You might not be aware of it but gender bias is alive and kicking in the literary world. From the gender of prize-winning books’ protagonists and the percentage of Booker prize submissions from women, to the column inches dedicated to female critics, it’s clear that the publishing industry favours men.
So, what can be done about it? In last Saturday’s Guardian, author Kamila Shamsie (Burnt Shadows; A God in Every Stone) made a very interesting “provocation:” make 2018 the Year of Publishing Women in which no new titles should be by men.
“At this point, I’m going to assume that the only people who really doubt that there is a gender bias going on are those who stick with the idea that men are better writers and better critics,” wrote Shamsie. “Enough. Across the board, enough… I would argue that [it] is time for everyone, male and female, to sign up to a concerted campaign to redress the inequality… Why not have a year of publishing women: 2018, the centenary of women over the age of 30 getting the vote in the UK, seems appropriate.”
And lo and behold one forward-thinking publisher has accepted her challenge already. Bravo And Other Stories. “I think we can do it,” founder Stefan Tobler told The Guardian. “And if we don’t do it, what is going to change?”
And Other Stories releases 10 to 12 new titles a year and admits to publishing more men than women. “This year we’ve done seven books by men and four by women,” revealed Tobler. “We have a wide range of people helping us with our choices, and our editors are women… and yet somehow we still publish more books by men than by women.”
Shamsie’s challenge is an extreme response to the gender bias towards men in the literary world but perhaps that’s what’s needed. Time will tell whether any other publishers will respond to her “provocation.” Even if it’s left to And Other Stories to make 2018 the year of female novelists it’s a conversation that will continue.
Sophie Lewis, a senior editor at And Other Stories, said the company’s main aim in 2018 was to “examine the selection and promotion process, the production of their books from commissioning to reader’s bedside.”
“By taking on the challenge we will expose our systems and the paths of recommendation and investigation that brings books to us, and we will end up becoming a kind of small-scale model for a much bigger inquiry about why women’s writing is consistently sidelined or secondary, the poor cousin rather than the equal of men’s writing,” she said. “Personally, I’d rather not think about it. Why should we have to? Surely great writing will out? It seems not — or it seems so consistently that women’s writing makes it less often that we have to doubt the fairness of the systems in place. So it will be worth carrying out a year of publishing only women in order to document the difficulties involved.”
More on female writers
Laura Dave writes edgy, witty women — and she hopes other authors do the same
How Kamy Wicoff helps women tackle the biased world of literature
Toni Morrison’s God Help the Child beautifully tackles childhood trauma