The study is well worth a look for all interested in contemporary literary culture, and I would also recommend reading Bookslut's on-going follow-up discussion about the matter. Frankly, I'm not surprised at VIDA's findings, but I am indeed surprised that anyone would be surprised about the findings. There's quite a bit more to be said about these matters, and I'm still mulling it over myself.
I will say, though, that VIDA's lede caught my attention: "Numbers don't lie. What counts is the bottom line." First, numbers may not "lie," but that's not the same thing as telling the truth. There are a host of reasons that these numbers might be misleading (though I don't think they are).
Second, and more interesting to me, is the idea of a literary "bottom line." VIDA suggests that review ratio is the ultimate measure of cultural attention, but is that the most telling barometer? I'm not sure that it is. Measuring the activity of the gatekeepers is interesting, but isn't what people are reading just as important, if not more so?
One could measure this in several ways (library lending, NY Times Bestseller Lists, Indie Bound Lists), but since Amazon will eventually do most of the bookselling in this country, I thought it would be a good place to start. So I looked at the 100 Bestselling Books, both overall and for Literature and Fiction, and here's what I found.
Of the Top 100 selling books, 47 were written by men, 39 by women (14 multiple-author books had an author of each gender or an institutional author).
Of the Top 100 selling literature and fiction books, 54 were written by women and 46 by men.
This suggests to me that what we see in the VIDA statistics is not overt gender bias on the part of readers and publishers, but by the literary-critical establishment, of which The New York Times, The Atlantic, et al are the most visible members. I don't have a totalizing explanation for why this might be, but I do have an idea for some part of it: the way we think about literature and literary history.
Literary criticism tends to be interested in influence and connection: we measure the greatness of today's work through what past great works it seems to be descended from. And the riverheads of literary history are overwhelmingly male. (Just as one example, The Modern Library's list of the greatest English-language novels of the 20th Century includes only six works by women. Time's list has 16. If we were to form lists for earlier centuries, this number would certainly decline). It stands to reason, then, that male writers are more likely to seem descended from the great (male) writers of the past.
What I am suggesting is that there is a bifurcation in literary "attention" between the male-centric world of capital-l Literature, and the habits and tastes of today's readers when it comes to gender (and probably a litany of other things). Which of these "bottom-lines" is more indicative and of what? I don't have an answer, but I suspect each individual's answer to that question say something about their position in the reading world.