In a small but very positive step for gender equality in publishing, literary publications are including more female reviewers this year than in any of the six before it. It's no secret that white male authors get the most representation and the most awards — and the fact that the vast majority of reviewers in major literary publications are white men themselves plays no small part in this. But this year, there has finally been a dramatic increase — and female reviewers and authors are finding more much-deserved space on literary pages.
Over the last six years, Vida has been taking a survey of book reviewers and their gender — and has found that while smaller independent publications have a much more even gender divide, the major publications are very one-sided. That is, until this year. At Harper's, bylines by women have increased by a substantial 11 percentage points, bringing reviews by women to 38 percent of the total (still not great!), and at Poetry magazine, bylines by women have reached 49 percent. Women make up 45 percent of the reviewers at The New York Times Book Review and The New Republic; the latter is particularly dramatic as just last year, women only took a measly 27 percent of the space.
So there's been some serious improvements in terms of getting more bylines for female reviewers, but the state of things still isn't quite fair. And as author Jennifer Weiner (who has been very vocal on this topic for a long time) pointed out, "the push for diversity should not begin and end with more opportunity for straight white women with MFAs." Unsurprisingly, Vida's report, which for the first time this year looked at race, ethnicity, sexual identity and ability, did highlight that straight, able-bodied, white women were the best represented. For example, six of the 15 major publications reviewed by Vida did not include any bylines by disabled women writers. That's really, really not good.
Still, it's great that Vida have expanded their survey to look more closely at the imbalances — and hopefully this scrutiny will trigger the major literary publications to include more diverse authors and reviewers on their pages.