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Is Getting Published a Feminist Issue?

I must confess (and I do hang my feminist head in shame) that when I started out researching publishing processes, gender bias wasn’t on my mind. I hadn’t considered whether I was more or less likely to get published than my male academic counter-parts. But then two things happened:

First, I heard a really interesting edition of Great Lives, on Radio 4, on the life of journalist Mary Stott. She was the first editor of the Guardian’s women’s page and discussion centred a lot about the all-too-recent notion that if women were going to read information in a newspaper they wouldn’t want to read the same information as men. And it really got me thinking about very recent shifts in the publishing industry that give women readers and writers more freedom.  Second, I was sent a link to an article in Bitch magazine about the disproportionately small number of women writers being written about in literary journals.

The original research, conducted by VIDA, was broken down by magazine and looks at the number of books reviewed by women writers and the number of women book reviewers. Yet, as Kjerstin Johnson explains in her article in Bitch, these figures are not the whole story: publishing as an industry is filled with women. However, she also notes:

“In my personal experience as a writer in the publishing field (a field that’s filled with women, by the way), I see young writers doing this a lot—women speaking humbly and in self-deprecating terms of their own writing (myself included), while male friends of splaying their latest work onto their various blogs, Facebook pages, or Twitter feeds. While there is great work from both, there’s no doubt in my mind who is getting their name out more and who feels validated about their work (and are more likely to submit it to journals).”

Lots of people have contacted me for advice on academic publishing since I started PhD2Published, and I say the numbers have been equal – not to mention that the site’s new editor, Sarah, is female. I’d argue that women are great networkers and, in my personal experience, fantastic at getting the message of their work out there. But I’m newly conscious of whether getting published is a feminist issue? I don’t have a source for gender bias in academic publishing – let alone in academia as a whole – but it can’t be balanced can it? I’d be really interested in your own opinions and experiences?

  1. I wonder if it depends on discipline? Different disciplines will have different male to female ratios so does that make a difference? Are more physics texts by men because more men do the subject at University? How does the bias look in English or more supposedly female friendly subjects?

    I think it also depends on the person. I know I was often thought of as being ‘different’ in my dept. because i was happy to promote myself and my work to anyone who stood still long enough to be talked to. I used to cold call / email people etc. and that did wonders for my work and the range of experiences I have had. Lots of the men in the dept, including my initial supervisor found that very strange that i would just talk to people, not something I really questionned.

  2. Thanks for reminding me about how good Bitch Magazine can be… I lost track of it around the same time I lost my gold plated feminist ID card.

    I think that women can be as savvy about self-promotion as men, but they are more conscious of the process of being self promoters. Look at a Facebook group like Awesome Women Hub – over 11,000 women showing up to get the word out about what they do. There is certainly no male group doing the same thing. It is effective, in its way (speaking to a closed society), but it is also inherently limiting as well.

    Just found your blog – interested to explore!

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