Thursday, February 22, 2007

A "Larry Summers Moment"

Ann on the TAPPED blog has a nice post on the reasons why so few reviewers of the New York Times Book Review are women:

Amy Hoffman, editor-in-chief of the Women's Review of Books, recently reported that she attended a lecture at the Radcliffe Institute by Barry Gewen, an editor at the New York Times Book Review. In what even he described as a "Larry Summers moment" he explained that the reason so few women reviewers appear in the NYTBR is that they just can't write for a general audience about such topics as military history. He explained that NYTBR editors find reviewers by talking to colleagues and reading publications such as The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, and The New Republic, insisting that he and his colleagues are not overtly prejudiced people but admitted they might have subconscious prejudices.

Note the perfect circle of self-referrals or referrals to People Just Like Me. Note also how odd it is that an intelligent and experienced editor would give such an extremely weak excuse for the dearth of women among the reviewers. I wonder if anyone asked what percentage of the books to be reviewed are on military history and why this percentage (probably not an enormous one) dictated the gender of the reviewers so totally, or if anyone asked what evidence Gewen has to assume that women don't write on military history. Could women at least review cook books, then? Please, pretty please?

Gewen also stated, according to the Harvard Crimson, that he feels squeamish about the idea of seeking reviewers who are not white just for the sake of them not being white. Presumably this is because he has not yet scraped the bottom of the white-guy barrel and only then would someone not white be an equally talented reviewer.

All this is exasperating, because the underpinnings of Gewen's thoughts are made so very bare. It's like spotting someone naked in an embarrassing way. Now we know how Gewen thinks and now we can see how no woman reviewer could ever be hired by him just on her own merits. The next one who gets hired will always be seen as an affirmative action hire, even if she writes on war books better than the angels of death.