This is why we need women only book prizes…

Hands up those who get sick of explaining why we still need feminism? 664392

It doesn’t seem to matter what statistics say about the gender pay gap, occupational segregation, family violence, women in leadership, poverty, misogyny in mainstream and social media etcetera – some remain unconvinced.

Hands up those who get sick of explaining why we still need women only book prizes?  


Year on year, the statistics illustrate why women only book prizes are justified.  This year’s Australian Stella’s Count is no exception.

The 2015 Stella Count surveyed 13 Australian publications, including national and state newspapers, review journals and magazines, and assessed just how much column-space women authors receive.

Spoiler alert! It’s not a good news story for almost all of these publications.

A recent study tell us that women make up nearly three-quarters of the author population in Australia (72% female and 28% male), yet they are almost uniformly under-reviewed.

This fantastic graph from the Stella Count tells the story much better than I can.


As you can see, the Australian Financial Review Magazine doesn’t do too well for itself (17% of reviews were of books by female authors), while Books+Publishing should be buffing its nails right now (reviewed 65% female authors).

When the gender of the reviewer is taken into account, the disparity becomes even more marked.

While women tend to review male and female authors at about the same frequency, men will generally review male authors – in fact, up to two to three times more often than female authors.  About this, the Stella Count states: ‘whether by accident or design, a cause or an effect of reviewing processes, the tendency across review publications for male reviewers to review male authors rather than female authors perpetuates cultural biases that suggest that writing by men is universal, and writing by women is for women only’.

The statistics bear a similar theme when it comes to the length of reviews (i.e. reviews of male authored books are usually longer) as well as the genre of the books reviewed (for instance, the number of reviews of non-fiction books by women is often half of those authored by men).

For those residing outside our ‘land girt by sea’, don’t be too smug.  The Vida Count uncovers similar goings-on in the US and Europe.

What this says to me?  The only solution is for all women authors to start wearing fake moustaches and to call themselves George or John.  man-person-woman-face-mediumMoreover, fifty percent of the cost of these accessories could be rebated through a complicated government tax scheme, for example, just to it make entirely clear that female authors weren’t receiving unfettered assistance (or heaven forbid, ‘affirmative action’).

Or I suppose, editors could be more equitable when it comes to reviewing books written by women.

Meanwhile, the Australian Women Writers Challenge and the Stella Prize and the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction and all the like-minded initiatives will continue to fill a need that simply, statistically can’t be disputed.



This is a site about books and about tea, and how we should read more books and drink more tea. Sometimes, it's hard to know what books to read and what tea to drink. This is where I can help out.


  1. ‘whether by accident or design, a cause or an effect of reviewing processes, the tendency across review publications for male reviewers to review male authors rather than female authors perpetuates cultural biases that suggest that writing by men is universal, and writing by women is for women only

    I was thinking about this recently. I’m consciously trying to read more books by women, and especially women whose work I haven’t read before, because 2/3s of my reading is of books by male authors. In my literary travels I have encountered some shockingly poor works by women that fit that clichéd world of women wanting escapist chicklit style writing rather than anything that will engage their brains. It caused me to wonder whether the supposed universality of male literature is partly down to publishers pigeonholing women writers as “for women”, i.e. not serious literature like men write. I’ve also read some brilliantly creative and challenging books by women that stand up next to anything serious by male writers. I wonder how many of those have been ignored by male readers because they presume women writers only write about women’s issues.

    There are all kinds of thoughts circling around my head on this subject! Another question I have is about why we women allow ourselves to be pigeonholed so much. Equality is a human issue, surely. What women think about the world is as relevant to men as what men think is to women. If women have the ability to process male thought on a universal level, it’s about time men exercised the equivalent ability.

    I always write an essay in response to your posts, don’t I?

  2. I love your responses to my posts. They always make me think that little bit harder.

    I don’t tend to come across vacuous books by women, but I have to try quite hard to avoid them, so I know what you mean. And I think you are probably right. Every other consumable is targeted to a particular demographic, cut first by gender and then ususally by age, so I don’t suppose books are any different. It would be interesting to do a vox pop with men we know about what their reading preferences are. In fact, I might just do that!

    That’s an interesting point about the universality of equality – I think a lot of women even struggle with trying to acknowledge that our world is built around male norms and experience. For a lot of folk – women and men- it’s a very challenging concept. And for the others, they’re just not interested.

Tell me what you think!

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