KYD Advent Calendar

KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

From the Editors

Women in Print: An International Women’s Day Discussion

by Jo Case , March 11, 20112 Comments
Left to right: Rebecca Starford, Sophie Cunningham, Monica Dux, Louise Swinn

On the hundredth anniversary of International Women’s Day, over 100 bookish types packed among the shelves of Readings Carlton in Melbourne to hear a panel of Australian literary women talk about the very timely hot topic of the moment – the oft-suspected, recently proven underrepresentation of women in the world of books and writing.

The session was chaired by Rebecca Starford, editor of Kill Your Darlings. Participants were Sophie Cunningham, novelist, former publisher, commentator and recent editor of Meanjin; Louise Swinn, editorial director of Sleepers Publishing and a writer and reviewer; and Monica Dux, The Age opinion writer, author of The Great Feminist Denial.

The conversation began with a sobering reflection on those statistics recently released by VIDA (a relatively new US organisation for women and the arts), which revealed a stark gender bias in the pages of a wide range of literary institutions, including The New Yorker, The London Review of Books, The New York Times Book Review and Granta.

Rebecca Starford presented the findings of her own mini-survey of the current situation in Australia, based on the records of trade magazine Bookseller & Publisher’s weekly supplement, Media Extra, over the first two months of 2011:

In The Age, 133 books were reviewed: 90 authored by men, 43 (or 33%) by women. Of the reviewers of those books, 72 were men, 61 by women.

In The Australian, 88 books were reviewed: 61 authored by men, 27 (or 30%) by women. Of the reviewers, 55 were men, 33 were women

Things were still skewed, but less so, at Australian Book Review. In 2010, 356 books were reviewed: 210 authored by men, 146 (41%) by women. The numbers of reviewers was fairly even. Interestingly, though, only 27% of the books by men were reviewed by women.

At Australian Literary Review, the stats were more damning. From October 2010 to February 2011, 51 books were reviewed: 41 by men; 10 (less than 20%) by women. Of the reviewers, 36 were men; 15 (29%) were women.

One of the explanations commonly offered for this disparity is that men are more willing to put themselves forward than women. Talking to The Book Show recently, (in a segment that was often cited during the night’s discussion), the literary editors of The Australian, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald all mentioned that they receive far more pitches from men than women.

Sleepers Publishing’s Louise Swinn reported that she receives more book-length submissions from men, though the submissions for the annual Sleepers Almanac anthologies of short stories are evenly split between men and women.

Sophie Cunningham, talking about her recent role as editor of Meanjin, had a particularly interesting story to tell – gender ratios “varied wildly” depending on the genre of the submission. “I had to work very hard to make sure that women were properly represented in non-fiction,” she said. “Because in terms of essays received, I was getting a lot more essays by men, if you keep memoir out of it. The pieces by women did tend to be a lot more personal and written out of their own experience.” Looking back on her time at Meanjin, Sophie said that while 52% of the essays overall were by women, 75% of the memoir pieces she published were written by women. (In that time, incidentally, 53% of the fiction and 35% of the poetry was by women.) Speaking specifically about Meanjin’s CAL-sponsored series of essays on cultural institutions, Sophie said it was difficult to find women to write these pieces. “Women often said, I’m not an expert, I don’t know that I’ve got the time, and were generally a lot more diffident about tackling those subjects where they were expected to be fairly aggressive in their analysis.”

Louise backed up Sophie’s point with a quote from Alizah Salario’s piece, ‘Twenty-Three Short Thoughts About Women and Criticism’ on Bookslut: “At her most basic, a good critic must possess a certain amount of chutzpah in order to believe other people will read – and care about – what she has to say. Call them audacious or simply arrogant, critics must have the confidence to write with conviction. They must demonstrate to readers why, of an infinite number of interpretations, theirs speaks a truth (but perhaps not the truth).”

Louise reflected, “I think maybe we’re not always encouraged to think that our experience can be the experience.”

