The XX Factor

Women Read More Books, but Men Get to Write More Book Reviews

Getting to read is good, but getting to share your opinion is even better.

Photo by Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images

Women read more than men—by a particularly wide margin when it comes to fiction. So why is it that male voices, both as authors and as critics, continue to be given way more authority in the world of book reviewing? A new study out by VIDA, a group dedicated to improving women’s representation in the literary world, shows that while things are improving slowly, men are still way overrepresented when it comes to book reviewing. Hannah Ellis-Petersen at the Guardian reports:

One of the worst culprits was found to be the London Review of Books which featured 527 male authors and critics on their pages in 2014, compared with just 151 women. It also saw a rare drop in reviews of books written by women from the year before, with 14 fewer than in 2013.

The New York Review of Books displayed a similar imbalance, featuring an overall 677 men to 242 women. The New York Times book review featured an overall 909 male contributors and authors, compared with 792 women; The Nation’s male-female split was 469 to 193; and at Harper’s fewer than half the authors reviewed were women.

Erin Belieu, the co-founder of VIDA, emphasized to the Guardian that “our goal has always been consciousness not quotas.” The cultural default is to treat men as voices of authority and wisdom while relegating women to the role of mere consumers whose opinions are given little weight. That problem is not easily reducible to numbers.

Still, surveys like this can help tremendously to highlight how those prejudices are reflected in and perpetuated by the world of book reviewing. A lot of women hesitate to put themselves and their opinions out there, fearing the blowback that comes with being an opinionated woman. But the more women who are seen in public sharing their opinions and being treated with respect and authority, the more the stigma of the opinionated woman recedes. Happily, VIDA found that the number of outlets with increased female representation—including the Slate Book Review—solidly outnumbered those that stayed the same or fell behind.