Canadian Women in the Literary Arts (CWILA) Count: How I Add Up


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One does not go into psychology — as I have — unless you can at least learn to love statistics — as I do. But writers do not have to remotely love statistics. Writers were the first psychologists, really, and psychology as a discipline remains complementary to writing in certain ways — personality disorders can sure come in handy! — but science and art have long-been, or often are, antithetical; I’ve often felt like a rider between worlds because my interests stradle both.

Inspired by the VIDA count in the US, Canadian Women in the Literary Arts (CWILA) opened lab in 2012 and quickly exerted considerable influence in the Canadian publishing landscape with their interest in studying the presence of bias within the community of literary criticism. I became a member of CWILA and have followed their work very closely, so it only makes sense to apply their lens to my work as a reviewer.

In 2012, I published 17 reviews, which appeared primarily in Quill and QuireGlobe and Mail, and National Post, as well as in The Rumpus (US). 11 of those reviews (65%) during that year were of female writers, 5 reviews (29%) were of male writers, and one was of an anthology with a fairly even gender split.

My stats go further than an inversion of CWILA’s findings according to the gender of the author, in which the books that get reviewed are 52% male-authored and 47% female-authored. I’m not entirely sure why that is! In fact, the marvel of statistics is how clinical, absolutely non-magical, they are: I would not ever have said I had an inherent preference for female writers. And I’m not sure I do — I’m not saying every review I wrote was favourable. But for reasons that were not apparent to me, I gravitated more toward female writers, and I could have just as obliviously gone the other way. Like any tendancy, that’s worth looking at more closely.

According to CWILA’s survey of  2012:

A) the majority of reviews are written by male reviewers, and B) the majority of books reviewed — whether they’re reviews by male or female critics — are books by male writers.

Why? There are many reasons for this, both large and small, but none that cannot be changed with a minimum of conscientiousness and a bit of cold hard math.