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Female authors still the exception in the literary field

25 February 2008

The literary world is traditionally a male stronghold. The male bastion was finally stormed in the 1970s and 1980s by a stream of female authors. At least, that’s what the media said. Lenny Vos has discovered that female authors were not increasing in relation to male authors in the literary field at all. ‘In absolute terms the number of female authors increased, but so did the number of male ones. The percentages remained the same. Only since the 1990s can we really speak of a catching up.’ Vos will be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 6 March.

Although the number of women in the literary field is certainly increasing, the percentage over the years has remained at about a quarter of the total number of authors. Until deep into the 1990s, when the percentage of female authors finally increased to 35 percent. Vos: ‘That’s rather late, given all the emancipation movements in society. In addition, TNS NIPO recently held a survey which revealed that more than half of the people who write as a hobby are women. Clearly the threshold to publishing their work and really making writing their profession is much higher for women.’

Position of authors in the literary field

This is revealed by another aspect of Vos’s research, where she takes publishing companies as a variable in order to gain more insight into the position these authors hold in the literary field. The publishing companies were divided into two types: large literary publishing companies with lots of prestige and the less prestigious and smaller publishing companies. Whereas men and women in the first two reference years, 1947 and 1957, were spread evenly over both types of publishing house, the number of women with the large literary publishing houses declined sharply over the years to as little as 12 percent in 1997.

Other literary activities

To gain more insight into the position that these authors hold in the literary world, Vos also investigated the other literary activities of authors in their debut period. What particularly stands out is the number of women with publications in literary magazines. Whereas female authors who published in such journals in their debut years were completely in the minority in the 1970s, by the 1980s the balance was roughly equal between men and women. In the 1990s, it turns out that more women than men were publishing in literary journals. ‘However, here, too, it is clear that just like the publishing houses, for the most influential journals, such as De Gids and De Revisor, the percentage of women is significantly lower than for the other journals’, according to Vos.

Curriculum Vitae

Lenny Vos (Rotterdam, 1971) will be awarded a PhD by the Faculty of Arts. Her supervisors were Prof. H.E. Wilcox and Prof. G.J. Dorleijn. Her thesis is entitled ‘Uitzondering op de regel. De positie van vrouwelijke auteurs in het naoorlogse Nederlandse literaire veld.’ Vos currently works as a researcher for the Vereniging van Openbare Bibliotheken [Society of Public Libraries] in the Hague.

Last modified:15 September 2017 3.27 p.m.

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