Women in Translation, Part I: Fourteen Countries

Over the past few months, with the help of two fantastic interns, I’ve updated the Translation Database to include the sex of every author and translator in there.1 It was a brutal task, hunting down information about all of these people, scanning bios for gendered pronouns and then entering all of this into the database. But, now that it’s done, I can start running reports and provide specifics about the gender imbalance with regard to literature in translation.

It’ll be a few more weeks before I have everything sorted and organized, but when I do, I’ll post a huge, comprehensive report looking at everything from how many books by women have been translated from Spanish over the past seven years, to which publishers have the most balanced lists.

Because these reports are fascinating (well, fascinating and depressing), I’m planning on posting mini-updates here as I run them.

Right now, I’ve only completed two main reports: One that breaks down male vs. female authors (and male vs. female translators) by year and genre (fiction vs. poetry), and one that breaks down male and female authors by country of origin.

The results of the first one are pretty bleak. Between 2008 and 2014 there were 2,471 fiction translations published in the U.S. for the first time ever. Of those, 1,775 were written by men, compared to 657 by women, and 39 by men & women. In terms of percentages, female authors make up 26.6% of all the fiction translations published over the past seven years.

Poetry isn’t much better. Of the 571 books included in the database, 384, or 67.3% are by male authors. Only 169, or 29.6% of the poetry collections published during this period were by women.

I suspected going into this that there would be significantly more male authors published in translation than women, but I figured it would be more like a 60-40 split, not 71-27. That’s brutal.

Breaking it down by country is equally depressing. Female authors made up 50% or more of the books from only 14 of the 110 countries represented in the database. Here’s the complete list:

Armenia: 1 male author, 1 female author (50%)
Belarus: 2 male authors, 3 female authors (60%)
Costa Rica: 1 male author, 1 female author (50%)
Croatia: 4 male authors, 4 female authors (50%)
Ecuador: 1 male author, 1 female author (50%)
Finland: 10 male authors, 18 female authors (62%)
Latvia: 0 male authors, 1 female author (100%)
Mauritius: 0 male authors, 3 female authors (100%)
Myanmar: 0 male authors, 1 female author (100%)
Niger: 0 male authors, 1 female author (100%)
Rwanda: 1 male author, 1 female author (50%)
Saudi Arabia: 2 male authors, 3 female authors (60%)
Slovakia: 0 male authors, 1 female author (100%)
Wales: 0 male authors, 1 female author(100%)

That’s it. Here’s the breakdown from a handful of other notable countries:

Argentina: 60 male authors, 30 female authors (33%)
China: 76 male authors, 21 female authors (20%)
France: 253 male authors, 96 female authors (27%)
Germany: 146 male authors, 78 female authors (35%)
Italy: 134 male authors, 41 female authors (23%)
Japan: 118 male authors, 47 female authors (28%)
Russia: 97 male authors, 32 female authors (23%)
Spain: 114 male authors, 36 female authors (24%)
Sweden: 79 male authors, 47 female authors (36%)

At some point, I’m going to group these by region (Middle East, Southern Cone) and see how that breaks down. At first glance, it seems like the Scandinavian countries (Iceland, Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden) might have the best balance. Adding those five countries together, we get 201 male authors and 113 female authors, or 36%