amongst books

amongst books

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Mainstream Media Gender Bias

Recently Natalie Zina Walschots wrote about not seeing a lot of reviews of poetry books by women in the National Post in the last few years. See her article here.
In her article she listed poetry books written by Canadian women in that time period. I was not impressed to see how many of these books were not reviewed in the NP. Was it an example of gender bias? Lots has been said, mostly over on FB about this, but I wanted to offer my own thoughts here.
Years of neglect of culture by mainstream media have resulted in my looking for articles about such elsewhere, so I pay little heed to what the National Post or the Globe and Mail include in their arts sections. A recent need to fill online space has led to a resurgence in arts coverage by these newspapers.

Bias is something we all have. If a reviewer decides to write reviews based on loving or hating a work, which is a pretty standard & reasonable way to decide what to review, cultural biases will come out. It's writers' jobs to write about whatever piques their interest. However & probably naively, we readers expect national media, such as newspapers, television & radio to offer unbiased or at least balanced coverage. This is the job of the editor. When the National Post was receiving so many reviews about books by men, it was the editor's responsibility to solicit other reviews. I have a hard time believing that much money is allocated to columns about poetry, much less reviews & I am dubious how much money can be allocated to editors who do more than approve the paucity of content they receive on the subject. If for some reason publishers weren't sending the National Post reviewers books by women; although that's hard to understand, then perhaps the editor or whoever received books might consider asking for them.
One of the annoyances about this whole issue for me has been to hear the reasons offered by both those who believe the lack of reviews of women's writing is a result of gender bias & those who don't. In both cases it has been suggested that women are not writing reviews or submitting their writing as much as men because we women are just too damn timid about sharing our work, we lack confidence or that there's something inherent in men's biological nature which makes them more willing to send out work. This raises my hackles as generalizations always do. It amazes me how often people revert to stereotyping.

Instead of generalizing, I prefer to look at individual situations. Some of the women I know who have been fairly prolific writers & activists in arts & culture are in new relationships, just had babies, work full time and don’t have the time to write. What if one reason for a lack of work submitted by women might be that they don't have the time?
Finally, although I think that the bias in the National Post was pretty clear, albeit inadvertent (as most bias is, that's why it's so insidious), I think we should focus on where we do find arts & culture leadership & excellent writing by women. I'm thinking of initiatives like headed by Margaret Christakos, collections of essays by Catherine Owen, Erín Moure & Shawna Lemay, blogs by local writers such as myself & Pearl Pirie, rob mclennan's blog which features reviews of writing he finds striking & includes a substantial number of women. There are numerous examples of women at the forefront of arts & culture, but not so much in the mainstream media. Personally I gave up on giving a rat's ass about mainstream media with its right-wing biases & lack of journalistic objectivity years ago.

I've witnessed years of incidents where the mainstream media has been estranged from art, culture, music & anything that doesn't support the white picket fence ideal of regular paycheques, one man, one woman & 2.x kiddies in a house they own, who spend their evenings watching reality tv. I don’t want to be part of this mainstream myself. I opted out years ago in favour of forms & media that welcome individuality. I cheerfully embrace my outsider state. For those who think it's important for women to be involved in mainstream media, Sina Queyras offers a few suggestions on how that might be possible, in her essay "The Gatekeepers and the Glass Ceiling, Notes Toward an Essay on TheCount."


Pearl said...

good point about the relevance giving more attention to a passé media. nothing else they report on reflects my interests...floating someone's boat, presumably.

Amanda Earl said...

thanks. there are so many more relevant & attentive forums (fora?) out there. the only paper i read with regularity is the Citizen. i have a few friends who work at the newspaper plus i need some kind of handle on what's going on locally, but more and more i find myself replacing it with on line sites such as OpenFileOttawa which gets its stories from suggestions by readers.