I don’t tend to pay a lot of attention to the "mainstream" literary market — I’m too busy jumping from the world of tech journalism to that of speculative fiction and back again — but occasionally I find that something has brought it to my notice. Usually, it’s yet another "science fiction is not literature and therefore not worth anyone’s notice" rant that various literary figures seem to feel are necessary now and again, perhaps to keep their creds legit.
This time, however, an organization called VIDA: Women in Literary Arts has issued their annual comparison of male to female reviewers, and male to female authors reviewed, as represented in the major literary journals: the Boston Review, Granta, Harper’s, London Review of Books, New Republic, New York Review of Books, NY Times Book Review, Poetry, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, the Paris Review, Threepenny Review, and the Times Literary Supplement.
VIDA itself doesn’t mince words; according to the blog entry which introduces the numbers:
Improvements will happen with effort, not accidentally or by ignoring the glaring disparities. Astute editors and reviewers at major and small press publications are finally acknowledging the weight and responsibilities of their career-shaping roles. They are paying attention and implementing practices that evidence conscientious decision-making. They are beginning to showcase a wider swath of the writing field and the deserving writers within. Obviously, the not-so-astute are sitting this one out. As our frustration over the worsening numbers carries on, we might think we have little to no ability to help them along. But we do.
The charts are fascinating, especially those that compare the numbers this year to those of the last two years. Some publications, like the Boston Review, show distinct recognition of both male and female writers; in 2012, it had 8 female reviews and 12 male reviews, and of the books reviewed, 14 were by female authors and 15 by male authors.
This is in contrast to publications like Harpers or New Republic; in 2012, the latter had 9 female reviewers and 79 male reviewers, while the authors whose books were reviewed skewed the same way: 16 female, 80 male.
Without getting into the discussion about gender parity vs. quality (oh, what the hell — go ahead if you want to!), it seems fairly obvious from VIDA’s count that the number of female reviewers a publication uses will have an effect on the number of books by female authors it reviews. I don’t think there was one publication mentioned where there wasn’t a fairly obvious correlation between the two.
In other words: If you have more women reviewing literature, you will have more books by women being considered literature — at least, by the journals that run the reviews.
So what does that mean for speculative fiction writers — if anything? Has anybody ever made a similar comparison of mainstream science fiction reviewers vs. the authors reviewed?