Women Writers versus LRB: Round 2

28th Jun 2013

Women Typing Wisconsin
Last week, the internet got angry at the London Review of Books' ridiculous, transparent and patronising response to author Kathryn Heyman, when she asked why 74% of their reviews were dedicated to books written by men.

When the story went viral, LRB responded with this article on Salon. Which doesn’t actually explain why they think finding women writers is complicated, explain what measures they’ve taken so far, or which ones they’ll be taking in future.

In fact, it doesn’t say much of anything, except that they seem to think having women writers on their editorial staff gets them off the hook. They also seem to be claiming that the imbalance isn’t their fault; it’s down to not having enough women submitting.

But we’re not having that. For one thing, here’s why the submissions numbers don’t matter. For another, we don’t believe for a second that the editors at LRB are incapable of being proactive and finding, approaching and commissioning women writers rather than waiting for those writers to come to them. After all, we do it all the time, and they’ve got far more money, resources and influence than us.

Since we published Kathryn’s exchange with LRB on Monday, the internet has been all over it. It’s been featured in The Independent, The Guardian and many more. (You can see some of the showdowns in the Storify board we put together).

And still LRB have been conspicuously silent on the issue. Apart from occasionally tweeting the link to Deborah Friedell’s confused, evasive response on Salon, they’ve not commented on the fact that more and more people are voicing concern about the gender disparity of their editorial coverage.

We've had publishers, authors and prospective advertisers all get in touch with us to say they're rethinking working with LRB in future. We've had numerous subscribers contact us to tell us that they'll be cancelling. And LRB don't seem to care. Or at least, not enough to come out and commit to making tangible, positive changes.Now, we know they’re not the sole offenders. The VIDA stats have shown all too clearly that the vast majority of mainstream media are a long way from gender equality when it comes to their editorial coverage.

But by being in the spotlight, LRB now has a responsibility and an opportunity. If they were prepared to hold their hands up, admit their initial response to Kathryn was ill-considered, and commit to making a conscious effort to address the issue, they’d be be in a far more powerful and positive position.

But judging by their ridiculously dismissive response to the email we sent last them week though, that commitment sadly doesn’t look like it’s coming any time soon.

Our email to LRB, Monday 21st June, 2013:

Dear LRB editors,

First of all, allow me to introduce myself: I’m the founder and editor of For Books’ Sake, the magazine and community dedicated to promoting and celebrating writing by women. As well as daily editorial (including news, reviews, features and interviews), we also have a nationwide events programme, publishing projects and a monthly podcast.

Founded in response to the institutionalised sexism in the media and publishing industries, we’ve been following LRB’s recent exchange with author Kathryn Heyman, and would love more details about your plans to address the issues highlighted by Kathryn.

The emails to Kathryn claimed that “the efforts we’ve made to change the situation have been hopelessly unsuccessful.” Could please you be more specific about these efforts? What steps have you taken so far? If the issue is “on your minds constantly,” we’re sure you’ve taken numerous measures to make quantifiable improvements to current gender disparity of your reviews. Could you expand on these measures at all?

To us, the issue doesn’t seem that complicated at all. We feature women writers on a daily basis, unpaid, alongside our full-time jobs. Surely LRB, with all its influence and resources, should be able to do the same?

And if you genuinely feel unable to address this issue, perhaps you need to seek support from those more familiar with writing by women. We’d love to help, and there are numerous other networks of women writers you could reach out to too.

That’s if the long list of publishers we’re sure you already work with don’t have enough titles and authors to recommend; we receive updates and pitches from them on a daily basis, but if by some miracle an unfunded web project has somehow managed to assemble a wider network of publishing contacts than an established journal like LRB, we’d be more than happy to share our contacts and recommendations.

Please let us know how we can be of assistance; we can’t wait to hear more about the measures you’ve tried already, and the ones you’ll be implementing to ensure the situation is addressed as a matter of urgency.

As we’re sure you know already; women write, read, buy and sell more than their male counterparts. Isn’t about time LRB’s coverage recognised and reflected this?

Thanks in advance for your time and attention – we’re really looking forward to your reply.


LRB’s reply, Thursday 27th June 2013:

Dear Jane

Many thanks for your email. Deborah Friedell responded here: http://www.salon.com/2013/06/21/london_review_of_books_editor_we_are_getting_better_on_gender_equality/

Best wishes,

The Editors

Believe LRB can do better? Email them to tell them so, or comment below with your thoughts.

Jane Bradley

(Image via wistechcolleges)