By Raymond Esposito
Studies, specifically those conducted VIDA, a “non-profit founded to raise awareness of gender inequality issues in literary culture,” find an under-representation of females in publishing (books, articles, newsprint). By one account, males account for 75% of published material while females account for only 25%. Advocates for women suggest a bias in book and article selection, but critics argue gender bias does not drive publishing decisions.
Writers After Dark found some interesting information that creates somewhat of a paradox.
Diversity for the sake of diversity in never beneficial, however, if unconscious or overt bias limits opportunity, then it also limits our ability to experience different points of view, to advance literature, and potentially be denied access to the next “work of art.”
Most readers and writers are familiar with J.K Rowling’s journey. The use of initials, rather than her full first name, was due to a belief the “young boys” would not want to read a book written by a woman. Whether or not such a “little boy bias” exists is immaterial—the agency believed it existed, and Joanne had to modify her name.
If deeper bias had existed, that is, if the publisher passed on JK’s books because she was a female, the world would have been robbed of Harry Potter.
The immediate reaction to accusations of bias against women is to blame. . . Men.
And that’s where our story becomes a little more complicated.
Multicultural children book publisher, Lee & Low Books conducted a survey of thirty-four publishers including the major Houses. The L&L survey focused on staff demographics—they were looking for a different type of potential bias. The survey revealed that 78% of staff members were female (79% were white) as was 60% of executive or board members. Although the L&L survey intends to point out that a lack of cultural diversity might create a bias towards publication selections, it reveals a paradox in the VIDA survey.
If men are published at a rate three times greater than women, but women comprise nearly 80% of publishing staff, then what, if anything, is driving the bias?
There is no one simple answer to questions of bias. And readers don’t seem to give much thought to an author’s gender—three of the New York Times top five best-sellers are by female authors. Most independent authors already understand the difficulty or perhaps impossibility of getting a traditional publishing contract regardless of sex, color, or creed.
Bias in publishing may exist, but we probably need more than a set of numbers to define it and its underlying causes. Fortunately, independent authors needn’t worry as we have already dispensed with the gatekeepers and gone directly to the most important evaluators of a story’s worth—the readers.