From the perspective of gender bias, specifically women’s voices, this year’s Man Booker Shortlist is far worse than usual. In terms of racial diversity, it’s pretty good: 4 authors of colour out of a total of 6, which is a big improvement on previous years. But women protagonists get short shrift.
I have shown in a previous post that bias against women’s voices accelerates between literary prize shortlists and winners. The clear bias against female protagonists, which is about the same between long- and shortlists, gets suddenly worse when the One Book to Rule Them All is chosen from among those shortlisted. The shortlists are bad enough: from 2000-2014 only about 36% of the protagonists of the shortlisted books for the Man Booker are women—and half of those are written by men.
This year, though, there are far fewer women’s voices on the shortlist than usual.1 In fact, it’s so bad that there are fewer protagonists in this year’s shortlisted novels (15.4%) than there are usually among the winners (16.6%).
This year, 2 of the 6 shortlisted books are written by women. Between them they wrote 6 protagonists, 5 of which are men.2 One male author writes about 1 woman (though he also writes about 3 men). So this year, of the 15.4% of protagonists who are female, a pitiful 7.7% are women written by women.
In terms of author diversity I’m very glad to see so many writers of colour on this list. I applaud diversity—I want literary prize lists to be diverse in every way. But almost all the books shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize, the books deemed important, interesting, and worthy of attention, are about men. Why do stories about women continue to be considered unworthy of prize consideration? Women’s voices are half the world. We must be heard.
1 The green represents Other, that is, non-human and so unclassifiable by gender. I frankly forgot to include it in the key.
2 Much of this counting and classification is a judgement call. We welcome discussion and correction.