It’s been 400 years since Emilia Bassano became England’s first published female poet, and it seems much hasn’t changed…
“Do we still really need a prize for books by women?”
Every year, without fail, people ask that question when the Women’s Prize for Fiction releases its longlist. And then again when it releases its shortlist. And again when it announces its winner.
The answer is yes, but if you need proof to back your answer up, a new report can help.
The Emilia Report has found that there is a “marked bias” towards male writers in broadsheet newspaper coverage.
Men received 56% of review coverage according to the research, reported the Guardian.
In the research, Danuta Kean looked at comparable authors and found big differences in the way books by men and women in the same genre were covered.
Neil Gaiman and Joanne Harris, who are both well known, have both recently released new fantasy books - Norse Mythology and A Pocket Full of Crows respectively.
But while Gaiman’s book received widespread coverage, Harris’ did not receive any broadsheet coverage.
There was a similar pattern for Matt Haig’s How to Stop Time and Rowan Coleman’s The Summer of Impossible Things. While both are commercial fiction, Haig’s book was mentioned 12 times by newspapers and Coleman’s just three.
Women were twice as likely as men to have their age included in any piece about them, the report also found. The research cited the case of Sally Rooney, who had her age mentioned in 11 out of 16 pieces of coverage.
This is not the first time the gender bias against books by women has been shown. A study in 2018 found that books written by women were priced at an average of 45% less than men, and each year the VIDA Count looks at the gender breakdown in review coverage in a host of publications.
The Emilia Report was commissioned by the producers of Emilia, a play about Emilia Bassano - England’s first published female poet - and her struggle for recognition as an artist.
Although more than 400 years have passed since Bassano was first published, it seems little has changed in the literary landscape for women. So yes, until we see major changes, we do need an award specially for women writers and for publishers to make pledges to release only books by women.