, and I can’t say I care who writes a book (or reviews it), so long as it’s good.

The LRB declined to participate in the discussion but issued, in Frostrup’s words, “a rather lengthy statement”.

This statement (transcribed for her website by Viv Groskop) rallied (sic) against those who monitor the sex of writers and reviewers in the literary press: “Counting is a feminist weapon. ‘How many women are on the board?’ ‘How many women are in Parliament?’ ‘How many women are in the LRB this fortnight?’

A perfect reply!

But then, they went and spoiled it but adding ‘…and we agree, and we’ll stop beating our wives, we promise, it’s just that everyone else does it too!’:

Over the history of the LRB 82% of the articles have been written by men and 18% by women. None of the editors – count them, four men and five women – are proud of that. We need to do better.”

They stressed that the imbalance between men and women in the LRB was “down to more than editorial whim”.

“Women send fewer pitches to the LRB. They often prefer not to write critically about other women. They are under-represented among historians of the second world war, particle physicists and macro economists.”

And really, none of that should matter either. So long as there are no barriers to them doing any of that – no genuine barriers, that is, not imaginary ones – then that’s all that should matter.

Perhaps the reason they were a bit quick on the draw is that it was also almost time for their annual social media thrashing. Since 2011, the American organisation VIDA has been monitoring the ratio of men to women writers in the literary press.

Along with the Atlantic, Granta, the TLS, the New York Review of Books and many others, their selection always includes the LRB and, frankly, it always comes off terribly.

And it should simply shrug, and say ‘So what?’.

According to VIDA’s figures for 2013, released this week, the Paris Review of Books achieved 50/50 coverage of men and women in 2013 – that’s up from a measly 20% women v 80% men in 2012.

The New York Times Book Review has managed a similar improvement and smaller publications are following suit or, in the case of Tin House, leading the way when it comes to gender equality.

And…has any of this increased their readership or made their book reviews any better?

Because, if the answer’s ‘No’…

10 comments for “Questions No Avid Book Reader Really Frets About…

  1. john in cheshire
    March 22, 2014 at 9:30 am

    The attitude and behaviour of these people would suggest they are in some way insane, unless one considers that they are part of the drive to destroy Western, Christian civilisation. Every assault on normal thought is yet another bullet that they use in their self-declared war. The more I read about such matters; perhaps starting with the French Revolution, or maybe the English Revolution since we killed our King first; through the Russian Revolution, the World Wars, to the recent and current destruction of countries, there is a pattern of cruelty and brutality that bears no relationship with our Christian civilisation. I’d suggest that none of this is necessary; and if these agitators, who seem to have endless time on their hands (the devil makes work for idle hands is apposite in this instance) might better occupy themselves with looking after their own family, relatives, friends and neighbourhoods (again, the aphorism look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves, springs to mind).

    • March 23, 2014 at 6:52 am

      I don’t think they need ‘endless time on their hands’ any more. So many of them seem to find actual paid employment at this!

  2. ivan
    March 22, 2014 at 10:52 am

    As you say Julia, does it matter what the gender of the author is, for me the content is what matters.

    I read books, lots of them, and they are all selected by content, not by author. The only time I look at the name of the author is if I am going to a book shop and only then if I am looking for another book of a series by that author.

    I agree with John, all these rants are nothing more than than the swivel eyed left wing loony liberal extremists trying to destroy our civilisation for some reason I have never been able to work out.

  3. Mudplugger
    March 22, 2014 at 2:39 pm

    Wouldn’t dream of even reading a blog writted by a mere woman.

    Oh, wait a minute……

    • March 23, 2014 at 6:48 am

      Whew! 😉

  4. Brightside Bob
    March 22, 2014 at 7:20 pm

    I’m not a literary expert, but, given that some authors use a pseudonym how do you know the true gender of the author anyway?

    • March 23, 2014 at 6:50 am

      One of my favourite authors is Julian May. I think I was into her fourth book before I realised that this was a woman, despite the name.

  5. Junican
    March 22, 2014 at 9:17 pm

    What really annoys me is the jargon that these people use. Are these people not supposed to be authors? If they were, then they would be very aware of the clichés.
    I have a distinct impression of trouble-makers!

  6. March 23, 2014 at 12:45 am

    Whine, women and song. There should be articles by feminists asking why it is that every entertainment programme has an under-dressed woman singing. Women CAN sing with their clothes on, I am told, although all too often they are forced to bare large areas of their bodies by wicked (male) Directors, even when we in the audience just want to hear their lovely voices. Indeed sometimes these poor, struggling young women have to go on stage in just their underwear. It is scandalous. It doesn’t happen with chaps. Even quite well known women singers are forced to wear just old fashioned pointy bras and leather knickers without any vestige of a dress in sight.

    But do you hear the feminists call out against it? Not a peep. It is as though they want it that way. Even when they ‘protest’ in the street, feminists take their clothes off. Can you even imagine a nicely dressed group of ladies doing a ‘slut-walk’? No. It is de rigwotsit to strip off, and not a male choreographer in sight. Not even a gay one. Do you hear them demanding equal rights for men to appear on stage in their jock-straps? NO.

    Perhaps if the book review shows encouraged women to sit and be interviewed in their underwear they might get better audiences and far more ladies offering their wares for review..

  7. March 23, 2014 at 6:55 am

    “It is scandalous. It doesn’t happen with chaps.”

    True. Though I do wonder why poor Tom Jones could never find trousers in his right size… 😈

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