In early January, Ann Hayes wrote a letter to the editor of The New Yorker, returning her latest issue of the magazine because she didn’t like the gender imbalance between its pages. She asked them to extend her subscription by one month or replace the issue with one that had a more “equitable ratio of male to female voices.”
Women are not actually a minority group, nor is there a shortage, in the world, of female writers. The publishing industry is replete with female editors, and it would be too obvious for me to point out to you that the New Yorker masthead has a fair number of female editors in its ranks. And so we are baffled, outraged, saddened, and a bit depressed that, though some would claim our country’s sexism problem ended in the late 60’s, the most prominent and respected literary magazine in the country can’t find space in its pages for women’s voices in the year 2011.
I love the New Yorker and Ann Hayes letter made me want to investigate the issues that litter the floors in my house. Most of my friends—and a few people who would rather eat sharp nails than admit they know me—would say I tend to jabber on about gender–a lot. It creeps into just about anything I write. I’ve also stood on the feminist soap box at more than one party, drunkenly waving a glass of wine around while waxing on the topic of women’s rights.
So, you would think I had picked up on the lack of women authors in my favorite magazine, but I had not. I tend to skim the table of contents to see if any of my favorite writers are there and if not, the issue joins one of my “to read” piles around the house. And just for the record, my favorites in the magazine are: Elizabeth Kolbert, Peter Hessler, Malcolm Gladwell, Atul Gawande—so take that nail-eaters, I do too like men writers.
I quickly got absorbed in an article I hadn’t yet read when I sat down to count the number of women in an issue and forgot about my original task. I actually forgot about it until this Tuesday, when VIDA: Women in Literary Arts published their 2010 count. They tallied the number of articles published by men vs. women, the number of male vs. female book reviewers, and the number of men vs. women who had their book reviewed in a number of prestigious magazines and newspapers during 2010.
Some of the data I’m not sure how to interpret. It’s not totally clear what the “over all” section means compared to “cover to cover.” And as some of the comments point out, without knowing the female to male ratio of submissions and article pitches, it’s hard to judge whether an editor has a bias.
The numbers that floored me though are the slides that show how many male authors were reviewed compared to female. The Times Literary Supplement reviewed only 330 women authors compared to 1036 men. I could understand a little bit of a difference, but three times as much is a shocker.
The New York Times Book Review’s numbers were not as overwhelming. They looked at 283 books authored by women compared to 524 by men, but then they have 295 female book reviewers who compete with their 438 male colleagues. The 341 women at The Times have to out-review 900 men.
I’m a little stunned right now, but will soon step back up on the soap box. (Maybe without the wine this time since I have research to back me up.) However, I don’t need an elevated platform to join Ms. Hayes and head VIDA’s call to action: “We know women write. We know women read. It’s time to begin asking why the 2010 numbers don’t reflect those facts with any equity.”
That is a question to which a lot of women and men want to know the answer.