Taking the measure of gender disparity in Australian book reviewing as a field, 1985 and 2013

Melinda Harvey, Julieanne Lamond

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


This essay presents and analyses the initial results of a large-scale and comparative quantitative survey of book reviews to draw some conclusions about the current state of Australian book reviewing as a field. We argue that the gender disparity in Australian book reviewing that has been identified by the Stella Count over the past four years needs to be seen in the wider context of changes to the nature and extent of book reviews over time. We compare two key publications across two years, three decades apart: Australian Book Review (ABR) and The Australian in 1985 and 2013.

This study is motivated by an interest in the interrelationship between forms of writing about literature that take place within and beyond the academy. Book reviewing is an understudied sector of the literary field, despite the fact that it has an influence on authors’ careers, book sales and publishers’ commissions as well as on the determinations of literary value that underlie the discipline of Literary Studies. In this paper, we use ‘literary journalism’ to broadly describe writing about literature published in non-academic outlets in the print and online media, of which book reviews are a subset. We use ‘academic literary criticism’ to describe writing about literature which is published in scholarly journals and monographs.

Our study finds a situation in which the allocation of space within the books pages of The Australian and ABR is shifting: the number of books being reviewed has dramatically decreased across both publications, and the proportion of feature reviews has substantially increased. We find that the ubiquitous red-and-blue pie charts produced by feminist literary organisations Stella and VIDA, with their focus on percentage and not scale, underestimate the implications of the gender bias they identify. When we compare The Australian and ABR in 1985 to 2013 we can see that changes in the size and shape of the book reviewing field, as well as to review type and length, have compounded the disparity identified by repeated attempts to quantify it.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)84-107
Number of pages24
JournalAustralian Humanities Review
Publication statusPublished - 30 Oct 2016

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