Women reviewers: reality check
I have often felt rather smug when I have read about how few women get to review books in broadsheet newspapers or literary magazines. I have worked on the TLS for about 20 years now, and -- if you asked -- I would spout honestly about the many women from whom I have commissioned long and serious Classics reviews. No insult intended to those I have left out, but Emily Gowers, Edith Hall, and Emily Wilson instantly spring to mind as regular contributors to the TLS. In fact, quite a number of people say to me that (for better or worse) the TLS Classics pages are quite a "women's zone".
I thought that, given the recent storms about the exclusion of women from literary journalism (on which let me say the TLS is never cited as one of the worst offenders), I would check out the actual figures. What proportion of reviews on Classics published in the TLS were written by women? I would have predicted that it would be 50/50% male female. In fact, since January, it was much more like 25-30% women, to 70% men.
To be fair to me, that is a lot better than many other literary magazines -- and the figures are very much better, I think, if you take a year long trajectory, rather than 6 to 7 months. I would also add into the equation the fact that the number of reviews commissioned by me, rather than of those actually submitted, was more weighted towards women (? are women less bold in late submitting?). It's also true that the proportion of women appearing in the Classics pages of the TLS is greater than that of senior women classicists at UK universities overall (from where the bulk, but not all, of TLS reviewers come).
All the same , it reminds me of the old story we are often told about women at meetings: everybody (women included) estimates the time the women speak as actually greater than it ever is. Everyone says women dominate the discussion, when in fact they dont. And I shall have to have reflect again on my own version of that problem (we may THINK its a women's zone, but actually it isnt.. and so?) .
But the reviewers are only one side of the coin. The other question is, who is getting reviewed? Here, I am pleased to say I do a little better; something more like 40-45% of the classics books reviewed are by (or part authored by) women. But this raises other questions about gendered writing, gendered subject matter and its relative value. How many women, for example, write about the history of trains or warfare? (Or, to be fair how many men write about the history of women?).
To some extent -- but only some -- I feel laid back about this. To use a musical analogy, I don't much care if women tend to play the flute rather than the bassoon, for whatever reason. I DO care if flautists never get paid as much as bassoonists, and if women who want to play the bassoon are actively or passively discouraged from it (and, sure, that includes the way that the sheer gender imbalance is a turn off for many women -- just like in Maths, where I am afraid some bright women look at the culture of male Maths and run a mile).
I'm not sure what to make of this. But just doing the figures was consciousness raising for me. To have seen that I was not near 50/50% wont necessarily change my commissioning habits (after sall, we have some great male reviewers), but it will make me think harder about my own mis-cognitions... and I certainly wont worry for a while that women are "dominating".