Why the VIDA Count Matters
In the wake of the 2014 VIDA Count, released this week, Kylie Maslen argues that female participation and visibility in literature has important flow-on effects — influencing wider cultural issues such as gender equality and domestic violence.
AFTER ATTENDING Anita Sarkeesian’s recent Wheeler Centre lecture in Melbourne, I was struck by her comment that ‘we can be critical of the things we love’. Though women make up 47 percent of the gaming audience, within games themselves they’re far too often portrayed as damsels in distress, helpless, or highly sexualised male fantasies — as explored in Sarkeesian’s video series, Tropes vs. Women in Video Games. Sarkeesian’s critique, despite (or because of) her passion for gaming, made me think about my own love of Australian rules football; women make up 44 percent of game attendees, yet Aussie rules has traditionally been a ‘boys club’ that has actively vindicated men who have committed hate crimes against women. (I wrote about this issue for Kill Your Darlings, in ‘Footy, Feminism and Criticising What You Love’.)
The stakes are higher than simply alienating women from literature.
But gaming and football are not alone in boasting large female audiences, yet dismissing female involvement. The 2014 VIDA Count — released this week — showed that ‘women buy two-thirds of books sold but magazine reviews are centred on male authors and critics,’ according to a round up in the Guardian. As Roxane Gay states in her essay ‘Beyond the Measure of Men’, ‘In literature, as in life, the rules are all too often different for girls.’
VIDA’s mission is to ‘increase critical attention to contemporary women’s writing as well as further transparency around gender equality issues in contemporary literary culture.’ By compiling statistics of the books reviewed in top literary magazines and newspapers, VIDA has shown that there is a standing tradition of publications reviewing far more books written by men than women, in reviews that are far more likely to be written by men than women.
The count has had some real and positive impacts. In 2012 VIDA showed that The Paris Review’s publishing favoured men by a 20/80 ratio — but after pressure from these results, in 2013, the magazine published to an even 50/50 gender balance. The VIDA count has also led to broad discussions within the publishing industry, essentially outing editors who have fallen on sexist tropes as justification for the lack of women published, as well as the lack of books written by women that are given space in their publications. For example, when asked for comment on the low rates of female reviewers in the London Review of Books by the BBC’s Open Book program, editor Mary-Kay Wilmers responded: ‘I think women find it difficult to do their jobs, look after their children, cook dinner and write pieces. They just can’t get it all done. And men can. Because they have fewer, quite different responsibilities.’ >>READ MORE