Gender imbalance

by Nalini Haynes

Gender imbalance has become a considerable concern both in terms of reviewing women authors and reviewers being women. This is my initial response to this issue as an editor of a publication that reviews books.

Jane Sullivan is a published author and long-term writer for The Age, who has written an article on this subject. Her comments are reasonable in my opinion; when I was at school, the only literature I remember studying that was written by a woman was The Getting of Wisdom, which was written under a male nom de plume. This sends a specific message to girls. While I was a storyteller and even received high distinctions for a fiction story and a science essay on immortality at high school, the thought of becoming an author or entering the publishing industry never crossed my mind. Being a pragmatist as well as a dreamer, and having a desire to afford to eat, the concept of exploring my potential as an author did not enter my mind until I was an adult.

Now, as a reviewer and editor, I have been challenged that DMF and I do not review enough books written by women, with the exception of paranormal romances. There is a market for paranormal romances. I enjoy the occasional romance, but I prefer a novel where romance might be one facet of a much larger story rather than the primary focus. I want more than romance in my regular reading diet. I think there might be a perception that ‘women are only interested in romance’ factoring into the dismissal of literature written by women, but we’re not – our reading tastes are diverse. Without doing a specific count, I think the majority of books DMF receives for review that are not romances are written by men.

So now I’m in the situation where I’m concerned about an imbalance in DMF’s presentation of available literature. This has been magnified by becoming aware that authors of whom I’ve heard good things, like Alison Goodman and Karen Healy, are not US or UK authors but they are Australian. Or, in Karen’s case, a Kiwi living in Oz. I was really inspired to read their works after hearing them speak at a convention in 2011, but I haven’t received their books for review. DMF runs at a loss, costing me money, so I’m not in a position where paying money for books to review is a reasonable expense.

There are a couple of things readers could do to help:
  1.  send key books for review or raise publisher’s awareness so they send key books for review (Most of DMF’s books come from Hachette, HarperCollins or Random House as they kindly support DMF’s efforts – however, I’m not always aware of the books that I should be requesting and sometimes books are not available.)
  2.  provide reviews that can be published by DMF. Sadly DMF cannot pay you, but DMF will give credit to authors of reviews and provide links to your websites etc. I cannot guarantee that all reviews will be published, but I’m always looking for more reviews and reviewers. Send reviews to darkmatterfanzine@gmail.com
  3.  donate to DMF via Paypal – after I’ve upgraded from CS3 to a current version of InDesign, I’ll be able to think about purchasing a few key books for review.
  4. In response to the above post on Facebook, one reader suggested reviewing library books. My concern here was that the review may be considered to be irrelevant if the book is old enough to have been purchased and processed by a library and have been in the library for long enough that my request had risen to the top of the pile. I posted a poll on facebook, asking ‘When are you interested in reading a review of a book?’ The largest number of people said that publication date of a book in relation to the review is irrelevant; the next largest group said the review was of concern when he or she is about to purchase or borrow the book (with no indication of when that would be in relation to the publication date). Some people don’t read reviews, others are only concerned about whether they trust the reviewer and one person said he’d only be interested in a review in the first few weeks prior to the publication date. On the basis of this poll, DMF may expand reviews to include older publications of interest.

I undertake to improve the gender imbalance of my reviews.

White Noise

White Noise was originally a segment in early issues of DMF with the intention of collecting a combination of blogs and essays written by Nalini Haynes.  This blog was originally published in Dark Matter issue 7, January 2012.