Monica Dux said that though the VIDA statistics are “appalling”, she’s “not actually that surprised”, having spent the last couple of years of her life looking at women’s representation and writing about women. “It’s a reflection of society. I think we have this idea that writing is somehow more transcendent, and that it must be more noble.” She cited the current debate about the underrepresentation on women on boards as an example of where this situation is reflected in the wider world.

“I think that women actually need to push themselves out of their comfort zone, otherwise we’re stuck in this loop,” said Sophie. “I got really frustrated with the number of women who said, I’m not an expert. I tell you what, the men I was ringing up asking to write on subjects weren’t saying, I’m not an expert.” She said that she often tended to use good female non-fiction writers “several times over”, citing Sian Prior and Lorin Clarke as two of her go-to writers. She believes this likely results in her figures being “fairly skewed, in the way I think The New Yorker figures are … I think if you took Susan Orlean out of the mix at The New Yorker, you’d end up with about two [non-fiction women writers].”

Monica agreed with Sophie’s idea about the need for women to push beyond their comfort zones, drawing on her own experience as an opinion writer. “Those first few experiences of sending an unsolicited opinion piece were excruciating. Writing is, by its nature, very much about confidence.” She said she started writing “almost by accident”, as a result of some pro-active female editors who encouraged her. “There are people out there who are looking to publish women. You just need to be persistent and push.”

Louise reflected that, as a writer, she needs to “not take rejection so hard and just keep going”. A seemingly confident and polished public speaker, Louise admitted to being “incredibly nervous” about public speaking, and having done “lots and lots” of public speaking courses, as well as acting and singing classes, in order to feel comfortable performing in public. “At Sleepers, when we’re asking people to do events, we always have to ask two women for every one man,” she said. “You’ve got to start saying yes. And start pitching.”

Sophie said, “The men I’ve worked with – writers like James Bradley, a really fine writer and reviewer – would constantly pitch stuff at me.” She emphasised the effort she consciously put in to achieve gender balance at Meanjin and the importance of “as an editor, as a publisher, taking affirmative action really seriously. Doing the statistics.”

Louise held up a flyer she’d happened upon, for a series of seminars, running over the next few months, on VCE English texts. Of 15 set texts discussed, only two of these were by women. “These are kids going through school and this is what they’re reading,” she said. “And then we tell the girls that their voices are just as worthwhile.”

“I think it’s getting worse,” observed Sophie, pointing to the recent Triple J Hottest 100 furore as an example of the culture we currently inhabit. (For the first time ever, no female solo singers were featured in this list, put together from public votes.) And of course the panel all recalled the infamous “sausage-fest” all-male Miles Franklin shortlist of 2009.

I’ve done my own quick calculations (since the event) on how women have fared in general with the nation’s leading literary prize. Over the course of the Miles Franklin Award – which has run since 1957 – a woman has won 13 times. Three times this was Thea Astley; twice she shared the award (in 2000, with Kim Scott; and in 1963, with George Turner). The Miles has been awarded 50 times in all. Over the past decade (since 2001), two women have won, from the pool of 10 awards.

There’s much more to be discussed around this issue – and hopefully there will be further events and more public discussions. (For instance, on International Women’s Day, Melbourne’s The Wheeler Centre ran a terrific piece by novelist Kirsten Tranter on this very issue.) Perhaps, one year on, we should take another look at the statistics of women in print and see if anything has changed?

Jo Case is associate editor of Kill Your Darlings and books editor of The Big Issue.

(The Book Show also did the sums on the gender split of guests on the show, read the breakdown here)

(Cross-posted from The Book Show Blog.)



  • http://www.betweenthecracks.net Emilie Collyer

    I know there is a multitude of contributing factors. One surely must be the same thing that impacts representation of women in many fields. Writing a novel, pitching and researching non-fiction, these are things that require a lot of time. Women are still the main carers for children and families and main ‘home makers’.

