Can women write reviews?
On Sunday I was chairing an discussion at the Cambridge Wordfest. Called "The Literary Editors' Breakfast", it featured a galaxy of Peter Stothard, fellow blogger and Editor of the TLS, Mary-Kay Wilmers, Editor of the London Review of Books, John Freeman of Granta Magazine and Lydia Wilson, one of the editors of the new Cambridge Literary Review.
The idea was to go beyond the usual whinging about the death of literary journalism (witness the fact that the almost every books section in the US broadsheets has disappeared in the last couple of years, and there has been a good deal of retrenchment in the UK too). In fact, nostalgia apart (and when have the chatterig classes not been nostalgic?), it is pretty clear that literary journalism is in rather good shape -- as we all, sort of, agreed.
But one question I wanted to get onto the agenda was the woman question.
If you look at who writes for the main stream literary magazines, it is predominantly men. The TLS probably has the best female representation, but it doesn't hit 50% (and, though I would like to think that we are more gender sensitive, it may just be because we publish so many reviews each year -- 1800, according to Peter -- that the male reviewers can't quite satisfy the demand).
This question produced some interesting responses. Mary Kay bravely said that women had a tendency to be either a bit jargony, or a bit breathless (an unfashionable view, but I know what she means -- honest). John was quite upbeat about the prominence of women in the latest "sex" issue of Granta. But I was a bit surprised that no one in the audience (or panel, or me for that matter) objected to the front cover, at the head of this post -- at least as something that might seem prima facie in conflict with a feminist agenda. (Hi girls, come and write for an issue of Granta in which a purse that looks like a c**t will occupy the front cover!)
That was Sunday. Monday I did a discussion abut Pompeii with Charlotte Higgins at the excellent Italian Cultural Institute in London. Charlotte has just won the Classical Association Prize for those who have raised the profile of Classics in the public eye. Very well deserved.