For the fourth year running, Canadian Women in the Literary Arts (CWILA) has released their gender audit of Canadian newspapers and publications, their largest one to date. In doing so, the not-for-profit organization has quantitative numbers on what it means to be a gendered writer in Canada’s literary and critical climate.
Based on CWILA’s data, men in 2014 were nearly two-and-a-half times more likely to review a male-authored work than a female-authored one, whereas women were only 12-per-cent more likely to review literary works by women compared to men. What’s more, of the 5,866 reviews that CWILA counted from 2014, only 39 per cent reviewed books authored by women, whereas 57 per cent reviewed books authored by men. The data suggests that although Canadian men and women produce a relatively equal number of books, literary works written by men receive a disproportionately higher amount of critical attention.
The data has changed slightly from CWILA’s review of 2013 publications, in which the review split was 37 and 59 per cent for women and men, respectively.
CWILA have focused much of their attention upon larger national papers and publications such as The National Post, The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star, Quill and Quire, Broken Pencil and rabble.ca. Some of these, such as The Walrus and The Antigonish Review, demonstrated an especially disproportionate margin of gender representation in favour of male reviewers, clocking in at 76 and 83 per cent, respectively.
For CWILA chair Erin Wunker, the data is meant to help facilitate an ongoing awareness of and discussion about Canada’s quantifiably imbalanced critical culture.
“We’re actually trying to shift the conversation,” said Wunker. “The point is to open up conversation and develop new ways of talking about equity in Canadian literary production, of talking about how to make our literary cultures rich, generative, collaborative.”
Wunker said that CWILA was conceived in 2002 by Gillian Jerome and Laura Moss following conversations about gender equity at that year’s V125 Poetry Conference in Vancouver.
“They realized after this conference that gender equity in their own communities and literary communities in Canada was a real issue,” said Wunker. “CWILA founded as an attempt to generate quantitative data to back up the sense that [women] were writing as much, but weren’t getting as much press for what they were writing.”
While CWILA has no official or centralized headquarters, the organization has since expanded in its membership and gained attention in the press, namely for its annual audit of Canadian publications. They now boast members in academic, publishing and creative spheres, as well as board members based in Alberta, Vancouver and Ontario and even Belgium and London.
In order to count 5,866 reviews from 2014 across 32 publications, CWILA enlisted 45 volunteers from their membership, who together committed thousands of hours of unpaid work.
“Everything that CWILA does is run entirely by volunteers,” said Wunker. “The labour that goes into gathering the data, crunching the numbers and producing a really transparent methodology is enormous.”
CWILA’s first count was conducted in 2012, reflecting on publications of the 2011 year. Although they have released only four counts, Wunker said they have since began to see a shift toward gender equity in the publications they have assessed.
“We’re also seeing what we’re calling now ‘the CWILA effect,’” said Wunker. “We’re four years in, and consistently the publications that we have counted for the past four years, every year their numbers get closer to equitable.”
Wunker said that in the humanities and social sciences, it generally takes at least five years for data to draw definitive conclusions about its subject matter. Nevertheless, Wunker said that the public nature of their count has put pressure on major newspapers and journals to review more books by women—and to have more women doing the reviewing.
“The numbers were worst in the major newspapers in Canada: The Globe and Mail, The National Post, [and] The Walrus had dismal, dismal numbers; they were embarrassed,” said Wunker.
“It let us know that people in editorial positions who are in positions of relative power were paying attention, and trying to make their numbers better,” said Wunker.
At the same time, however, Wunker said that the organization is not merely interested in “calling out” publications, but rather in generating a continuing conversation about gender and literature nationwide. One way they do this is by expanding their scope and methodology each year, as resources allow. Whereas CWILA originally had categories for only men and women, they now collect data on nationality, transgender and non-binary writers, mixed-gender co-authors, and French-language publications.
“[In Canada] we have an incredibly diverse group of people writing—diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, language and gender identification,” said Wunker. “An expansion and a pushing of the ‘W’ in CWILA is one of the central things that we’re working to do.”
Along with their count, CWILA annually publishes a detailed methodology to accompany their data, and their website also features a self-acknowledged “incomplete” manifesto written by Shannon Webb-Campbell, their 2014 critic-in-residence. Wunker said that continuing to meta-analyze the organization is an important aspect of CWILA’s mandate.
“The ‘W’ in CWILA is always already contested territory,” said Wunker, referencing a line from the manifesto. “The provisionality is meant to signal that the organization is always trying to be very self-reflexive in how we understand what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.”
