The 2019/2020 Stella Count crashes through the gender parity barrier

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).

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

A comparison to the U.S and U.K. – in which the 2019 VIDA Count revealed that only two out of 15 publications included reviewed more women authors than male authors – indicates that Australia may now have one of the most gender equitable book reviewing landscapes in the world.

Principal researcher, Dr Melinda Harvey (Monash University) says of the findings:

“For the first time in the history of the Stella Count, the 2019 and 2020 data tells us that more books by women authors than by men authors are being reviewed in Australia’s book pages. This is a milestone to be celebrated because equal access to book reviews will make a genuine difference to the lives and reputations of Australian women authors.”

On the work still to be done in the Australian reviewing sector, principal researcher Dr Julieanne Lamond (ANU) says:

“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.”

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% of the total number of reviews published.

On the inclusion of non-binary authors in the Count, Dr Harvey says:

“Attempting to count non-binary authors is an important step towards recognising the gender diversity that actually exists in the Australian literary field.”

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%.

Now in its tenth year, Stella is a leading voice for gender equality and cultural change in Australian literature. Its flagship program is the annual Stella Prize – a major literary award which celebrates outstanding books by Australian women and non-binary writers.

The 2022 Stella Prize longlist was announced live at The Wheeler Centre on Monday 28 February. The shortlist will be announced on Thursday 31 March, and the winner on Thursday 28 April 2022.