Thursday, 21 May 2015

Women in Translation Update

Things are ticking over in the world of thinking about how and why women writers are underrepresented in translation, and how to change the situation. We had a panel on the subject at the London Book Fair in April. The video isn't online yet but I'll add it to this post when it is.

Then there was a panel in New York called “Who We Talk About When We Talk About Translation: Women’s Voices”. I've linked to the video, and Susan Bernofsky also wrote about the event at Translationista. There's some useful statistical material compiled for the event on the basis of the Three Percent data on translations published in the US, available online at Women in Translation.  In addition, Margaret Carson also provided these figures:
Of the titles in English translation last year: 
19% are by women authors translated by women (WA - WT)
13% are by women authors translated by men (WA - MT)
25% are by men authors translated by women (MA - WT)
43% are by men authors translated by men (MA - MT)
 Of the titles in translation by women authors: 
60% were translated by women, 40% by men
Of the titles in translation by men authors:
63% were translated by men, 37% by women
Very soon afterwards, Meytal Radzinski at Biblibio posted her own statistics on the US and some thoughts on what on earth is going on – plus some useful advice on what individuals can do about it. Interesting observations: in the US, the balance is better in poetry, and women don't actually dominate as translators.

I'm still interested in finding information on the gender balance in literary publications in other countries, but am finding it tough. So far, I have no reliable information on Germany, for instance, but I do have this article that I can't read on the Netherlands. The piece has statistics on literary fiction by women and men, saying that in 2012, only 35% of publications in this sector were written by women (about the same ratio as award nominations for women). That's not all that useful if we want to include "genre fiction" in our considerations, or indeed overcome these stupid categories in the first place. It also says something about books authored by women making up 51% of sales revenue. I think.  

So what I think we're looking at is an accumulation of biases. Sexism is a thing all over the world, with different faces in different countries and cultures. If we're honest we have to admit that women aren't being published as widely as men in many places, but we can also see that of those fewer published women writers, fewer are being translated into English. Because they're not thought of as appealing to a perceived readership, because they're not getting critics' attention, because they're not winning prizes, because they're not going on international residencies, because because because. But if we bear in mind that Amazon Crossing is the only US publisher to do more books by women than by men, we can assume the bias is not because they're selling fewer books.

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