Gender Bias comes in all flavorsPosted: September 9, 2010
The one thing that really irks me about a lot of progressives is they seem to think that they don’t suffer from the same kinds of biases as the ‘ordinary’ folk. I’m not sure if it’s the blue ribbon universities degrees or just the institutional stuffiness that comes with even the most forward-looking tribal packs, people bring their frames to their jobs and all social interactions. Let’s just send out blessings to the people that unmask them with empirical studies.
TNR senior editor Ruth Franklin has been watching a literati shoot out at at the NYT and covers a Salon analysis of their bias towards women writers. Surprise, surprise–not– the Gray Lady treats women authors differently. Women write romance novels, men write serious fiction. Doesn’t the rest of the world know that?
Franzenfreude, Franzen feud, Franzen frenzy: This literary squabble, one of the most fraught in recent years, isn’t over. It started two weeks ago when Jodi Picoult, peeved that the Times had given Freedom two glowing reviews in one week, gently tweaked (should that be tweeked?) the paper via Twitter: “Is anyone shocked? Would love to see the NYT rave about authors who aren’t white male literary darlings.” Jennifer Weiner, the author of best-sellers (apparently we aren’t supposed to call these books chick lit anymore) like Good in Bed and In Her Shoes, soon weighed in on Picoult’s side: “I think it’s a very old and deep-seated double standard that holds that when a man writes about family and feelings, it’s literature with a capital L, but when a woman considers the same topics, it’s romance, or a beach book—in short, it’s something unworthy of a serious critic’s attention.” Names were called (Lorin Stein accused both women of “fake populism”), Franzen was defended (sometimes in bizarre ways, as in this piece on the Forward blog), and the fracas continued.
Here’s some of the information gleaned by DoubleXStaff who analyzed the NYT’s books section.
The bookish blogosphere continues to debate whether the New York Times—and, by extension, other cultural gatekeepers—really does give white male fiction writers preferential coverage over authors of the distaff and ethnic variety.
Other groups have looked into the Times’ record on reviewing political books (95 percent male) and crime novels (66 percent male). And there’s a slightly older study from Brown that concluded that 72 percent of all books reviewed in the Times Book Review were written by men. (You can see the full Brown paper at this cached link here). But so far, no one’s taken an extended look at the paper of record’s general fiction coverage. So we decided to gather some statistics in order to determine whether the Times‘ book pages really are a boys’ club.
Here’s summary of their spreadsheet.
Of the 545 books reviewed between June 29, 2008 and Aug. 27, 2010:
—338 were written by men (62 percent of the total)
—207 were written by women (38 percent of the total)
Of the 101 books that received two reviews in that period:
—72 were written by men (71 percent)
—29 were written by women (29 percent)
What does this tell us? These overall numbers pretty well line up with what other studies have found: Men are reviewed in the Times far more often than women. One crucial bit of information missing, of course, is the percentage of all published adult fiction that has been written by men vs. women. As for the double reviews, men seem to get them twice as often as women.
Yup, I’d say that rates as another example of a boy’s club. Whenever there’s a few men in the room, eventually everything becomes about them. They still hate playing with girls if there’s a chance they’re going to get shown up. Eventually, alpha males will muscle it out in every pack of animals; wild or civilized.