For the first time since it started in 2012, representation of women authors in Australian book reviews is on par with that of their male counterparts, the latest reports from Stella reveal. This is a huge milestone for the trailblazing Stella Count, crashing through the gender gap in books and reviews in Australia.  

The Stella Count is the leading statistical analysis of gender bias in the field of book reviewing in Australia. The Count surveys 12 Australian publications – including national, metropolitan, and regional newspapers, journals and magazines – collecting and interpreting data on the gender of authors and reviewers, length of review, and genre of books reviewed.  

The data is analysed by researchers from Monash University and The Australian National University (ANU).  

ANU researcher and a principal author of the report, Dr Julieanne Lamond, said there is still plenty of work to be done.  

“Gender bias is insidious: peel back the layers and you find it is still in residence elsewhere. Our data shows that books authored by men remain more likely to receive the sustained attention of long book reviews than books authored by women, and that men reviewers are more likely to write them. This means that men continue to dominate the most prestigious review space in this country.” 

Illustration: Anya Wotton/ANU

The 2019 and 2020 Stella Counts – delayed by the impacts of COVID and released today – are Stella’s eighth and ninth consecutive quantitative studies conducted, and demonstrate the organisation’s commitment to evidence-based research in driving gender equality and cultural change in Australian literature.  

For the first time in Stella Count history – and possibly in Australian reviewing history – the 2019 and 2020 Counts see the representation of women authors in Australian book reviews reach, and exceed, parity with their male counterparts.  

The 2019 Count showed 53 per cent of books reviewed in Australian publications were by women, with this trend increasing to 55 per cent in 2020. In both the 2019 and 2020 Stella Counts, nine out of 12 publications surveyed reviewed more books by women than by men.  

In 2019 and 2020, non-binary authors were also counted in the data for the first time, bringing the Count into line with the Stella Prize which has expanded its eligibility guidelines to include non-binary authors. Using self-identification as a guide, books by non-binary authors accounted for <1 per cent of the total number of reviews published. 

“Attempting to count non-binary authors is an important step towards recognising the gender diversity that actually exists in the Australian literary field,” Dr Melinda Harvey from Monash University, a princial author of the report, said. 

 With research delayed by COVID-19, the 2019/2020 Stella Count also inadvertently tells an interesting story about the impacts of the pandemic on book reviewing in Australia – with the 2020 Count showing the total number of books reviewed across Australian publications dropped by 15 per cent.

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