Poetry News

Linda Leith on Gender Bias in Publishing

By Harriet Staff

Over at The Globe and Mail, Linda Leith weighs in on the issue of biases against women in the world of publishing.

She begins:

I read John Barber’s recent article on gender bias in the book world with great interest, glad to see the Globe reporting the feminist group VIDA’s findings about the small proportion of women featured in influential literary periodicals.

I know these arguments. I’ve made these arguments, and so have many others. Not only about publications like TLS and The New Yorker, but about book awards and books published, invitations to literary festivals and invitations to sit on juries. It’s a cause I’ve been aware of since the heyday of 1970s feminism: of Ms. magazine and “Herstory,” of Germaine Greer and The Madwoman in the Attic. That was the start just for me, not for the argument. A good book on this subject is How to Suppress Women’s Writing, by Joanna Russ, published in 1983 by the University of Texas Press.

After addressing further complications with the issue, and her own experiences running the Blue Metropolis Festival, Leith talks about her experiences in the world of book publishing:

My experience in book publishing is admittedly very limited, for my first season has only just begun. This spring I am publishing one man – author and journalist Rick Salutin – and one woman: the Montreal novelist Felicia Mihali. Fair enough. I have been receiving a steady stream of submissions ever since I announced my new venture in June of last year, and I have been sifting through the queries and manuscripts, looking for the books I will be proud to publish this fall and in later seasons.

And – you may have guessed it – the fact is that, so far, the lion’s share of the submissions are from men. The men win, hands down, not only on quantity but also on quality. I have asked a couple of women – and a couple of men – to work on their books a bit more. I would like to publish more women, but the fact is that I will be publishing more books by men than by women. Of the books I have been offered, these are just the better books.

So that’s a shocker. And no, I am not going to turn down a great book by a man just because he’s a man. Nor am I going to publish a book by a woman just because she’s a woman. It is – it has to be – the work that counts.

And why is it that such a high proportion of the submissions are by men? Is this a fluke? If I had waited to write this article five years from now, would I have a different experience to report? Is it some fault of mine? Am I inadvertently looking for a quality that men are more likely than women to produce? Surely not, for my judgment is no different today than it was when I was running a festival.

Do women have lower self-esteem? (This is one of the possible reasons proposed in a comment on the VIDA website.) Are they less likely to believe in their own possible success? Do the schools not teach them right? Or is it that women writers are less determined than men? Are they less likely to stick with it and polish a book? Simply busier than the men, more preoccupied by children and home? Or what?

Read the entire piece here.

Originally Published: March 23rd, 2012