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Women vs Men vs The Giller Prize Add to ...

The long list for this year's Scotiabank Giller Prize has engendered discussion ( here's some ; and here's some more) ( just found more) about the striking difference in the number of men (2) and women (10) on it.

So I thought it would be instructive to look at past men/women ratios on the long lists (which only began in 2006), the short lists and the lists of winners.

As a starter, last year's long list (2008) was the exact opposite of this year's: There were 3 women and 12 men on it. I don't know if anyone said anything, but it was as striking a gender gap as this year's.

The first year of the long list (2006) was the same: 4 women and 11 men. The only long list that has ever approached any kind of gender parity was 2007's, when there were 7 women and 8 men.

Overall, over the course of the four long lists, men have outnumbered women by a fairly wide margin (33-24). This year's list could definitely be seen as a corrective to the serious imbalance of the first three years, when men outnumbered women by more than a 2-1 margin (31-14). (Elana Rabinovitch says it's not a corrective; it's pure chance.)

Now the short lists: From the first year of the Gillers, in 1995, to last year's short list, the total number of women to make the final cut has been 37, compared to 43 men. That's a pretty close split; women have made up 46 per cent of the finalists.

In two of those years, there were 4 women and just 1 man among the finalists (1996 and 2005); Margaret Atwood won in 1996 but the only man on the short list, David Bergen, won in 2005. The one time there was only one woman on the short list (Barbara Gowdy 1995), she didn't win (Rohinton Mistry did).

But even if women have close to a 50-per-cent chance of being a finalist, they only have a 31-per-cent chance of winning the Giller. A woman has won five times, compared to 11 wins by men (including the double-male win of 2000, when a jury that consisted of 2 women and 1 man chose David Adams Richards and Michael Ondaatje as co-winners from a short list that had 4 men and 2 women on it).

A few other statistics: Women won the Giller 3 times (1996, 1998 and 1999) in the first six years of the prize, but have only won twice (2004 and 2007) in the subsequent 9 years.

The three-person jury is always represented by both sexes. Of the 16 juries (including this year's), only five of them have had 2 women and 1 man; 11 have had 1 woman and 2 men.

When juries have been female-dominated, women have won the Giller 40 per cent of the time (2 out of 5). When juries have been male-dominated, women have won 30 per cent of the time (3 out of 10).

Finally, over the course of the same 15-year period (1994-2008), 11 men and 4 women have won the Governor-General's Award for fiction.

Among the possible conclusions from these numbers are:

* Men write better books than women. * Women write just as good books as men but have been overlooked due to sexism. * This is all entirely random because of the size of the sample and we should check in again in another 15 years.

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