    At the stage in their writing careers when they could and ‘should’ be tackling these big writing projects (ie: been around for a while, have the confidence, something to say, the rigour with which to craft a work) they are often fitting it in around running a home, caring for a family and perhaps some other part time work. I know men do this too, but this issue still affects women much more so than men.

    It is perhaps easier to write shorter, more fragmented pieces of work (poetry, short stories, memoir pieces) when the time you have to devote to writing is also fragmented?

  • Pingback: In Defence of Women-only Literary Awards | Opinion | Lip Magazine()

9508984918_5d8a187fc1_z

Marika Sosnowski

Living Side by Side: Multiculturalism at Home and Abroad

It all seems quite idyllic – people of varying nationalities, religions and cultures coexisting peacefully. It could be a blueprint for the perfect multicultural society. However, there’s something beneath the surface that is troubling to the western notion of modern liberalism. Read more »

9864007066_4a196b364d_z

Tim Robertson

Fear, loathing, and the erosion of civil liberties

The hysteria currently being concocted by Australia’s political leaders is a smokescreen for the more serious threat facing everyone – an attack of the very freedoms and values our nation has been built on. Read more »

308982705_be9f94455b_b

Marika Sosnowski

Back inside: Life on the Syrian-Turkish border

In Turkey, less than 50 kilometres from the border, Syrians have chosen their favourite cafes, have opened Aleppine sweet shops and set up stores in the old city. Read more »

057212e0462005b9_Thumb

Kill Your Darlings

Best of 2014 (Part One): TV, Books, Technology

In the first of a two-part series, our brilliant Killings contributors highlight their top cultural moments of 2014 – in television, books and technology. Read more »

isabelle_cover_grande

Dark Places and Safe Spaces: S.A. Jones’ Isabelle of the Moon and Stars

S.A. Jones’ Isabelle of the Moon and Stars is a powerful and affecting depiction of a young woman struggling with mental illness and emotional turmoil. A book like Isabelle might well be described as the underdog of Australian publishing: a character-focused literary novel published by a small press … Read more »

w527705

Carody Culver

Taking Christmas off the shelf

Ah, Christmas – for some, a time of gift-giving, awkward family gatherings and over-zealous consumption of rum balls; for booksellers, a time to weep silent tears of stress and experience the irrational but persistent fear of being buried alive beneath boxes of the latest Stephen Fry memoir. Read more »

tumblr_naod7i6Sj61tk49ymo1_1280

Kill Your Darlings

Best of 2014 (Part Two): Film, Music, YA Literature, Pop Culture

In the second of a two-part series, our brilliant Killings contributors highlight their top cultural moments of 2014 – in film, music, young adult literature, and pop culture. Read more »

mariah-carey-all-i-want-for-christmas

Julia Tulloh

A SuperFestive Christmas playlist

I know what you’re thinking: lists like this became redundant in 1992, when Jon Bon Jovi rubbed shoulders with Cindy Crawford beneath a Christmas tree for the first and last time. Does the ideal of Christmas music get any better? Perhaps not, but many have tried. Here are a few other Christmassy pop goodies. Read more »

Kim_cover_web_

Julia Tulloh

Kim Kardashian, butts, and the internet

We’re used to seeing her butt, and we’re also used to Kim doing crazy publicity stunts. Her entire life is a publicity stunt in itself, both the means and end of a crazy, money-making, power-acquiring trajectory. Her very fame is built on the playful and shameless self-exposure captured in the Paper shoot. Read more »

tumblr_naod7i6Sj61tk49ymo1_1280

Kill Your Darlings

Best of 2014 (Part Two): Film, Music, YA Literature, Pop Culture

In the second of a two-part series, our brilliant Killings contributors highlight their top cultural moments of 2014 – in film, music, young adult literature, and pop culture. Read more »

Exodus-Gods-and-Kings-Poster-Bale-and-Edgerton-691x1024

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Problems with God: Exodus: Gods & Kings

This is the thing about retellings of old and beloved foundation stories: it’s impossible to come to them fresh, without trying to compare and contrast with previous versions for veracity and style. It’s usually the modern incarnation that comes up short. Read more »