In addition to their count, each year CWILA selects, funds and hosts a critic-in-residence to help them generate conversations about gender equity in Canadian literary culture. Their current critic-in-residence is Lucas Crawford, a writer, researcher and transgender man originally from Nova Scotia, now based in Vancouver.
Wunker said that one problem with CWILA’s growing publicity is the potential for non-CWILA members to disengage with the conversation of gender equity, or to expect CWILA to do the work alone and without adequate resources.
“The more work we take on, the less time people spend talking about it when the count numbers are released,” said Wunker. “It’s getting done, so people aren’t constantly talking about it, which ironically is really difficult because it also means that people aren’t giving us the financial support that we need.”
Andrea Beverley, a professor in Mount Allison’s departments of English and Canadian studies, said that CWILA’s essays, statistics and resources often help inform her academic work. Beverley frequently teaches about feminism and Canadian literature, including a course offered next semester entitled “Women in Canada.” Because CWILA engages in current discussions about this subject matter, Beverley says the organization’s work can serve as a contemporary parallel to literary history, academic research and course materials.
“As someone who researches and teaches about Canadian literature, CWILA is interesting to me inherently,” said Beverley. “They’re an organization that are participating in and catalyzing conversations that need to be happening in Canadian literature.”
One of Beverley’s current areas of research is in zine culture and alternative media. Through zines or independent student publications, Beverley said, cultural challenges to gender inequity can emerge and proliferate.
“It’s inherently important to have a multiplicity of voices in our cultural expression, and to hear those voices,” said Beverley. “Those voices might be different from those who are being published as best-sellers.”
Citing examples such as syllabus audits, more diverse speaker series and the “FergusonSyllabus” hashtag started by Marcia Chatelain in response to racialized police violence in the United States, Wunker said that students and educators can play a large part in changing Canada’s literary and critical climate.
“Especially on a campus like Mount Allison’s, student interest and student action has huge traction,” said Wunker. “Students have a really fantastic opportunity and platform for saying: ‘These are the kinds of questions we’re interested in having.’”
Notes on methodology
To parallel CWILA’s 2014 count, the Argosy has conducted a small-scale gender audit of student publications on the Mount Allison campus. Whereas CWILA’s gender audit focuses primarily on books and book reviews, the Argosy’s data was collected from submissions published in 2014 volumes of three literary and visual arts journals at Mount Allison: 7Mondays, Zettel and Joypuke, the latter two being publications of the Underbridge Press. The Argosy also counted reviews and articles published in the arts and culture section of The Argosy in 2014. In many cases – especially in The Argosy – writers have multiple submissions published within the same volume, all of which are counted as separate entries.
Because The Argosy’s publishing year spans from May to April – and often changes multiple members of staff between these periods – its 2014 data has been split into two separate categories by semester.
Data on each authors’ gender was gathered through pronoun use in self-authored biographies, often found in the back matter of each volume. As pronouns are often an unclear or unreliable indicator of gender identity, the Argosy attempted to verify each author’s gender identity through bios on the author’s website, blogs, reviews or by contacting the author directly. The Argosy specifically avoided discerning gender identity based on name or appearance. The Argosy also regrets the absence of data for a few authors, who are grouped within the “Unknown/Not Available for Confirmation” category.
All data and graphs contained in this issue were collected and compiled by the Argosy, and infographics were created using Google’s online spreadsheet software.
Notes on publications
7Mondays: All content, including literary, photographic and visual arts, are counted as submissions, despite the fact that CWILA focuses specifically on literature and reviews thereof.
Joypuke: Although CWILA’s data accounts for Canadian and non-Canadian nationality, the Argosy’s does not. Because Joypuke’s submissions are not limited to Mount Allison or even Canada, the “Canadian” aspect of CWILA’s methodology is not fully reflected here. Furthermore, the cover art for Joypuke is counted as a submission.
Zettel: As with Joypuke, Zettel accepts submissions from worldwide contributors. As with 7Mondays, all of Zettel’s content is counted, including photography, visual arts, prose, and poetry.
The Argosy: This data is comprised solely of the ‘Arts & Culture’ section and the now-defunct ‘Arts & Literature’ section, which in mid-2014 was combined with the ‘Entertainment’ section and was renamed ‘Arts & Culture.’ Although CWILA focuses on literature and reviews of literature, both of these sections featured a wide variety of content, including but not limited to: film and book reviews; artist profiles; theatre reviews; music reviews; and art exhibition previews and profiles. Furthermore, whereas photography and visual arts submissions are counted for Joypuke, Zettel and 7Mondays, photo content is not included in The Argosy’s count. Finally, a few online-only articles were not available at the time of data collection and are therefore excluded from the count.