“The Count” Confirms Publishing’s Gender Bias

What would you think if I told you that in 2010 magazines like Harper’s, The New Republic, Poetry Magazine, Granta, The New Yorker, and most of the other big names, published more work written by men than by women?

Would it shock you?  Surprise you?  Raise an eyebrow?

What if I told you that those magazines didn’t publish just three or four more articles by men than by women, they published three or four times more.  It calculates like this:

  • The Atlantic published 154 pieces written by men, 53 by women.
  • The New Yorker: 449 by men, 163 by women.
  • The New York Review of Books: 462 by men, 79 by women.

That raises more than eyebrows, it raises questions and VIDA is doing the asking.

VIDA, a literary group formed last year in response to gender inequality in print, has just published The Count.  I might have called it “The Countess,” but that’s probably too cutesy.  The Count is literally that, a count of male to female writers in the country’s most prestigious magazines, and it is proof positive of just how skewed the ratio is.

As a woman writer, the survey could be depressing.  I could throw up my hands and say, “Why bother, there’s no breaking into the old-boy’s club.”  If it was just a survey, it would be depressing, but it’s not just a survey, it’s the beginning of a conversation and VIDA is leading the way.

“Our count is by no means a blame-game,” says Cate Marvin, VIDA co-founder. “It was time to stop speculating that things didn’t seem entirely fair and find out if we did in fact have reason to be concerned.  The conversation only begins with the numbers.”

More data on submissions and books published by gender is needed for a true picture, but what is included in “The Count” makes it clear that there is a startling imbalance and something needs to be done.  Yes, the conversation has started.  As a woman who writes, it’s now my responsibility to be a part of it.

For more details, read the study by VIDA: “Numbers don’t lie. What counts is the bottom line.”

For an analysis of the numbers, read A new tally by VIDA shows how few female writers appear in magazines from slate.com.

Resources: VIDA, The Daily Post
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7 responses to ““The Count” Confirms Publishing’s Gender Bias

  1. Deanna Schrayer

    Olivia, this reminds me so much of Virginia Woolf’s essay, A Room of One’s Own. Of course that could be because it’s so fresh in my mind, having reread it and written my own essay about it last month, but it’s basically the same concept. She wrote A Room of One’s Own as a result of being asked to speak on women and fiction. In essence, (after a very lengthy essay), her conclusion was that there Should Be No comparison of men and women writing fiction, or nonfiction, but that each and every one of us writers have masculinity and feminity in ourselves, and that both should be evident in our writing.

    I may be far off the mark in this analogy, but I don’t think so. If these magazines are publishing more men’s work because they’re men, then by all means it does need to be “investigated”, but if this result is only because the men’s articles submitted are better than the women’s, then, well, why are we worried about it? That said, I haven’t yet read VIDA’s report – maybe my mind will be completely changed after that.

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post!

  2. Pingback: Thursday Thoughts: Useful Things to Know « Wordgathering

  3. That is seriously lopsided. I, too, would like to know the submission breakdown by gender.
    Off on a tangent: This reminds me of the time my feminist Latin teacher sat next to me at a school assembly. We were treated to a concert by an all-male band from a nearby college.
    My teacher leaned over to me and asked rhetorically, “Why are there all boys in that band? Why are there no women in that band?”
    I did not like this teacher (she was cruel to me in class) and it was all I could do not to answer “Maybe the girls weren’t good enough.” :-)
    -Jen
    P.S. I don’t have a problem with feminism, but it was not lost on me that she said “boys” versus “women.” To this day I’m truly amazed she deigned to marry some “boy.” ;-)

  4. At first I was critically thinking that perhaps more men submitted to the those journals (after all, could be a lot of women feel their work isn’t good enough, we know we can do that), but the numbers do seem to be a larger difference than what I expected them to be. I’m curious if that’s a new trend or not from the last 5 years. Either way, I’m glad you brought it to our attention. I hope you get some male perspectives on the issue too.

  5. Sadly, this neither surprised or shocked me. It goes all the way back to James Fenimore Cooper being placed in the cannon, but not the better writer/storyteller Catherine Sedgwick.

  6. I love your comment, “it’s not just a survey, it’s the beginning of a conversation…” So true. We can’t change what we don’t know. I’m glad studies are being done in the first place.

  7. The chat continues in the blogosphere. Did you catch Tin House’s comments yesterday? See http://www.tinhouse.com/blog/6993/on-gender-numbers-submissions.html. Offer anecdotal stats, sad, but not surprising re women and submitting. I blog about fear of rejection in a letter to women writers:
    http://pamparker.wordpress.com/2011/02/10/rejections-cant-kill-you-fear-something-that-can/

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