One of the best articles in the current issue of Bitch is about the way the NYT Book Review handles titles with explicitly feminist content–and, most notably, who they tap to review such books. I’ve seen this happen a few times (including with friends’ books), and it’s fascinating, to say the least, to see this tracked as part of a bigger pattern.

Sarah Seltzer writes,

The New York Times Book Review has never exactly embraced passionate advocacy—unless it was promoting Pynchon’s and DeLillo’s place in the postmodernist canon. Even worse, it has become the place where serious feminist books come to die— or more accurately, to be dismissed with the flick of a well-manicured postfeminist wrist.

Recently, Times editors—in both the daily paper and the Sunday section—have trotted out a particularly insidious formula for bashing feminist authors. First, hire a female reviewer to unleash misogynist tropes in her piece and then, lest she appear prejudiced against her own gender, throw in an illogical, contradictory statement about the importance of a less threatening version of feminism that isn’t so “polarizing,” “provocative,” or “strident.” 

The emergence of this pattern has been troubling for feminist bookworms. One nasty review was irritating, two were bewildering, and three or more became evidence of a downright bias. Professors and journalists have chastised the editors of the Sunday section for ignoring female authors and reviewers. Despite the fact that women constitute a majority of book buyers, the Times has made merely a passing effort to achieve parity on its pages. For instance, none of the paper’s “Top five novels of 2007” were written by a woman, and only 13 of 50 on its short list were female-authored.

Beyond this, though, books that take women’s issues in hand are rarely taken seriously. It’s not just that they are criticized, which they are, but rather that the books, their authors—and heck, the whole feminist movement—are routinely treated with a mixture of giggly naïveté and barbed antifeminist prejudices. In a 2007 op-ed for In These Times, media critic Susan J. Douglas noted that there’s “a robust tradition in the Times Book Review to stereotype feminists as single-minded, humorless ideologues who march daily to some shrine where we all genuflect before images of Elizabeth Cady Stanton.” 

Read the whole article here.

Here’s hoping that this trend shifts, speedily and in our days.

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