2011 CWILA Numbers

CWILA Count Margin of Error

Margin of error is the standard expression of the uncertainty associated with sample estimates from a population. In this case the population would refer to each publication’s tendency to review by gender over an infinite number of reviews.

CWILA Numbers by Publication

Editors on Reviewing: National Post

Editors on Reviewing: Globe & Mail

Editors on Reviewing: Quill and Quire

Editors on Reviewing: The Walrus

Editors on Reviewing: Literary Review of Canada (LRC)

Editors on Reviewing: This Magazine

Editors on Reviewing: Geist

Editors on Reviewing: Canadian Notes & Queries

Editors on Reviewing: Canadian Literature

Editors on Reviewing: PRISM International

Editors on Reviewing: EVENT

Editors on Reviewing: The Fiddlehead

Editors on Reviewing: SubTerrain

Editors on Reviewing: Brick: A Literary Journal

The Maisonneuve charts above were added on June 10th one day prior to the launch of the CWILA site. They were created with numbers provided by Maisonneuve and we would like to thank Editor-in-Chief, Drew Nelles, for taking the time to complete a gender count. These numbers have not been included in the aggregate data charts but we look forward to adding them (and others) as more data becomes available to us.








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23 Responses to 2011 CWILA Numbers

  1. Illuminating, even if it’s something we’ve all known anecdotally. Thanks for doing this. I’ve always found it shocking to hear otherwise intelligent people claim that things like race, gender, and sexuality aren’t factors in a so-called meritocracy. I don’t believe there’s a cabal of men in bowties sitting around saying, “Gentlemen, how can we be MORE evil this week than we were last week” (at least I hope not), but I do believe there’s a baseline of inadvertent ignorance created by political and social privilege that is in some ways more insidious than bald-faced bigotry. I was saying to someone last week, I’m one of those people (white, straight, healthy, relatively-wealthy, male, 30s/40s) for whom walking out the door of my house doesn’t come with unsavoury, awkward, even dangerous political repercussions. So it’s incumbent on me and those like me to make some political choices every morning. Everyone should take note: there’s still work to be done. And just because it might take a couple generations to get it right is no excuse to not do the work now.

    • Shari says:

      Well said.

      • Dorothy Palmer says:

        This is truly deja vu for me! When I was in my 20’s in the late 1970’s, feminist writers diligently compiled statistics that were all-too-sadly-similar to those collected here some thirty years later. In recent years, I’ve attended far too many readings and panels where Canadian authors, not always male, wave a hand to dismiss issues of representation and appropriation of voice as if such issues are boring, passe and complaints unworthy of critical attention in this modern egalitarian utopia of 2012. It seemed to become a point of honour and belonging to jump on the bandwagon and assert the bad times were all over and behind us.

        So thank you so much for re-opening this wormy can and for proving conclusively that these issues are far from resolved. Maybe it’s time to call it what it is, silencing, and to ask: who benefits from this silencing ? Maybe it’s also time to look again at the double or triple silencing of women of colour and of the LBT community. I’m still asking why is it that in the Canada of 2012 I am the only disabled woman writer I know?

        Simply put, the change we sought in the 70’s has yet to be fully realized and will not happen organically or by good will, but only by open dialogue and committed affirmative action. There I’ve used the term. Let the fracas begin.

        Dorothy Ellen Palmer

        • Theresa Ketterling says:

          Well said. Were the stats compiled in the late 70s ever published anywhere? It would be so interesting to see the numbers side by side…

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  3. JC says:

    It would be most interesting to me to see what the charts look like if age is a factor, as well as gender… it seems from observation that most newly published writers are young or middle aged, and that seniors, over 65 are under represented, although it could easily be argued, the wisdom of the culture resides therein

  4. Harris says:

    John Harris

    Just some questions that might be further examined. Lorri Glenn writes that “women reviewers are less frequently published.” But what if there aren’t as many women reviewers in the first place? She also writes that theorists and researchers have noted distinguishing features of women’s writing as distinctive by its tentativeness, marked concern for audience etc. Are some of these distinctions inimical to book reviewing? You can’t argue a distinctiveness in the writing of the two sexes without thinking of how this would effect writing in various genres.

