A new study of literary publications finds that men remain the majority of book reviewers and authors reviewed, but the gap is narrowing.
VIDA, otherwise known as Women in Literary Arts, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that The New Republic and Harper’s were among those showing notable increases in the representation of women in their book coverage. VIDA chair Amy King said the report showed some “upticks worth noting,” but also cautioned against possible backlash that “happens with increased awareness.”
“We see regular improvements, some large and some incremental, which makes us cautiously optimistic; however even great strides seem to also regularly take one or two steps back,” said King, noting, for instance, that men outnumbered women by 2-to-1 for The Paris Review’s book coverage in 2015. Two years earlier, the ratio was nearly even.
VIDA (www.vida.org) sparked an extensive debate in the book world when it released its first study, in 2011, showing vast disparities between men and women at such elite and politically liberal publications as The New Yorker, Harper’s and The New York Review of Books, where more than 80 percent of the reviewers in 2010 were men and a similar percentage of the books were written by men. As in previous years, the current charts were compiled by a team of VIDA volunteers.
In an email to The Associated Press, Paris Review editor Lorin Stein said that year-to-year changes in gender representation were a matter of “about a dozen poems in one column or the other, a handful of stories.” He noted that the magazine has given four of its last five Plimpton Prizes for fiction, awarded to outstanding new writers who have appeared in the magazine, to women: Emma Cline, Ottessa Moshfegh, April Ayers Lawson and Amie Barrodale.
“But that’s not why those women got the prize,” he said. “They got it because they were the best new voices in the magazine. That’s just how we work.”
He also cited the online Paris Review Daily, which, he said, consistently publishes more work by women.
“Again — and I want to stress this — we’re not counting heads. It just works out that way,” he said.
At The New Republic, just nine books reviewed in 2010 were by women, compared with 55 by men. In 2015, a year marked by numerous staff changes amid contention with owner Chris Hughes, 24 books reviewed were by women and 19 by men. At The New York Times Book Review, the number of women book reviewers jumped from 295 in 2010 to 475 last year, six higher than the total of male book reviewers.
At Harper’s, the byline gap between men and women narrowed from 65-13 in 2010 to 64-50 in 2015. “Harper’s overall numbers reflect editor Christopher Beha’s public commitment to improvement,” King said.
At The New York Review of Books, the man-woman ratio for reviewers has changed just slightly, from 200-39 in 2010 to 216-52 last year. The disparity at The New Yorker also has become smaller, although male bylines are still far more common, 453-232, compared with a nearly 3-1 margin in 2011.
The New Yorker’s editorial director, Henry Finder, called the numbers “sobering.” He added that he was “pretty hopeful” the results for 2016 “will look less unequal.”
Vida defines its mission as increasing “critical attention to contemporary women’s writing as well as further transparency around gender equality issues in contemporary literary culture.”