Sunday, 29 January 2012


When I wrote about the  male/female  imbalance in book reviewing, several people didn’t believe it. So here’s a  count for today. In the literary pages of the Sunday Times, 15 men have written reviews, and 4 women. Eighteen of the books reviewed were by men, 6 were by women.

And this, believe it or not, was a better balance than in most weeks.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Spot The Soprano

Some people play a  game called Spot the Soprano. Tuning in to the Today programme, they count how many male voices they hear before the first  woman’s. Apparently  the norm  is 9  or 10. It is about six months since the producer said words to the effect that women were too wet or too weak for the macho environment  of Today. That is about  the usual time-gap between surges of synthetic press indignation  about the under representation of women in the media and public life. This week we have seen another and  the Today programme is  used as an example – as always -with details about its four male presenters and one lone woman. Is it because it's the only programme important or influential people listen to? As it happens I have been on  Today, most recently in 2010 when I was asked about excessive graphic violence in crime fiction. It certainly true that more people than usual said they  had heard me after that broadcast. But as a contributor I was a rarity, not simply as a woman but because I was not  talking about politics or business. As the producer confirmed, the type of people the programme presenters interview – senior politicians and chief executives - are predominantly men.

Of course the news media exist to reflect and describe society not to change it. It is those senior politicians and chief executives who shouldn't be all male, but until women break into their world in greater numbers, I expect the old men of  Today  still to be broadcasting when they are the even older men of tomorrow

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Taking my own advice

Back to the old familiar  theme: the shortage of women’s names in the media. As we all know and we’ve  all said before: it's partly because women are backward in putting themselves forward, and tend to take a rejection as personal and permanent, instead of professional and one-off. As we all know, it's quite easy to identify problems, much less easy to follow our own advice - but just this once I did, sent off a couple of articles on spec to editors who didn't want the previous ones and………………….. both have been taken. An unexpected double!

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Call The Midwife

Call The Midwife is a brilliant programme, and was in fact a very good book or series of books. The world it described it was certainly of the 1950s but it was not one I was familiar with, even  though my school had a mission to the East End where girls with social work tendencies would go and help out.I imagine that they were carefully protected from any contact with scenes like the full frontal childbirth we saw on television. It  would be silly to suggest that teenagers in the 1950s didn't know where babies came from, or how they got there, but I'm pretty sure we did not know all the details of how they came out. It was not an era  of candid speaking or of letting it all hang out, so overprotected middle-class girls like me  didn't really learn the full facts of life until we were doing it ourselves. I didn't mean to suggest that ignorance is desirable. All the same, I'm not sure that close-up shots between the legs showing  a  midwife or doctor's view of a woman having a haemorrhage  is the ideal family viewing for  a Sunday evening!

Sunday, 15 January 2012


Maxine’s reply to my last post says it all – except for the fact that on her blog   she writes about crime novels by women that I have never even heard of! Having just looked at her most recent posts, I  can’t think why I was never sent  Carolyn Parkhurst’s The Nobodies Album,  or  books by  Inger Frimansson , Karin Altvegen or Diane Janes, to mention just a few of the women authors reviewed by Petrona. The fact that publishers don’t  send these books – or even press releases about them -  to reviewers like me, or to journals like The Literary Review, does explain the disproportion on my shelves and in my articles.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

2 steps forward, and one back

It’s back to an old grievance today: WHY do books by men receive so much more attention than books by women? Or, for that matter, works of art, musical compositions and everything else? I walked down Cork Street in London this week , where the galleries featured exhibitions almost exclusively of work by men; I arrived home to find an enormous pile of book parcels -as a reviewer of crime fiction for the Literary Review  I receive an average of 50 books a month  and have space to mention about eight or nine of them. Given that at least one third of crime novels published are written by women, why are almost all the books I am  sent  by men? It is one of life's little mysteries or rather, if one is a woman who writes crime novels, one of life's bigger  grievances!

Friday, 6 January 2012


The purpose of a new exhibition at The Women’s Library at London Metropolitan University is to contradict the idea that the majority of British women didn’t go to work until the second half of the twentieth century.

Which is all very fine and commendable – and true because most women have always worked, in paid jobs or in the home. In 1951 there were seven million working women in Britain, though as the curator points out, their work has consistently been unrecognised and undervalued.

What she doesn’t point out, however, is that nearly all of this work was menial and nearly all of the women were working class.

When Women's Lib came along, in the 1960s , it was founded by and for the sake of middle-class women, at first. However the demand for equal pay and its eventual achievement was to the benefit of all.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

A universal problem?


Image (3)

This cartoon is from the New Yorker.

Is there a country in the world  where it wouldn’t be relevant?