    •  I think this remark about the obvious disparities between male and female producers of literary culture and the gender of those who decide what/who is “important” enough to be reviewed in our newspapers and journals is off-topic/distracting/irrelevant/obfuscating/aggrieved/entitled/defensive. Perhaps I’m not tentative enough. Dang. I’m a female writer and very occasional reviewer whose own work is rarely reviewed east of Regina thanks to my preoccupation with northern and western subjects, I think. Oh, and women figure largely in my stories and novels giving me the triple whammy of being female, well past my photogenic prime, western-based and moreover, resolutely preoccupied with intensely regional (sic) issues of class, gender, race, justice, food production, kindness, environmental restoration vs damage, hard work, loyalty and the like. So totally off-trend, so unappealing to the national (sic, squared) cultural taste-makers. Thankfully, a good many people actually want to read what I write despite the deafening lack of so-called critical response.
      Brava to the people who pulled this survey together, a deja voodoo of my 1970’s experience of much of life, forging new paths. Thumbs up to George Murray and a set of lateral thumbs for John Harris. Crap or get off the pot, fella!  Woops, there I go being tentative and concerned with audience again.

      • theresa says:

        So much to agree with, Caroline, George, Dorothy. And kudos to the creators of this site.  I keep thinking that 2012 is so late in human history to be having this discussion (again), hoping that identifying a systemtic problem will mean that things will change. But oh those wheels of change move slowly. (The quilt-maker in me thinks that the charts above should inspire  some interesting graphic art, quilts included…)

        • theresa says:

          Me again (Theresa Kishkan) to add that I’m still surprised that in the nine years that the Lieutenant Governor’s Award has been part of the B.C. Book Prizes, only one woman has received this — PK Page won the inaugural award in 2004. Every guy that has won it has been a good choice but honestly, hasn’t there been one woman during the eight years since PK wonwho has been deemed worthy?

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  6. AJ Somerset says:

    I’m glad to see this. One of our problems in Canada is that we tend to take something that exists in the United States (VIDA, in this case) and to assume that the results apply here without actually verifying it. Much speculation ensues.

    I’m a bit dismayed by the margins of error. The counts for the Globe, the Post, Q&Q and so on are fairly robust, because they publish a lot of reviews, but the numbers for CNQ, The Walrus, Prism, and so on are pretty wobbly. (It is difficult to know precisely how wobbly, because the numbers are not shown and the graph is not easily readable. It would be nice if you published sample size and margin of error.) I suppose this is inevitable when you sample small magazines.

    The general thrust of John Harris’s remark is valid, no matter how Caroline dislikes it: unless we measure the universe the results are drawn from, we are dealing with dimensionless numbers. However, we can only count the number of female reviewers by counting reviews, so John’s specific suggestion leads us nowhere.

    But we can still measure the universe. We can count the review-eligible books by women and men in a given year, and compare that universe to the rate at which women are reviewed. This may also give us a reasonable proxy for the number of eligible reviewers.

    One possible source, for fiction, is the Giller Prize’s list of eligible books for 2011. This list represents all the fiction pumped out by Canadian publishers last year, excluding most genre fiction, with a small number of possible errors and omissions. (http://www.scotiabankgillerprize.ca/canlit-2011/)

    I did a quick count there and found that there were 110 books by men, 101 books by women, and two books that I had to leave out because the gender of the author was not obvious. (Jerks who write under their initials. Yeesh.) So women make up 47.4 percent of the fiction universe, with a margin of error of 6.7%.

    This surprised me a little, because it has been my impression that Canadian fiction skews female, by numbers of writers. But this probably reflects only my reading.

    In any case, we can safely assume based on that count that the universe of books is approximately 50% female and 50% male. It also suggests that the population of writers who might review books is about evenly split.

    This suggests that, in terms of reviewing women, some of our magazines (and the papers) have some work to do; others are doing well. Quill & Quire would seem to be fulfilling its mandate, as is Canadian Literature.

    One caveat: I wouldn’t be surprised if the non-fiction universe skews male, reflecting its audience. This would push the number of women writers eligible to be reviewed down, and could potentially put the Globe & Mail at parity. I think it would be helpful to separate fiction and non-fiction reviewing if that is the case.

