3 Sally MacEachern discusses 'Reviewing the Reviews'
There was a general feeling that there were fewer women authors reviewed particularly in newspapers and prestigious things like the Times Literary Supplement, that there were probably fewer female reviewers, and that where women were reviewed they were quite often put not as the lead review but in a group towards the bottom of the page. And we wanted to get hard statistics to prove that our suspicions were correct.
Why was it a problem?
Well we felt that it was having an impact right at the beginning from authors onwards, that women were not getting a fair crack at the whip, in terms of getting published, getting reviewed, getting bought, getting publicity. And we felt that by doing this we might make a difference in the way literary editors viewed things and that it might possibly make a difference to the way women were treated.
We knew that it would require a lot of monitoring of publications, drawing up suitable questionnaires and generally putting the research in a sort of academic way. So I think we had about 30-odd publications that I think we must have monitored for probably about a year. We interviewed four authors. We got bookshops involved in the sense that how influential were reviews anyway in terms of impact not being reviewed was having.
We sent questionnaires to literary editors as to how they decided what books to review, and to just kind of get a feeling of sort of why they made the choices they did. A lot of them felt that they had no bias whatsoever, whereas our research showed that they definitely did. And some said that they had a lot more difficulty finding women reviewers, but I don’t know how much effort they made. In all cases they had limited space for their books and they felt that some of the more weighty books were being written by men and therefore they had to have the prime spots.
But I think we were all quite shocked by how biased the general papers and things were, and places like the Guardian where you didn’t expect to fine that. Having always been a reader and into books, it was fascinating to see the kind of bias that women were working under on the book pages.