A Composition on Gender Bias in 21st Century Publishing

The publishing industry, like all industries, has undergone significant evolution due to technology and the rise in literacy rates. The invention of the printing press became a massive force of power after the Reformation of 1660 because “the power of books lies in their ability to disseminate information quickly and to a wide audience” (Keh, 1998, p.106). Yet, it is crucial to note that ‘power’ or ‘authority’ was monopolized by those of a specific social and financial class, gender, and race. The ramifications of power and opportunity were in place for so long that the 21st century must catch up to fairly distribute access and opportunity to those of lower economic classes and minority groups. Gender bias is one of the biases that pervade most social spaces and fields. The publishing world is no exception. It was only until the late 19th century that women could officially publish their works under their name, though at first this was also stipulated under certain conditions. This essay will overview the 21st-century gender bias in the publishing world and how it affects female-identifying authors and writers.

Figure 1: Olivia Waller - Open University. Folio Art, & Waller, O. 2022.

To begin, it is imperative to define ‘author’ and the nuances around its definition. Merriam Webster simply states an ‘author’ as: “The writer of a literary work (such as a book)” (2022). Although the avenue of self-publishing has presented more widespread opportunities for writers to publish, the implication of an author also invokes a sense of influence (Norton, 2015). That influence, then, also reflects a level of authority. Next, ‘gender bias’, as defined by the American Psychological Association (APA), is described as:

Any one of a variety of stereotypical beliefs about individuals on the basis of their sex, particularly as related to the differential treatment of females and males (n.d.).

Therefore, biases, such as in the case of gender in this essay, can also be developed subconsciously by everyone.

In addition, the publishing industry has had a drastic evolution due to technology, higher literacy rates, and the ever-changing nature of culture. Among all the changes, the publishing procedure for books has not been altered drastically from the original model. Mikolaj Klimczak (2020), an assessment professor at Wroclaw University of Economics and Business, describes the first major way of publishing as follows: the author submits a manuscript to the publisher, the publisher then deliberates whether or not to accept the submission; upon acceptance, the manuscript is prepared for print through proofreading, editing, and designing, and then the final product goes through a distributor, who contacts the retailers for sales and promotions (p. 16741). The second major way is through electronic publishing via hosting platforms, and self-publishing, where an author has direct contact with the readers to circulate and promote their work (Klimczak, 2020). Publishing research in academia follows a similar process to the former with the addition of rigorous peer review and submissions made to a journal publication rather than a publishing house.

Figure 2: International Women’s Day. Mollon, A. 2018.

Moreover, as society encourages the public to challenge their internal biases, exploration of the negative economic and sociological impacts of implicit biases continues. In addition to the different types of publishers, the industry publishes various genres of literature and scholarly and academic works. Therefore, just as diverse representations have more severe differences in some fields, gender disparities are faced in varying degrees based on certain categories of publications. In the early half of the 21st century, research articles such as the one presented by Lanethea Mathews and Kristi Andersen (2001), scholars in political science at Syracuse University, found that according to The Chronicle of Higher Education (1989): “43% of women in colleges and 20% in universities have never published a single journal article. The same was true of only 23% of men in colleges and 7% in universities” (p. 143). The authors describe the varying factors as to why this could be the case:

Women may be less likely than men to receive visiting appointments and participate in editorial boards, professional panels, committees, and research teams-activities that encourage the building of professional networks and contacts outside home and institutions (p. 144).

It also has to be considered that while the female writers at this point still contributed published works, many women writers were pushed into fields of studies that are more encouraged for women to join due to gender bias expectations. For example, Mathews and Andersen (2001) concluded that “women’s representation among contributing authors falls considerably once controls for content and topic are introduced” (p.146). In other words, at this point in the early timeline of the 21st century, while women certainly had an authorial or editorial presence in published research, it was limited to certain fields such as gender-related research. After excluding those fields, women's contribution dropped by almost half from 30% to 16%, and they were also less likely to be co-editors in male-created content (Young, 1995, as cited in Mathews & Andersen, 2001).

Figure 3: The Magician. Copithorne, K. 2020.

As the 21st century progressed, female-identifying authorship, and those of other minority groups, increased due to various social media movements to spread awareness of historically underrepresented voices. Beth Johnson and Alison Peirse (2018), researchers in the School of Media and Communication at the University of Leeds, focus on the 2018 Writers’ Guild of Great Britain report on ‘Gender Inequality and Screenwriters’, revealing that female writers had the greatest representation writing for children and soap opera genres:

These figures suggest that children’s and CDS [Continuing Drama Series i.e. Soap Operas] are the genres in which women writers are most likely to find work and keep working. At the same time, these are the two genres considered among television professionals to have the lowest cultural cachet. In addition, the report demonstrates a clear link between television genre and gender inequality (p. 659).

Despite the increase of women authors, there is pressure for women to prove their worth compared to their male counterparts. Though 'female' or 'feminized' genres are doubtlessly valuable, these ideas could constrain female-identifying authors to only to have success in writing for more ‘feminized’ categories of publishing.

To elucidate further, Dana B. Weinberg and Adam Kapelner (2018), researchers of Sociology at Queens College, CUNY, compared gender discrimination and inequality in indie and traditional publishing. The authors made the following assertion of within-job discrimmination in the traditional publishing industry:

Within-job discrimination would appear as within-genre differences in book prices based on author gender, with books by female authors priced lower than those by male authors even within the same genre and format. [...] a gender-based differential would suggest that publishers perceive that the books by female authors have a lower market value than those by male authors such that a lower price is needed to encourage sales to the same anticipated audience (p. 5).
Figure 4: Find your why. Gil, R. 2020.

