A week after publishing ‘The Public Voice of Women’, Mary Beard’s lecture on the silencing of women throughout history, the London Review of Books issued a pre-emptive defence of their own editorial policy on women contributors.
The statement went out on an episode of Radio 4’s Open Book in which presenter Mariella Frostrup asked why women writers are reviewed less, and write fewer reviews, than their male counterparts.
Who really cares about this sort of stuff? Do book readers? I’m one, and I can’t say I care who writes a book (or reviews it), so long as it’s good.
The LRB declined to participate in the discussion but issued, in Frostrup’s words, “a rather lengthy statement”.
This statement (transcribed for her website by Viv Groskop) rallied (sic) against those who monitor the sex of writers and reviewers in the literary press: “Counting is a feminist weapon. ‘How many women are on the board?’ ‘How many women are in Parliament?’ ‘How many women are in the LRB this fortnight?’
A perfect reply!
But then, they went and spoiled it but adding ‘…and we agree, and we’ll stop beating our wives, we promise, it’s just that everyone else does it too!’:
Over the history of the LRB 82% of the articles have been written by men and 18% by women. None of the editors – count them, four men and five women – are proud of that. We need to do better.”
They stressed that the imbalance between men and women in the LRB was “down to more than editorial whim”.
“Women send fewer pitches to the LRB. They often prefer not to write critically about other women. They are under-represented among historians of the second world war, particle physicists and macro economists.”
And really, none of that should matter either. So long as there are no barriers to them doing any of that – no genuine barriers, that is, not imaginary ones – then that’s all that should matter.
Perhaps the reason they were a bit quick on the draw is that it was also almost time for their annual social media thrashing. Since 2011, the American organisation VIDA has been monitoring the ratio of men to women writers in the literary press.
Along with the Atlantic, Granta, the TLS, the New York Review of Books and many others, their selection always includes the LRB and, frankly, it always comes off terribly.
And it should simply shrug, and say ‘So what?’.
According to VIDA’s figures for 2013, released this week, the Paris Review of Books achieved 50/50 coverage of men and women in 2013 – that’s up from a measly 20% women v 80% men in 2012.
The New York Times Book Review has managed a similar improvement and smaller publications are following suit or, in the case of Tin House, leading the way when it comes to gender equality.
And…has any of this increased their readership or made their book reviews any better?
Because, if the answer’s ‘No’…