Mslexia updated their survey of reviews in national newspapers and magazines. In 2000 they found that reviews of books by men outnumbered reviews of books by women by 2 to 1. In 2009, the year a woman won the Man Booker Prize and another woman was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, initial findings were that just 20% of books reviewed were by women although later findings were that books by men outnumbered reviews of books by women by 2 to 1 again. Various reasons have been put forward:-
- Fewer women write the kind of books that get reviewed (maybe the wrong kind of books are getting reviewed?);
- Literary editors can only commission reviews of what they get sent (national newspapers can get sent 400 books per week and it’s statistically highly unlikely that merely 20% of those are by women);
- Men tend not to read women writers (and don’t know what they’re missing);
- Commercial success = literary critics dismiss the work as ‘populist’ and women enjoy more commercial success than men (in certain genres, but that’s because generally women buy and read more books than men because they don’t restrict themselves to reading books not by women).
Naturally the above refers to novels. But the situation isn’t much better in poetry. A group women poets wrote to the editor of Poetry Review, published by the Poetry Society, complaining about the lack of women poets published and reviewed by the magazine, “…At present Poetry Review is not allowing us that space as critics and is ghettoising and diminishing our work as poets because of our gender…”
Poetry Review’s editor counter-complained that women “are disproportionately reluctant to assume literary authority through regular reviewing.” Is that actually true??
When Julia Gaze assembled a new reviewing team for Assent magazine last year, approximately 64% of which are women reviewers. At Sphinx, at least 56% of the review team are women. Iota magazine also has a strong showing of female reviewers – in the last issue there was only one male reviewer.
So why are these not on the Poetry Society’s radar? Couldn’t be that none of them are based in London, could it?