It is well-known that there are inequities for women at all stages of their writing careers. (This is valid for other groups but here I’m focussing on gender, although intersectionality will feature).
Catherine Nichols found a scandalously more positive response when sending her novel out under a male pseudonym than when she attributed it to her own name, suggesting if she was a man she would be 8x more likely to be published. Novels with female protagonists are far less likely to win prizes. Anyone who has ever led or attended a creative writing course or group in the UK knows they tend to consist predominantly of women and women buy 2/3 of the books sold here. I expect this is an approximation of the ratio of female-male writers in this country and is probably similar in the the US but would be interested to see statistics regarding numbers submitting work to agents, publishers or journals. Bloodaxe receive twice as many submissions from men (Debbie Taylor, ‘Agenda Mslexia, Are We Cured Yet?‘ , Mslexia, Dec-Feb 16-17, pp5-8). American Journal Tin House identified this might be part of the problem, their research showing women invited to resubmit were 5 x less likely to do so than their male counterparts. This could help to explain why the numbers of professional male and female writers are roughly equal despite the barriers faced by female writers but it doesn’t excuse the fact that books written by women are reviewed far less often than books by men and that most published reviews are written by men. So far there hasn’t been a flurry of reviews for my poetry collection Empires of Clay although my pamphlet Echolocation has received a few. I’d hate to think my gender has anything to do with this but, while the situation is so unequal, how can I be sure?
Browsing male friends’ bookshelves over the years, I have witnessed and commented on an unconscious bias towards male authors – Jane Austen tends to feature and occasionally a Bronte (sigh). I’m happy to say that several of these male reader friends have since been proactive in making shelf space for female authors and in seeking out recommendations of good books by women.
I’m aware of and celebrate the dialogue around these inequalities and the measures being taken to address them, for example by supporters of women’s literature Vida and individuals like Kate Fox but I wanted to contribute in some small way. I plan to review books by women with the hope of widening their platform. For this reason reviews will centre primarily on books published by independent presses as they tend not to receive the attention they deserve.
Post-script – because much of my reading life is determined by the work I do, I am not currently soliciting requests from authors or publishers to review their books. Instead I will choose the novels I most want to read, which will be in a variety of genres. In future I may tackle poetry or theatre but my focus is currently on novels.