Is there Gender Bias in Book-Reviews?
Gender bias in the book-review world has been the hot topic in the past few months. It all started when Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult called out the New York Times for reviewing more male writers than female. They’re correct: in the past two years, 60% of NYT reviews have been of books written by men. The situation is even worse in many other newspapers. NPR talks to male writers 70% of the time. A media firestorm inevitably followed, with many writers taking the opposing viewpoints that women writers receive more space in magazines (this is not technically true), and that writers like Weiner and Picoult sell enough books already and don’t need the New York Time’s endorsement (though in that case, why does the paper bother reviewing bestsellers like- in the most oft used example- Jonathan Franzen? And what about unknown female writers?)
To me, the issue boils down to the fact that male writers are often perceived as more legitimate and literary. Certainly, I have never seen a bookstore that has a “Guy Lit” section, but “Chick Lit” sections abound everywhere. In fact, Open Books shelves both Weiner and Picoult in our Chick Lit section. Why? Because the section sells well, and customers have been trained to look there for Weiner and Picoult by reviews, bookstores, and even the books’ own publishers. In fact, Chick Lit isn’t a reviewer or bookstore term- it’s a publishing term. Still, are we part of the problem?
Then again- is Chick Lit such a bad thing? There’s certainly nothing wrong with books that deal with women finding a career and love. However, Chick Lit books have a reputation for “fluff and frippery”, and like it or not, shelving a female author there can serve to de-legitimize her even as it makes her books easier to find. One thing I know for sure is that dismissing many women as less legitimate is a dangerous precedent, and could lead to extremely good books having a harder time getting published. There are likely as many women writers as there are male, and their books should be reviewed in equal proportion and in equal seriousness.
I’d love to hear your thoughts!