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15 December 2019

Gender inequality in the Scottish literary sector

25 July 2019

ROAR (Represent, Object, Advocate, Rewrite) has launched a new website, sharing first research findings that show that gender inequality in the Scottish literary sector is structural and persistent. The group, which was formed in 2016, is working to combat inequality in Scottish writing and publishing. With members from Scottish PEN, Creative Scotland, Scottish Book Trust, Waterstones, Glasgow Women's Library and more, ROAR represents voices from within the literary sector.

ROAR reveals new findings by doctoral researcher, Christina Neuwirth: Women of Words: Gender equality in contemporary writing and publishing in Scotland. The research is funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council and Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities.

In 2018, Scotland celebrated Muriel Spark's work in what would have been the year of her 100th birthday; the Scottish £5 note has sported a portrait of female writer Nan Shepherd since 2016. However, this analysis indicates that more needs to be done to achieve equality in the visibility and value assigned to women in Scottish literature.

The research, covering the period January to December 2017, found that only 37% of authors whose books were published in Scotland were women (14.5% lower than the general population). The genre in which women fared the worst was non-fiction about Scotland: only 4 women were published in 2017, compared to 30 men. In the thriller, mystery and crime genre, double the number of men were published compared to women, and for the humour and sports books category, no women were published at all.

There were only three genres where women were more represented than men: literary narrative non-fiction, where 9 women were published compared to 1 man; and romance fiction, with 11 women authors and 3 male authors. In Scotland, children's literature and historical fiction were the most balanced genres, with 40 women and 37 men being published in children's books, and 5 men and 5 women published in historical fiction.

Scottish media coverage of literature was also analysed by the study, and revealed that in 2017, national newspapers The Herald and The Scotsman published reviews of 604 authors' books: 65% of authors reviewed were men, and 35% were women. Disparity was even greater in the number of reviews: 86% of reviews were written by men, and 14% by women. Of all reviews, 58% were reviews of male authors' books, written by male reviewers. In direct contrast, 7% of all book reviews that year were women's books reviewed by women.

Book festivals in Scotland fared better and were found to be more representative of gender compared to publication or media coverage. In 2017, Aye Write, Bloody Scotland and Edinburgh International Book Festival hosted events with 1,392 authors, and 44% of all authors appearing at these festivals were women. Of these, 461 were solo author events, in which the representation of women writers dropped to 38%. Book festivals were the only area of the sector in which non-binary authors were represented in 2017, making up 0.4% of all programmed authors.

Research is still ongoing, and ROAR aims to publish an account of gender equality in Scottish literary culture every year, as a starting point for affecting change.

More information can be found at www.roar.scot.

For information and comment, please contact mail@roar.scot