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How to be a Woman Reviewer


Firstly, let’s have a look at the figures:




Paul Preston’s big, important new book on the Spanish Civil War has, at the time of writing, been reviewed ten times. Of these ten reviews, just one was written by a woman. Alright, the Spanish Civil War isn’t a particularly girly subject like, say, dieting or… divorce. But it definitely had some women in it (see, for example, Picasso’s Guernica, Pan’s Labyrinth). And there must be some clever women somewhere who know something about it. Maybe they’re just too shy, like the women who fail to put themselves forward to review other serious non-fiction, like TOGETHER by Richard Sennett or WHAT ARE UNIVERSITIES FOR? by Stefan Collini or Steven Pinker’s THE BETTER ANGELS OF OUR NATURE, or Alain de Botton’s slightly less serious RELIGION FOR ATHEISTS. And the women who are too scared to review novels such as CAPITAL or William Boyd’s latest, or THE SENSE OF AN ENDING, or THE STRANGER’S CHILD (or any other books by gay men). That said, women seem to jump at the chance to review debut novels (unless they are about baseball) and books by other women, especially Joanna Trollope.

But having a go at literary editors for gender imbalance on the books pages is a bit like getting angry with Oxbridge tutors for not admitting enough state school kids. After all, they can only work with what they’ve got. What we need, perhaps, is an open access scheme for female book reviewers. They could listen to inspiring speeches by people who’ve managed to overcome their XX chromosomes, like Mary Beard or Germaine Greer. They could be mentored by stalwarts of the literary pages like Sir Max Hastings, and learn how to proffer opinions on things they know nothing about. They could even sit in a mock-up of a literary editor’s office, like that Hackney school where they’ve spent £10,000 on a replica don’s room so that teenagers unfamiliar with soft-furnishings and real wood feel less nervous at interview. Or maybe we just need Rihanna to tweet about their plight.

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