Who’s reviewing who?: Gender and book reviews in the popular press

| February 8, 2011

Sociological Images has long been one of my favorite blogs, and I thought that this recent post, “The Gender Gap in Book Reviewing,” might be of interest to Learning at the Library readers.

Charts provided in the post (which were taken from another blog, with additional similar graphs) show that book reviews written by women appear much less frequently than those written by men, in a number of popular publications. Additionally, the book reviews are about books authored by women much less frequently than those written by men.

We would need some additional information to fully evaluate the nature of these alarming discrepancies. For instance, it might make a difference if we were to find out that the percentage of female authored books reviewed were to match the percentage of all books that are written by females.

However, despite any possible mitigating factors, it still just seems wrong that a gender discrepancy like this could persist today. But what exactly is so bad about there being more male book reviewers and more males’ books reviewed? First and most obviously, there are financial benefits both to reviewing books and to having one’s book reviewed. These writers and readers are making money from their activities, and women may not have a fair chance at making money from writing if they are being discriminated against by whoever makes decisions about book reviews.

Less obviously yet more problematically, the selection of predominantly male reviewers and reviewees subtly shapes readers’ perceptions and opinions of good writing over time. Casual readers probably just assume that the books are chosen in some principled fashion so that the objectively best ones receive the most attention, or those books by authors most worth following. As such, important and popular publications reviewing mostly male authored books may send a message to readers that those books are the valuable ones, and that unreviewed books are, by implication, not so valuable.

Finally, assuming that there are at least some basic gender differences, men and women may bring different perspectives to the books they author, and to the books they review. Female authors’ perspectives are perhaps being silenced by the state of affairs depicted in the charts.

Do you agree that this gender gap in books reviews is troublesome? How could we study it further? Do publications’ editors have any responsibility to authors, readers, or society to avoid bias in their book review selections?