Screen-Shot-2014-10-01-at-11.22.21-AM

Matilda Dixon-Smith

Can too many parts destroy an adaptation? The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

It’s a relief to feel the weight of fidelity lift off an adaptation film, as Mockingjay: Part 1 becomes a meta-exploration of fame, franchise and future. Read more »

057212e0462005b9_Thumb

Kill Your Darlings

Best of 2014 (Part One): TV, Books, Technology

In the first of a two-part series, our brilliant Killings contributors highlight their top cultural moments of 2014 – in television, books and technology. Read more »

3991099211_8397c745fe_b

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Taking up space: The legitimisation of creepshotting

There is a relationship between catcalling and creepshotting. Both are practices that involve the reduction of strangers to objects to be gawked at and commented on, which is what makes the ‘Men Taking Up Too Much Space on the Train’ Tumblr blog interesting and complex. Read more »

IMG_0086

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Pictures of pictures: Monument Valley and the rise of the in-game photographer

Presenting screencapturing a game as a form of camera-free ‘photography’ gives rise to a conceptual issue. If the ‘photographer’ is moving through, and capturing, a world created entirely by others, then who exactly should take the credit for any images created? Read more »

tumblr_naod7i6Sj61tk49ymo1_1280

Kill Your Darlings

Best of 2014 (Part Two): Film, Music, YA Literature, Pop Culture

In the second of a two-part series, our brilliant Killings contributors highlight their top cultural moments of 2014 – in film, music, young adult literature, and pop culture. Read more »

2447663467_2d543e6c87_o

Danielle Binks

Young Adult literature: genre is not readership

YA is not a genre – it is a readership. It may seem like pedantic nitpicking to focus on this distinction, but so pervasive is the mistake, amongst even established literary channels, that explaining the difference has become increasingly important and indeed necessary. Read more »

00page

Danielle Binks

Disability or superpower? Deaf identity in YA

‘We actually need more stories about deaf and hard of hearing characters and for their experiences to be shared in stories. Often, young readers believe they are ‘alone’ in their deafness and do not realise that there are many others like them.’ Read more »

tumblr_naod7i6Sj61tk49ymo1_1280

Kill Your Darlings

Best of 2014 (Part Two): Film, Music, YA Literature, Pop Culture

In the second of a two-part series, our brilliant Killings contributors highlight their top cultural moments of 2014 – in film, music, young adult literature, and pop culture. Read more »

mariah-carey-all-i-want-for-christmas

Julia Tulloh

A SuperFestive Christmas playlist

I know what you’re thinking: lists like this became redundant in 1992, when Jon Bon Jovi rubbed shoulders with Cindy Crawford beneath a Christmas tree for the first and last time. Does the ideal of Christmas music get any better? Perhaps not, but many have tried. Here are a few other Christmassy pop goodies. Read more »

drake-cover-650

Justin Wolfers

Drake’s climate change epiphany

Or: ‘Heat of the Moment’ as an epiphany in which Drake realises the urgency and importance of acting on climate change Read more »

057212e0462005b9_Thumb

Kill Your Darlings

Best of 2014 (Part One): TV, Books, Technology

In the first of a two-part series, our brilliant Killings contributors highlight their top cultural moments of 2014 – in television, books and technology. Read more »

??????????????????????

Stephanie Van Schilt

Lady Bosses on the Box

An increasing number of female-driven comedies, dramas or melodramas are popping up on our screens. Through the filters of fiction, the worlds these heroines inhabit directly reflect our own. This is the age of the lady boss. Read more »

105768385_5672eae965_z

Stephanie Van Schilt

Bananas without pyjamas? Budgets cuts and the next generation of ABC kids

From my humble beginnings watching kids’ programming, I learnt that ‘Your ABC’ was indeed, our ABC. The protests and public outcry which followed this week’s announcement of cuts to the ABC demonstrate its crucial role in fostering a sense of community for Australians. Read more »