A month or so ago I was reading Newsweek, and I noticed something about a column called “A Life in Books“. Each week in this column an author is featured and asked to list the five most important books in his or her life. What I noticed was that it always seemed like a male author was selected, and it also seemed to me that these authors nearly always chose books by other males. So I thought I would do a little investigating, since it was entirely possible that the problem was just with my perception.
I went to the Newsweek website a few weeks ago and did a search for the past columns. I selected the past eight columns. I selected eight because that is how many showed up on the first page of the search, and because I wanted to limit how much time I wasted in this endeavor. So how many of the eight were male? Eight.
Now, I think I remember seeing a female author now and again, so I’m sure if I dug deeply enough, I would find one. But, last time I checked, women made up about a half of this planet. So, why would they be so underrepresented in the newsweek column? Certainly there are plenty of talented female authors who could be featured.
It was also interesting to look at the books selected by these authors. Since each of these eight authors choose five books, this produces a total of forty book selections. How many of these were authored by females? Three. In other words, 92.5 % of the books in eight columns were authored by men. Wow. I wouldn’t have expected this in 2007. Maybe we haven’t really come as far as we think.
Now, I’m not suggesting that Newsweek is being malicous, or that they even realize how lopsided their column is. But that doesn’t make it any less worrisome. It only shows how insidious our biases can be and how they can operate without our awareness. Which is scary. For all of us.
As I said, I did this research a few weeks ago. A couple of days I got a Newsweek in the mail, and a female author was featured. But don’t get too excited. There was at least another male author featured since I did my assessment. So, I don’t know exactly what the stats are for the entire history of this column (I do have a life, you know), but it sure seems like a huge gender imbalance. And in case you were wondering, the woman who is featured this week in newsweek’s column selected three books by men and two books by women.
Here are some of the questions I ponder. If we did a racial assessment of this column, what would it show? Are these mostly white males? My guess is yes, but I didn’t look at that. It took me a long time just to figure out the sex of some of the authors (who knew Emile was a man?). Of the hordes of people who read Newsweek each week, has anyone else besides me even noticed this imbalance? Does anyone even care?
It is kind of funny that the cover story this week is on gender. Go figure.