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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Career Coach: Gender and Book Reviews
October 18, 2009 - 6:20pm

One of my clients has written a book that is about to be published. It is an excellent book -- beautifully written, with interwtined themes that reverberate long after the narrative ends. The book was recently reviewed in a distinguished publication with an online presence, and my client sent me a link to the review. It was outstandingly positive, the sort of review that makes you want to run out and buy the book, and I congratulated her heartily.

"I don't want to seem ungrateful," she responded, "but look at this." She showed me another review from the same publication, of a male colleague's book. While my client's book had been described enthusiastically as an engaging, fast-moving read (which it is), her colleague's was discussed in respectful terms, lauded for its profundity and depth -- descriptors which also apply to my client's book.

"It's because he's male," she said. And a perusal of other positive reviews seemed to support that.

I haven't read all of those other books, of course, but unless women are writing only fun fluff and men are writing only deeply profound and important works, something is fishy here -- possibly the same phenomenon MJ Rose points to in her continuing tally of male vs. female representation in Oprah's Book Club (current tally: of the 19 book club titles Oprah has chosen since 2003, 17 are by men).

My client is an adjunct, with no interest in the tenure track. And the review will almost certainly drive sales. But it's hard not to wonder how many careers are made, or broken, on the basis of the "importance" of one's output, as decided by evaluators who may read through the filter of gender.


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