    •  Here’s the thing about quibbling about statistics (my first degree was in sociology) and the parameters of the sampled universe  pertaining to possible margins of error for stalwart literary journals like event magazine: astute readers and especially writers with a keen interest in seeing their work reviewed have already noticed this entrenched gender bias. The researchers at CWILA can speak to their methodology but from reading their charts and accompanying notes, I can say I am not very troubled as to the rigour of their quantitative survey research or the qualitative, and extremely useful to us all, interviews with editors wherein each approach to reviewing is clearly articulated.
      What is the point here, far beyond quibbles or attempts to scuttle the results as unreliable, are the questions raised, questions like:
      1. Has our literary reality mired itself in 1978? Note to CWILA: a comparative sample of 1978’s journals might be useful since so many of us have commented on it, just to clarify the anecdotal from the actual evidence
      2. Why do so few women write reviews in this country except for university-based literary magazines or in certain feminist (ROOM) and somewhat gender-skewed children’s literature journals (Canadian Materials)?
      3. What are the repercussions of being a writer and a reviewer in Canada? I recall Carol Shields being adamant about only reviewing American or British writers while in mid-career because-and here I am paraphrasing from memory and a journal entry, so forgive me if this is not exactly how she phrased it-“Canada’s literary numbers are small, really, and the writers often know each other socially as well as professionally”, in other words, except for the brave and brash among us of both genders, there are repercussions of a social and professional nature.
      4. If the pay for reviewers remains at, incredible but true, near the 1978 level at some outlets for reviews, why would anyone, of any gender, risk punitive treatment of their own forthcoming books by being a forthright reviewer of anyone else’s work? It takes a certain generosity of spirit to be a reviewer in the first place so the paucity of the pay is certainly a factor for me. Others may argue that it keeps one’s name in the public eye, that it’s good for exposure. I’m from the north. One can die of exposure. & worse, never publish original work of one’s own because time is eaten up with compulsory reading and writing of reviews…
      5. Where do the reviewers live? Not a simple question. Editors at the most prestigious and most read journals and newspapers in English Canada are in the habit of couriering books across town (i.e. Toronto) with a sharpish deadline. This I know from direct experience when my partner reviewed for the Quill & Quire for two years while based in a village on Vancouver Island. This geographical fact may lead us directly to the bizarre phenomenon wherein writers and reviewers based in Ontario become “national” voices/authorities while many Maritimers, prairie writers, westerners and northern residents are never reviewed or asked to do reviews. Newfoundlanders appear to be the ‘it’ writers of the decade, lucky them. Could it be the courier charges? Could it be the perceived lack of authority/credibility? Of course not. Maybe. There are notable exceptions like prolific, and very well-written, reviews in assorted national publications by Victoria, B.C.-based Candace Fertile and Rob Wiersma. Hmm. Solution: thanks to CWILA, we writers with a penchant for reviewing or, better yet, readers with nothing to fear by way of literary vengeance, can now pitch our resumes at editors-in-chief at select magazines and newspapers instead of sitting around waiting for special invitations.
      6. If awareness and education are the key to unlocking the gates to literary success or continuing on in relative obscurity for Canadian writers and reviewers, I applaud CWILA for taking this on and for their proposal to appoint a dedicated researcher to monitor the next few years? decade? of literary output. As long as it takes, I say, and many of us have long memories indeed.

      • AJ Somerset says:

        I’m puzzled as to how my remarks (especially the points that the universe is, in fact, 50-50, and that John Harris has given us a tautology) have been interpreted as “quibbles or attempts to scuttle the results as unreliable.”

        I am not suggesting the results are unreliable. They are exactly what I would expect, in fact, and my only real surprise was my discovery that the fiction universe does not skew female.

        Margins of error are important because they enable us to make conclusions year over year. If Prism reviews only 53% women next year, or if CNQ reviews 33%, we won’t know with confidence if anything is changing. It will take time to overcome this.

      • Ross Leckie says:

        Hi, I just want to say that the charts and graphs show that The Fiddlehead only reviewed women’s books at a rate of 28% in 2011 and that the highest range of the margin of error is 38%.  Over five years, though, 2007-2011, the rate is 52%.  The rate of women reviewed in the first two issues of 2012 is 75%.

        So I don’t think I’m quibbling over numbers and this website treats numbers very seriously, as it should.  As others have said, the focus on small journals for one year is misleading.  Gillian has promised to append notes to the bar graphs and pie charts to reflect Fiddlehead numbers over the longer term.Of much greater importance are the numbers taken as a whole, and they show that as a group we editors have not done a very good job.

        All of the questions you raise, Caroline, are excellent questions.  Asking what the numbers mean and what we can do about them is the crucial task.

        Thank you for listening.

        • Thank you very much for offering these specific examples of the vagaries of small number sampling directly from The Fiddlehead, Ross. I had fumed out loud because of my concerns that apples would be compared to mangoes while the imbalance of the entire fruit basket sent it crashing to the floor. While I currently subscribe or have subscribed to 90% of the newspapers, magazines and journals sampled, I then had to stifle the urge to do my own in-situ survey. That’s what stats do sometimes–distract us from the crux of the matter and the pertinent questions are set aside while we count and recount. 
          I do have every confidence in the scholarship and serious intentions of CWILA though and trust that other conscientious and fair-minded editors across the country will respond accordingly.

    • Yes, AJ – I get the sarcasm attached to jerks who write under their initials but find myself tamping down easy anger when I recall why it is I do the same … early on I was returned something with this scrawled across it “too tough a topic for a woman to attempt” – it hadn’t even been opened. I determined to never again lay myself open to  gender bias right from the get-go … Now that this whole question has been raised,or re-raised,I see the times,  they are not a-changing very much at all.

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