Vida report: 'Dangerous lens' of male bias remains in literary criticism

Vida report: 'Dangerous lens' of male bias remains in literary criticism

Vida’s latest survey of gender bias in literary criticism has revealed less than half of publications achieved gender equality, with the New York Review of Books halving its coverage of female voices.

The feminist arts organisation has warned that the dominance of white male literary critics “creates a dangerous lens through which the world is viewed”. Its annual survey found showed that female writers accounted for less than 40% of articles and reviews at eight of 15 publications.

Vida, which examines the gender imbalance of both critics and authors whose books are reviewed, examined 15 major literary publications and found that eight failed to reach gender equality last year. These included the London Review of Books at 26.9% female representation, which has improved by a quarter since 2016, the New Yorker at 39.7%, the Times Literary Supplement at 35.9% and the New York Review of Books at 23.3% of its published writers being female - in 2016, 46.9% of contributors had been female.

The TLS, which recently revealed a readership rise of 20%, also published the greatest number of pieces written by nonbinary writers, though this only accounted for 0.1% of the work they published in 2017 - four pieces out of 3,748.

Two publications, Granta and Poetry, published 50% or more female writers, while five featured between 40% and 49.9% women, including Harper’s, the New York Times Book Review and the Paris Review.

The survey revealed that the most improved publication in terms of equal coverage across gender is the Paris Review, which published 35% women in 2016 compared to their 2017 figure of 42.7%.

“This marks a continued upward trend for this literary staple, although 2017 was also marked by the resignation of their editor-in-chief, due to allegations of sexual misconduct,” the report’s authors Amy King and Sarah Clark, Vida board of directors, said. Lorin Stein resigned in December last year following an internal investigation into his behaviour.

King and Clark mentioned other issues which have dominated the landscape since Harvey Weinstein was accused of decades of sexual misconduct last October.

“In this current political climate, amid the #MeToo era, we must ask if abuse and bigotry are anything but the norm in the world of American arts and letters,” the report reads.

“What is 'normal' about the Nobel Prize in Literature being cancelled for this first time since World War II because the Swedish Academy has been unable to resolve sexual harassment and abuse allegations?” Last week it emerged that Jean-Claude Arnault, the French photographer at the centre of the sexual assault allegations which have led to the postponement of this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature, had been charged with rape.

Vida revealed that the total number of writers who completed the VIDA Count survey is up by almost 15 percentage points since 2016, although online coverage is not included.