Where Are the Woman Writers? Not in Major Literary Magazines

4 years ago

I know a lot of woman writers.

This number could arguably be skewed because I am a writer myself, and a dedicated reader, both in print and online. But if I weren't, and I just ignored the existence of women writing in all kinds of genres, would it mean they weren't there? Or even if they were, that I should not put them in my magazine?

I know my answer to this question, but I'd like to pass it on to editors at some major literary magazines, who seem to be doing the passing over part just fine.

BlogHer Writers '11 Conference

Recently-released 2012 statistics from VIDA--Women in Literary Arts indicate that although some magazines are making great strides in increasing the numbers of women contributors, the publication credits and mentions of women in several others continue to lag significantly behind those of male authors and reviewers.

This chart shows statistics for the past three years, focused on numbers of women reviewing and reviewed in major magazines, as well as bylines broken down by gender. Some 2012 lowlights:

Eleven woman writers reviewed in Harper's to 54 men.

210 men reviewers in London Review of Books, to 66 women. (Who even wants to compute that ratio? Ugh.)

89 women reviewed in The New York Review of Books to 316 men. (Ditto.)

Image: VIDA

Long story short, the news is still pretty much bad for women in publications like Harper's, The Paris Review, The New Republic, New York Review of Books and the Nation. Others, like Threepenny Review and Poetry, get props from Vida for better numbers, and in some cases, actively working for better gender parity in publications.

The most disturbing thing about these numbers may be that they are just not that shocking. And since everyone can read charts and splice numbers and percentages together for herself, I'd say it really all comes down to one simple, universal question:


Why are women still so sorely underrepresented in literary publications? Why are their books not reviewed as frequently, and why are they not reviewing?

Stephanie Nikolopoulos suggests that women aren't submitting to these magazines nearly as much as men are.

Two years ago, I presented the argument I’d heard that women aren’t submitting as often as men to the big-name publications. I’ve heard it said that this is because men are more likely to take risks or feel like they could actually get published in these magazines and journals, while in contrast women feel like they aren’t good enough writers yet and so don’t query as often in general and that when they do it’s to smaller, lesser-known publications. I’d still like to see some hard evidence of this.

And if women are not submitting, they're also not publishing as much work that can potentially be reviewed.

Ruth Franklin wrote a 2011 analysis of the VIDA numbers in gender offender The New Republic concluding that the review numbers reflect a landscape where fewer books by women are published, period. If a thing doesn't exist, again, what can anyone say about it? What does that do to your ratio?

After the "whys" come the "whats", of course. If you've identified a problem and you'd like to be a force for changing the conditions of it, as a writer or an editor or a person, what do you do?

If you're a woman who wants to raise the roof in The New Yorker or Poetry (where at least it looks like you'll have a better than average chance of catching up to the sonnets of your male counterparts), what do you do?

You can write more, I guess. And once you do, you can send your stuff in. Also, maybe read more? Letters to the editor could have some pull. Organize and boycott an influential publication on the level of The Atlantic until they start paying more attention to the ladies? What?

Because when Megan O'Rourke wrote in her post-VIDA report in 2011 that there was no excuse for this disparity in a field full of talented women, I agreed then, and I still do.

After all, writing isn't a field historically dominated by men, like theoretical physics; women in the United States have long had pens in hand—remember Nathaniel Hawthorne's "damned mob of scribbling women"?—and one might reasonably have assumed that since feminism's second wave, matters had roughly evened out, at least in smaller literary journals.

What's the next action item on the agenda?

Because like I said, I know a lot of woman writers.

Contributing editor Laurie White
is on the internet at LaurieWrites.

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