Why dedicate a whole issue to women’s writing in Canada?
This is an important question and one that we take very seriously, as it asks us to evaluate our editorial standards as well as our position on gender issues literary or otherwise. Simply put, we decided to dedicate an issue to reviewing women’s writing in Canada when we first read the 2011 report on gender inequality in literary reviews that Canadian Women in the Literary Arts (CWILA) released last year. In her summary of the studies CWILA has done in the past two years, Laura Moss recalls the clear problem that the 2011 report revealed:
The original CWILA Count last year found that although women published half the books in the country, they only got an average of 39 percent of the book review space. The Count found that men wrote more reviews than women, men tended to review books by men (still a persistent trend), and books by male writers received more attention than books written by women authors. CWILA proved a gender bias in literary culture in Canada.
Our immediate decision to put together a review dedicated to women’s writing reflects our, until now implicit but unannounced, desire that this journal always strive to review works by authors who may not always find reviewers in more mainstream outlets. This issue, as much as our previous ones, reflects our desire to demonstrate our awareness of these concerns and to make positive changes, however humble, to the literary culture of Canada. The latest report from CWILA demonstrates that The Bull Calf is in good company. While men still receive more reviews than women, the gap between the two shrunk a bit in 2012 across Canada: male authors received 57.25 percent of the reviews and female authors received 42.51 percent The latest study from CWILA also draws attention to other areas of bias in review culture, including genderqueer authors, and so continues to insist that we, as readers, reviewers, and journal editors, think more about who reviews privilege and why.
You’ll notice that although every review is of a female-authored book, the reviews themselves only engage with explicitly feminist themes when they are crucial to understanding the books themselves. Importantly, although this issue has provided a platform from which to discuss women’s writing; it has not in any conscious way attempted to limit that writing to set of predetermined issues or values. As always, our issue balances reviews of established writers (Lorna Crozier, Lynn Crosbie, Alice Munro, and so forth) with those of emerging talents (Christine Miscione, Aisha Sasha John, and others). Furthermore, this issue includes, for the first time in The Bull Calf, creative contributions from talented young writers whose careers are just beginning: Francesca Bianco, Julie Mannell, and Natascha Simard have all contributed some of their newest work to The Bull Calf 3.2.
The criticisms of special issues such as this one are well known. Most potent is the one that says issues, like this one, position women as “other” and so re-inscribe them in a patriarchal and misogynistic power structure. That may be the case, but the statistics revealed in the CWILA studies (and the experience of any number women who live in the world) already tells us that women are different: they are reviewed differently than men; they receive less critical attention than men; and, crucially in this case, they publish more books than men. For now at least, women need more attention from reviewers; this issue attempts to give them some of that attention while also declaring our own solidarity with other organizations who are rethinking and repairing that gendered bias in Canada’s review culture.
Welcome to The Bull Calf 3.2,
Kait and Jeff