The sterling people behind the Stella Prize* have updated their 2014 analysis of Australian book reviews. This time they examined The Saturday Paper and Sydney Review of Books to discover which authors are reviewed, and who does the reviewing.
The answers are, sadly, unsurprising. Or perhaps the results are surprising, given that one might expect such good quality publications to be, oh I don’t know, somehow better than that.
Although two-thirds of Australian books published are written by women:
…at both the Sydney Review of Books and The Saturday Paper, the gender of authors reviewed is an almost exact inversion of the overall gender ratio of authors in Australia. At the Sydney Review of Books, 64% of reviews were of male authors; while at The Saturday Paper, 63% of reviews were of male authors.
As was the case with many other publications discussed in the 2014 Stella Count analysis, in the Sydney Review of Books and The Saturday Paper, male reviewers were far more likely to review books by male authors than they were books by female authors. At The Saturday Paper, the gender breakdown of reviewers was 60% male, 40% female … At the Sydney Review of Books, 59% of reviewers were male, and they were more than three times as likely to review male authors as they were to review female authors…
But wait, it gets worse.
At The Saturday Paper, 32% of reviews were of nonfiction books by males, while just 12% were of nonfiction books by females.
The genre breakdown of Sydney Review of Books reviews was similarly lopsided. 33% of total reviews were of nonfiction by male writers, while 12% were of nonfiction by female writers.
There is, however, some small cause for optimism.
The Saturday Paper and Sydney Review of Books have cooperated extensively in the collection of the data analysed in this Count Redux, by providing thorough review indexes to ensure accuracy of information collected. This is a significant action, and is applauded by the Stella Prize … Though there is still much room for improvement – as demonstrated by both publications’ results – the initiation of a conversation about accountability on the part of publications and editors is a vital step in redressing gender disparities in Australian reviewing culture.
As well, the editor of Sydney Review of Books, Catriona Menzies-Pike, has published a lengthy and thoughtful response about the results.
So what does it all mean? I think there is an opportunity for women reviewers, and women who would like to become reviewers, to get their work out into the world. Editors at these two publications but also more widely, are aware of these dismal figures and are, in good faith, attempting to address them. I hope that women reviewers make the editors’ lives easier by pitching, and pitching more often. And I hope that readers make the editors’ lives harder, by constantly asking ‘Where are all the women?’
Because seriously, where are all the women?
BTW I’ve written about The Stella Count before:
*The Stella Prize is a major literary award celebrating Australian women’s writing, and championing diversity and cultural change. The prize is named after one of Australia’s iconic female authors, Stella Maria Sarah ‘Miles’ Franklin, and was awarded for the first time in 2013. Both nonfiction and fiction books by Australian women are eligible for entry.