Despite the social and political gains women have made in the developed world over the last century, contemporary female writers are still being told by their publishers that ‘more people will read authors who are men than are women’.1 Anecdotal evidence suggests such thinking continues to pervade the publishing industry.2 Joanna Rowling, whose Harry Potter series placed her on Forbes’s billionaire list, was famously advised by her publisher to use her initials J.K. in order to ensure her appeal to young male readers. Feminist poet and columnist Katha Pollit argued that ‘the kind of rapturous high-cultural reception given to writers who are white and male and living in Brooklyn’3 is rarely accorded to women writers, because it is assumed they only address ‘stereotypically feminine topics’ such as the family, whereas male authors who write about the family are considered to be writing about ‘the human condition’. Evidence from the organization for Women in the Literary Arts (VIDA) suggests women’s writing is also less likely to be reviewed by significant literary outlets. Since 2009 the ‘VIDA Count’ has tracked the number of male and female authors reviewed in significant literary journals in America and Britain. Although the count does not include data on submission by gender, the gender disparities in reviews and reviewers are still striking. In prestigious publications such as the New York Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, the London Review of Books, and the New Yorker, more than 70% of the books reviewed in 2013 were authored by men. The gender imbalance extended to critics, with many outlets featuring four times more male reviewers than female reviewers. The 2013 VIDA Count showed some signs of progress, noting that a few periodicals such as the New York Times Book Review had increased the proportion of female authors reviewed from 33% to 41%. Given the extensive media interest in the VIDA Count and the encouragement of visitors to the website to contact editors to express their disappointment about gender ratios, this may suggest the way the Internet is enabling efforts to focus attention and action on gender inequalities in the publishing industry.
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