Arc is Canada’s main venue for the publication of reviews of books of poetry, publishing more poetry reviews than any other magazine or newspaper in Canada. We take this role seriously. .
As such, Arc aims to pay close attention to balance in relation to many different criteria such as gender, race, geography, and aesthetics. While we need the freedom to choose work that speaks to our editorial collective, we also want to ensure that biases (both in our selection processes and in the work that is submitted to us) don’t go unchecked.
In light of our commitment to strive for balance, Arc has been paying close attention to the recent numbers on gender and book reviews issued by Canadian Women in the Literary Arts (CWILA). Arc’s 2012 numbers disappointed us and we began to wonder exactly what our current stats might be thus far in 2013. Specifically, has Arc improved? In the spirit of accountability and to help us monitor our own progress, Arc decided to do a mid-2013 check-in to look at gender in relation not only to the reviews of poetry Arc publishes but also in relation to our poetry, essays, and visual art. As you will see, some of our mid-year numbers are encouraging, but we also have more work to do.
So far in 2013, we’ve published 66 reviews all together, appearing in print and online. Looking at reviews of books of poetry by gender of author and reviewer, Arc’s mid-2013 numbers show near parity, leaning slightly in favour of female-authored books and female-authored reviews.
Interestingly, Arc’s main imbalance in relation to reviews and gender is our skew toward reviewers writing about authors of the same gender. In Gillian Jerome’s “The CWILA Numbers 2012: An Introduction” she notes, “Most tellingly, despite the increasing presence of women in the critical sphere, and the increased attention paid to women’s books at some magazines and newspapers, men still dominate reviewing culture by reviewing each other’s books 70% of the time” (“An Introduction”). At Arc in 2013, men aren’t dominating the reviews, but reviewers of both genders seem to prefer to review books by authors of their same gender. We frame this as reviewers’ preference because our reviews are not commissioned; instead reviewers are sent a list of books from which they can select and we also invite reviewers to suggest books they’d like to review that may not be on our list. This isn’t to shift responsibility onto reviewers—Arc’s numbers are Arc’s responsibility—but we do believe that a more equity-conscious community of both editors and reviewers will help to change these trends more quickly than will editors acting alone.
We also believe that our responsibility to look at gender in relation to the work we publish goes beyond reviews, and so we decided to look at gender in our poetry, essays, and visual art in Arc 70 and 71, 2013. For poetry, Arc’s mid-2013 numbers show that we have published 29 male poets (representing 77 pages of poetry) and 17 female poets (representing 50 pages of poetry). For essays, we have published 3 male essayists (representing 30 pages) and 2 female essayists (representing 13 pages). For visual art, we have published 2 male artists and, as yet, no female artists.
In our discussion about these numbers and publishing a mid-way count, we decided in favour of transparency. At Arc, we feel that the point of a count is awareness—and what we ultimately do with that awareness. Ensuring that Arc’s decision-making is equitable is on-going, and it’s a process to which we’re committed. Over the remaining issues of 2013, Arc will work to further address gender disparity in our pages. We’re also discussing ways to better understand the source of the disparity—by looking into tracking the stats of our submissions versus our published content and by broadening our solicitation process—because a disparity in the space for women writers, reviewers, and reviewees is not in line with what we value regarding voice and representation in Canadian poetry.
For Arc, as for many other Canadian magazines and newspapers, CWILA’s 2011 and 2012 numbers helped to clarify that more work needs to be done—by editors, by reviewers, and by the critical culture at large—before the literary sphere can provide equitable representation of female and male writers in Canada. We have more work to do too and we accept our current numbers as a challenge to continue to work to address gender in relation to all the work we publish.
Thanks to CWILA for ground-breaking awareness-raising about gender representation in Canadian critical culture. And thanks to all readers and reviewers for your support of Arc.