For a while now, there has been discussion about underrepresentation of women in various walks of life. Science and mathematics come to mind, politics, industry, the list is probably as long as the number of careers open to a human being on this planet. More recently, people have begun to raise concerns about the gross shortfall in the number of review of books written by women, or indeed, the lack of women reviewers in the various 'quality' media. For many, it boils down to a question of whether people prefer to read authors of their own gender. The question can be further nuanced - are there particular genres that appeal more to one sex than the other? Going by this recent piece in the Guardian books blog, it appears that their own reviews of nonfiction are predominantly by men, whereas fiction reviews are mainly by women. They provide statistics for major publications as well, for instance, the London Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, and the New York Review of Books. In all these, males outnumber females, both among reviewers and authorship of books reviewed.
Being at loose end, I decided to take a look at my own gender biases. I have a list of books that I've read since I was eleven or so, and I can, with a little effort, classify the authors into males and females. It turns out that I have read 2997 books by 1,641 distinct authors. Amazing. I didn't think there were that many authors on the planet. Of these, 557 were authored (or edited) by women, 2440 by men. (There were also several multi-author books, which I have ignored in the counts.) The cry goes around village - Fëanor is gender-biased! Lynch the fellow! A closer look reveals the following table of top authors:
Agatha Christie 75 P. G. Wodehouse 72 F. W. Dixon + C. Keene 42 Isaac Asimov 39 Enid Blyton 28 Georgette Heyer 26 .................. .. Alistair Maclean 25 Piers Anthony 25 Arthur C. Clarke 18 Jack Higgins 17 Edgar Wallace 16 Arthur Conan Doyle 15
I did say that these are counts starting from my callow youth. (Okay, I admit it - the Heyers are mostly recent.) But in this top six, there are three women, two men, and one syndicate. In the next six, there are only men. If I remove these two lots, then a more representative picture should appear. When I say 'more representative', I mean 'more suitable for politically correct discourse'. Ha ha.
So now it appears that I have read 406 books by women, 2192 by men. Hmm. Right, how else can I massage these data? Maybe I read more books by male authors when I was young and pimply, and, with maturity, have switched to a more nuanced appreciation for writing? I'll split the data into (my) decades.
years F M ratio tens 71 545 12% twenties 101 673 13% thirties 172 707 20% forties 69 258 21%
At least the trajectory is in the right direction. On the flip side, the authors whose books I read most in each decade are all men. Still not doing great! One final piece of analysis, I guess, would be to distinguish between fiction and non-fiction. But I'm bored now, so I'll stop here.