Friday, 9 December 2011

Toughening Up

Last week in the Guardian newspaper  Kira Cochrane used statistics to demonstrate that British public life is conspicuously male dominated. Whether as contributors to newspapers or to radio and  television discussion programmes  - no matter what the subject  - a dogged byline count over a period of several weeks revealed that at the most about one quarter of credits are women’s. Actually I'm surprised that the figure is even that large. In my own particular field, of book reviewing, the names  both of critic and author are predominantly men’s. I'd made a similar complaint to a friend not long before reading this article, and when I was accused of exaggerating picked up at random the Sunday Times book review section. In the first few pages, that carry heavyweight reviews, no woman's name appeared as reviewer or author, and there were very few even on the frivolous pages devoted to children's books and genre fiction. Or take for example the magazine I write for (and admire, and enjoy) - The Literary Review. The index of the  latest issue lists 49 reviews  by men and  8  by women. 47 of the books are by male authors, 8 by female. Far worse is The London Review of Books – an almost  female-free zone.
It doesn't give me any pleasure to point out these statistics,  since  I'm about to publish a book whose thesis is that women's lives have infinitely improved in  nearly every way in the last 50 years. And I don't suspect newspaper and magazine editors of anti-feminism. After all,  many of them are female. I think in the end that  this disproportion is due to what seems to be a genuine sex difference. Very few women seem to be any good at singing their own praises or pitching for work. I'm probably typical in that if I offer some journalism, for example, and it's rejected, I shrink away to lick my wounds. I try to make myself believe that the rejection of  my idea isn't necessarily a rejection of me and intellectually I know that's true . But like most women, I feel "he – or she - hates me." Most men on the other hand simply ring again the next day with a new idea. So although the disproportion is infuriating, I have to recognise that it is partly our own fault. We must either toughen up  or give up.


  1. Hi Jessica, found you via a tweet from crimereader. Thanks for an interesting post. Sadly, I agree with what you say. We women have to get a thicker skin and get downright pushy if we are to succeed! Good luck with the book (and getting pushy), will look out for it.

  2. Agreed about the reviewing proportion, it is simply silly to constantly read male views on a book (often the same reviewers' views recycled) instead of a bit more imagination on behalf of commissioning editors. However, where I work (scientific publishing) there isn't any obvious gender bias in the various levels of editorial and publishing management. I suspect our industry is the exception rather than the rule, sadly. And authors we commission to write reviews and comment tend to be more male than female - the females are more likely to say they are too busy (scientific research is in itself a male-dominated profession once you get into the "established scientist" ranks, so the women that there are tend to get a disproportionately large number of requests to write articles, speak at conferences, etc).

  3. Oh, yes - that awful, cringe away from either taking any credit (when men tend to merely regard that as their due) or over-loading oneself with guilt for supposed failure ... sounds very familiar, Jessica!
    In my advertising days, I remember feeling at first angry and later grimly resigned at the anomaly of bosschaps being in overall charge of targeting a predominantly female audience. Much of the male thinking was of shocking cynicism, and it all made for a harsh introduction to prevailing attitudes to women in corporate life in general.