On International Women’s Day, a Snapshot of Representation in Media and Publishing

08 Mar 2019
On International Women’s Day, a Snapshot of Representation in Media and Publishing

On this International Women’s Day, PEN SA reiterates its condemnation of the intimidation and threats of bodily harm and rape made by EFF supporters to Radio 7o2 presenter, Karima Brown, following EFF leader, Julius Malema’s, public dissemination of her telephone number on Twitter. PEN SA urges Mr Malema and the EFF to apologise unreservedly to Ms Brown for violating her right to privacy, dignity and safety and security of her person.

Imprisoned Women Writers

PEN SA also notes with grave concern that 32 women journalists are being imprsoned worldwide. Their crime? Engaging in free expression and journalistic work.

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) recently released an infographic plotting the details of these women’s arrests and their sentences.

“These journalists are jailed for their coverage of corruption, human rights, and politics,” the infographic reads. “Some are detained for their work on equality; Saudi Arabia imprisons four female journalists who are vocal on the kingdom’s ban on women driving.”

Three of these women journalists are serving life sentences on anti-state charges. They are Ayşe Nazlı Ilıcak (Turkey), Hatice Duman (Turkey) and Gulmire Imin (China).

The greater concern regarding the imprisonment of these women journalists, is the fact that they are routinely subject to abusive behaviour from authorities. Most of these women face sexual violence, invasive strip searches and beatings.

View the full infographic below:

Representation of Women in Publishing

PEN SA further notes with concern the continued and pervasive sexism prevalent in the publishing domain.

Notwithstanding the fact that women dominated the 2017 bestseller’s list of literary fiction in the UK, prominent literary prizes still appear to be biased towards male authors.

Author Kamila Shamsie, in a 2015 article for  The Guardian, revealed that women authors penned fewer than 40% of the books submitted for a Man Booker prize over a five-year period.

“In this period, although four out of five of the chairs of the Booker juries have been men, there has been an almost even split of male and female jurors,” she writes. “The picture that starts to emerge from these statistics is one of judges who judge without gender bias but are hamstrung by publishers who submit with a strong tilt towards books by men.”

In the same year as Shamsie’s article, up-and-coming author, Catherine Nichols wrote a piece for Jezebel in which she shared her personal experience of gender bias from publishing houses. She observed that a manuscript submitted under a male pseudonym received in excess of eight times the number of positive responses garnered for the same manuscript submitted under her own name.

“The judgments about my work that had seemed as solid as the walls of my house had turned out to be meaningless. My novel wasn’t the problem, it was me—Catherine,” she writes. “George [her pseudonym] sent out 50 queries and had his manuscript requested 17 times. He is eight and a half times better than me at writing the same book.”

As a response, Shamsie proposed that 2018 be declared ‘The Year of Publishing Women:’ “If some publishing houses refused to sign up, then it would be for the literary pages and booksellers and bloggers and festivals to say they wouldn’t be able to give space to the male writers who were being published that year.”

Of course, 2018 has come and gone with no such radical changes in the world of publishing.

Celebrating Women’s Gains

Although the media and publishing playing field remains unequal for women and men, there is also reason for celebration.

PEN SA professional member, Pippa Green, was recently appointed Press Ombudsman of South Africa. She assumes office on 1 April 2019 and PEN SA is excited to see the direction in which she will take this important function.

PEN SA is equally encouraged by the existence of publishing presses such as Modjaji Books, which are consistent in their support of southern African women writers.

As Shamsie observes: “Let’s agree that things have improved over the last 50 years, even over the last 20, and then let’s start to ask why.”

PEN SA is eager to see a concerted and intentional push-back against bias, misogyny and sexism within the media and publishing space such that increased equality, representation and the advancement of women in all literary spheres is achieved – an aspiration encapsulated in the PEN International Women’s Manifesto.

Image: International Women’s Day March 2017 (Molly Adams/Flickr)