Thursday, June 20, 2013

Gender Bias in Book Reviews

A few months ago, I was listening to my favorite book podcast, Books on the Nightstand, and was intrigued when they talked about an annual survey conducted by an organization called VIDA on gender bias in book publishing and reviewing. The results of their 2012 annual count are interesting. They looked at different publications that review books and counted how many reviewers are female and how many male, as well as the gender of the authors they reviewed (and sometimes other data, depending on the publication).

Although a quick glance at the results might lead you to the conclusion that there is a significant gender bias in publishing, I noticed that in almost every case, the gender of the reviewers matches up pretty closely with the gender of the authors of books reviewed. In other words, female reviewers review more books written by women, and male reviewers tend to review more books written by men. This wouldn't be much of a problem, then, except that in the highest echelons of book reviews (The NYT, Harper, The Atlantic, etc.), the reviewers are almost always overwhelmingly male! That's the part of the survey I found interesting...and discouraging since I am a woman who writes book reviews and would love to be published in some of these prestigious publications. Also, I find it interesting that the vast majority of book bloggers are women. That means that, once again, the men are earning all the money and prestige in the field, while the women often work for peanuts (or nothing). No offense, guys - the data doesn't lie!

Books On the Nightstand took a look at the survey and at their own reviews and found they were pretty even between male and female authors. So, I decided to do my own count, with my list of books read in 2012. The results?

In 2012, I read 33 books written by female authors (52%) and 28 (44%) written by male authors (2 were uncertain due to initials or foreign names), lending credence to my theory that we tend to read more authors of our own gender. I also counted up the genders of the narrators or main characters of the books I read in 2012: 27 were female (43%), 19 were male (30%), and 17 (27%) had multiple points of view, with both male and female characters. So, again, my reading skewed slightly toward the female side. Though I was intrigued by how many books now present multiple points of view.

What do you think of all this? Do the most prestigious publications need to review more books by female authors? Hire more female reviewers?  Do you read more of one gender than another? Let me know what you think!


  1. I've never run my stats because I don't keep very good reading stats, but estimate it would be about 50/50 male to female authors for me. It seems generally true that male authors and reviewers get more respect in the general media than women do.