One of the best things about retirement for me is being able to listen to Radio National in the morning. For you overseas readers, Radio National is the national radio station of our national broadcaster, the ABC, Aunty, or, if you want to be formal, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Here is the usual morning line-up:
- 0830: a Report of some sort: the Health Report on Monday, the Law Report on Tuesday, Rear Vision (a look at matters historical) on Wednesday, Future Tense (change) on Thursday, and Movie Time on Friday.
- 0900: Life Matters: a wide-ranging interview program devoted to current issues relating to social change and social policy, the things that affect our day-to-day lives such as education, health, the environment, and so on.
- 1000: The Book Show: all things book-ish
- 1100: Bush Telegraph: things rural and regional
The Book Show is of course of particular interest to me, and today’s show is a good example. It started with a discussion of the Blake Dawson Prize for Business Literature through an interview with Australian business and sports journalist Gideon Haigh who has won the prize in the past. I pricked my ears up for this one as I hadn’t really thought about business writing until I read Kate Jennings last year. Jennings though focused on business fiction. This prize considers the whole gamut of business writing, most of which is non-fiction. Haigh, for example, won in 2006 with his book Asbestos House about James Hardie Industries and the history of its dealings with asbestos (a topic well-known to Australians). Corporate histories (authorised and unauthorised) are not high on my reading priority, but this interview convinced me that I should not dismiss them (nor other types of business writing) cavalierly.
The next spot in the program was about the recent VIDA report on gender in book writing and reviewing. It shows a strong gender imbalance in both authors reviewed by and who does the reviewing at some of the top literary magazines in the US and UK – like Granta, the London Review of Books, the New York Times Book Review and so on. The Book Show decided to check out the situation in Australia and so approached three of Australia’s top literary editors: Susan Wyndham of the Sydney Morning Herald, Jason Steger of The Age and Steven Rommei of The Australian. These three (two men and one woman) did not do a thorough survey of their respective papers but they all found a gender bias, albeit not as pronounced as VIDA had found (which may be accurate or may be due to their less rigorous methodology). They admitted to not being fully aware of their own unconscious (until now) skewed practices – such as, for example, always offering serious history books to a male reviewer. It’s gobsmacking really just how ingrained this gender stuff is!
The problem, though, is less in the methodology than in interpreting the results – as the literary editors above discussed and as The Reading Ape raised in his post on the topic last week. There are so many questions to ask, such as:
- are fewer women authors published than men and, if so, why?
- are the books women write less likely to be reviewed by the mainstream literary papers and journals and, if so, why? (One person suggested that women write more genre books?)
- are there fewer women reviewers because they are less likely to put themselves forward as reviewers?
- who are the literary editors (and their “bosses”), particularly in terms of gender, and what drives their practices?
- how does the literary culture establishment’s bias (as shown in VIDA’s figures) relate to reading practices in terms of who actually buys and reads the books?
And then there’s the question about us, the bloggers: Who are we, in terms of gender? What are we reading and reviewing? What influence do we have?
(After all this, dare I admit that 60% of the authors I’ve reviewed here to date are male?)