This research not only emphasizes Howell's previous statements of feminized genres usually expected of women in novel-writing, but it also asserts that gender bias in certain enclaves of the professional world typically occurs upon evaluations, promotions, and seniority positions within an industry. Tin Cheuk Leung and Koleman Strumpf (2022), researchers in economics at Wake Forest University, confirmed an inequality in gender at the senior level positions in publishing. The following quote was taken from the Diversity Baseline Survey (2020):

‘Publishing is about 74 percent cis women and 23 percent cis men [...] Among executive and board member positions this disparity evened out somewhat, with approximately 38 percent of executives and board members identifying as cis men. This reflects the reality that males still ascend to positions of power more easily, even in female-dominated industries' (as cited in p. 24).

In truth, Leung and Strumpf (2022) also made the following conclusion that a wage gap between female and male authors was found: “White male authors are paid approximately $14,000 more than white female authors, and the gender gap for non-white authors is even bigger at close to $40,000” (p. 27).

Figure 5: Build your creative career. Gil, R. 2022.

Thus far, these arguments mainly account for gender bias in literary works but do not account for female-identifying authors in STEM-related publications. In a meta-research article by Nichole A. Broderick and Arturo Casadevall (2019), researchers in Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at John Hopkins University analyzed 2,898 scientific papers published between 1995 and 2017 across the U.S., Europe, and Other, to observe gender inequalities in author contribution in research publications. While Broderick and Casadevall (2019) did find a progressive positive trajectory toward gender bias in research publishing, in the case of three or more mixed-gender contributions, they made the following conclusion that the first authors were more likely to be male:

Given the importance of first authorship in biomedical publications and the increasing popularity of sharing authorship with the rise of team science a male preference could have consequences on hiring decisions, promotion and the distribution of resources such as grant funding (p. 8).
Figure 6: flat illustrations (women). shailavi. 2022.

Despite these causes of concern, safeguarding practices can be arranged to prevent implicit biases in the review process. For example, Christophe Bernarde (2018), the editor-in-chief of eNeuro, which publishes neuroscience papers, uses a double-blind review system: “Any information that explicitly identifies the authors is removed at the submission stage” (p. 1). This initiative further strengthens the importance of consistently challenging our biases, especially in the context of publishing.

In conclusion, the 21st century still holds implicitly biased conventions that deserve critical awareness to maintain fair treatment and present equal opportunities to others. Therefore, it is crucial to also fairly evaluate the performances of professionals in publishing firms, including authors, and be aware of a bias that may be negative or positive. Although these biases and gaps vary by nation, the power of publishing will hopefully continue to provide access to ideas and genres authored by any individual of a minority group. This phenomenon would create a space of freedom for authors to publish in a field based on individual interests and merits, and not what is pressured by gender (and other) biases of society.

Bibliographical Sources

APA Dictionary of Psychology. gender bias. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://dictionary.apa.org/gender-bias

author. (n.d.). In The Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/author

Bernard, C. (2018). Editorial: gender bias in publishing: double-blind reviewing as a solution? Eneuro, 5(3), ENEURO.0225-18.2018. https://doi.org/10.1523/eneuro.0225-18.2018

Broderick, N. A., & Casadevall, A. (2019). Gender inequalities among authors who contributed equally. eLife, 8. https://doi.org/10.7554/elife.36399

Johnson, B., & Peirse, A. (2021). Genre, gender and television screenwriting: The problem of pigeonholing. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 24(3), 658–672. https://doi.org/10.1177/13675494211006089

Keh, H.T. (1998). Evolution of the book publishing industry: Structural changes and strategic implications. Journal of Management History (Archive). 4. 104-123. 10.1108/13552529810219593. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/235266779_Evolution_of_the_book_publishing_industry_Structural_changes_and_strategic_implications

Klimczak, M. (2020). The Evolution of the publishing industry - the impact of vanity publishing. Education Excellence and Innovation Management: A 2025 Vision to Sustain Economic Development during Global Challenges. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/343211681_The_Evolution_of_the_Publishing_Industry_-_the_Impact_of_Vanity_Publishing

Leung, T.C., & Strumpf, K.S., Discrimination in the Publishing Industry? (2022). Retrieved from, https://ssrn.com/abstract=3660289

Mathews, A. L., & Andersen, K. (2001). A Gender gap in publishing? women’s representation in edited political science books. PS: Political Science and Politics, 34(1), 143–147. http://www.jstor.org/stable/135032

Norton, S. (2015). Author, author?: —Everyone’s a writer. Books Ireland, 362, 7–7. http://www.jstor.org/stable/booksireland.362.7

Weinberg D.B., & Kapelner, A. (2022) Do book consumers discriminate against Black, female, or young authors? PLoS ONE 17(6): e0267537. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0267537

Image Sources

Figure 1: Folio Art, & Waller, O. (2022). Olivia Waller - Open University [Illustration]. Retrieved from https://www.behance.net/gallery/142561527/Olivia-Waller-Open-University?tracking_source=search_projects%7Collivia%20waller

Figure 2: Mollon, A. (2018). International Women’s Day [Illustration]. Retrieved from https://www.behance.net/gallery/62961327/International-Womens-Day/modules/369425001

Figure 3: Copithorne, K. (2020). The Magician [Illustration]. Retrieved from https://www.behance.net/gallery/100926103/The-Magician/modules/581874165

Figure 4: Gil, R. (2020). Find your why [Illustration]. Retrieved from https://dribbble.com/shots/13376840/attachments/4979813?mode=media

Figure 5: Gil, R. (2022). Build your creative career [Illustration]. Retrieved from https://dribbble.com/shots/12303481-Build-your-creative-career/attachments/3918880?mode=media

Figure 6: shailavi. (2022). flat illustrations (women) [Illustration]. Retrieved from https://www.behance.net/gallery/150800031/flat-illustrations-(women)/modules/851636411

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Leah Dietle

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