About a year ago I said I wanted to read more books written by women. This was largely to identify whether or not I was being sexist (unintentionally) in my reading. I tend to interact with books in different ways – some I’ll read parts of some for research, whereas others I’ll blast the whole way through. I had an ambitious “aim for 90% women writers” target for my reading, in which I failed miserably. In my vague record I seriously interacted with just under 50 books for 2013, and ended up with an approximate skewing of 60% male writers to 40% female.
1) For many historical topics (this year’s fascination was on Anglo-Saxons as well as Romans) there are virtually no female writers. It’s so utterly male-dominated you would think it a 19th Century gentlemen’s club, and not publishing in 2013. That’s part of the reason I read more men than women this year.
2) Same goes for British nature writing. It’s absurdly skewed towards men – there are a handful of great female writers (Kathleen Jamie today, Ella Pontefract in yesteryear), but it was hard to find any books not written by men. There are publishers to a great job of bringing back writers of the past, such as Little Toller books. But when their list is 95% men, you get to see the problem isn’t anything new.
3) Sexism is invisible in publishing, for some genres more than others. You might not need to be sexist to reinforce sexism, because it’s such a part of the industry. Perhaps more specifically, women are invisible in some genres of publishing more than others.
4) This is, of course, most certainly not unique to publishing, but many facets of society. Or rather, it is society. Only by making a conscious choice – a quota – could I get close to a balance. But even then some areas of my reading are so dominated by men that it was almost impossible to get balance.
5) Making quotas exposes you to new writers. This is good for so many reasons.
6) Things are just as bad, if not worse, for non-white writers. I dare say that the ethnic diversity of the UK is not reflected in publishing.
7) I’m going to try harder next year. I’m going to actively contact publishers in my own areas of interest and ask them why they aren’t publishing more women writers. Imagine how cool it would be if more people did that?
8) Apologies that this deals with gender in a binary sense.