Do you like to read female writers? Do you think that women who write ought to get a fair shake?
Then you might be dismayed to hear of the imbalance in the number of pieces by women and men published in the major literary magazines of our day. The annual VIDA count tracking gender inequality in literary publications has just come out. The situation as reflected in its 2013 numbers looks somewhat bleak.
Since 2009, VIDA has tallied the number of female authors reviewed and the number of female reviewers in 39 publications, including The New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker and Harper’s.
The results weren’t all bad this year, but some were lousy. The New Republic had 55 male reviewers to 4 female. The New York Review of Books had 212 male book reviewers and only 52 female book reviewers. Seventy five percent of the writers published by The New Yorker are men.
Some periodicals showed improvement from past years. The New York Times Book Review, which now has a female editor, prints an essentially equal number of male and female reviewers. I’m unhappy, though, that the Book Review n 2013 chose to run reviews of books authored by 482 men and only 332 women. The Paris Review also shows itself favorably, with 47 male and 48 female bylines.
Poet Erin Belieu, a founder of the group, told The New York Times, “Because the count frees our national literary community from the gut reactive, the anecdotal, we hope having the VIDA data will allow our community to find the will and means to change the gender bias you see at many of the top-tier publications.”
I enjoyed the comment of another writer, Elissa Schappell, who suggested the alternative to change in the on-line Dame Magazine: “These publications have a right to publish whomever they choose. If they want to publish the same gaspers they’ve been publishing since the 1950s or people who pee standing up, that’s their prerogative. If they get off on reciting Norman Mailer to each other while combing out their powdered wigs, or sip the blood of suffragettes out of the skull of Jane Austen, while grumbling about uppity females, so be it.”
Awareness can make the long-term imbalance right. It’s a good effort.