Thursday, April 1, 2010

Gender Balance in Boyne Berries

Emerging Writer has an interesting blog entry on the subject of Sexual Imbalance in Poetry Competitions? It made me go and look at the gender balance in the recent issue of Boyne Berries. We published 49 pieces in the magazine, 28 by women, 21 by men. We got submissions from 109 writers, 46 of whom were women. So it appears that we may be slightly imbalanced in favour of women.

We had a team of four Group members (three male one female) who looked at the submissions and advised me (male) on publication or not. These did not know the identity or gender of the writers.

The issue of gender balance seems to me to be a minefield. Are there clearly set out rules? Should the percentage of each gender published reflect the percentage of submissions by that gender? Surely not. Should there be a 50-50 divide in the magazine? Surely not but a regular imbalance on one side or the other would surely indicate that something is wrong.

I seem to remember a recent controversy possibly in the pages of Poetry Review where someone either suggested that only women should review books of poetry by women or complained that books of poetry by women were only being reviewed by women.

It reminds me of a case some time ago when there was a review of gender imbalance and stereotyping in Irish textbooks. One publisher was criticised for having a scene where a father read a goodnight story to his son on the basis that the gender count was males 2, females 0. The publisher responded saying that they were deliberately trying to redress a gender stereotype by having the father read the story. Difficult to get it right.


Paddy Smith said...

To hell with gender, Michael. What about town v country? Supporters of NAMA v non-supporters? Laptop owners v PC owners? Under 5ft 8in and over? People who wear jeans v people who don't? Writers who can punctuate and writers who can't? Big Endians v Small Endians?

Emerging Writer said...

Interesting. Not all mags judge submissions anonymously (gender, famous names or anything else). I may look at that next when I've time.

I have George Szirtes getting very defensive in my comments when I made it clear that I couldn't see a link between the gender of the judges and the gender of the poets shortlisted.

I'm just posing the question why. I can't draw any conclusions if I don't know the proportion submitting.

I do believe women tend to write different poems to men, style, subject matter. Not always but often.
What do you think? Why is there an imbalance?

Michael Farry said...

A minefield as I said. We don't in the end judge submissions anonymously since I know the details and make the final decisions. This is sometimes based on previous publication in the magazine, geographical spread but in the end the material has to be worthy of publication.

I'm not sure that women write different poems to men to a greater extent that men write different poems to other men. And even if they do can we tell the difference? Do Irish poets write different poems to UK poets? If so is there an imbalance in UK competitions?