Revolutions in the digital age? Sometimes they start with a hashtag and three words, like #readwomen2014.
When in mid-January 2014 writer and illustrator Joanna Walsh first launched her thought-provoking initiative on Twitter, she admitted in a guest post in The Guardian that she “had no inkling #readwomen2014 would become so successful”.
In just three months, “the year of reading women” has blossomed from a simple Twitter meme to a vibrant worldwide movement.
The gender disparity within the literary community is anything but new. Last year, Vida count, the American organisation for women in the literary arts, published research showing how male authors and reviewers still dominate the book world.
In the UK, an investigation carried out by The Guardian found that in March 2013, only 8.7 per cent of books reviewed in the London Review of Books were by women, rising to 26.1 per cent in the New Statesmen, and 34.1 per cent in The Guardian.
“Everyone wants equality but few are willing to take responsibility or do the hard work”, Walsh says. So, determined to fight the general inertia, and inspired by two men – Jonathan Gibbs and Matthew Jakubowski who had committed themselves to read only female writers for a set period of time – Walsh decided to take action. She started drawing New Year cards showing some of her favorite women writers and posted them on Twitter. The “let’s change our sexist reading habits” trend took off instantly.
The public response has been extensive and enthusiastic. “Within minutes, women – and men – were adding their own favourites to the list,” says Walsh.
From Twitter to Facebook, from Instagram to Pinterest and even YouTube, coloured book covers by women authors have popped up in the form of recommendation lists, blogs, filtered pics, videos and pinned collections.
The #readwomen2014 hashtag has opened up a global conversation which is now unfolding in a variety of guises and nuances.
It has been used as a way to introduce known and unknown female writers from under-reported parts of the world to a wider public.
It has also triggered a debate on genres, women writing and reading habits.
The hashtag has been picked up by publishing houses, and national and local libraries worldwide who are supporting the campaign and have linked it to their own initiatives.
In the UK, many bookshops are reorganising their displays in response.
Whether #readwomen2014 will change existing sexist reading habits or not is too early to tell. It certainly has been a wake-up call, forcing us to look at our bookshelves more closely and realise that, yes, we who call ourselves feminists, have partially contributed to the disgraceful Vida count figures. Let’s change the picture.
About the author
Maria Teresa Sette
Maria Tesse Sette is a journalist and NGO consultant. A former news editor at Wired and managing editor at The New Londoners, Sette writes in English and Italian, mainly on migration and minority rights, ICT4D and new media.