Women Writers Are Underrepresented In Literary Magazines

Vida published pie graphs showing the state of women in literary magazines in 2010 — how many of the writers they publish are female, how many of the books reviewed are by female authors, and so forth. The charts don’t look good, to say the least, and some of my favorites (such as the New York Review of Books) are pretty damn lousy.

I’d recommend reading not only the post but also the discussion at The Rumpus. As the writers point out, Vida’s graphs tell us what the outcome is, but not what the inputs are. Are editors simply prejudiced against women writers? Or does this show that male writers submit a lot more? (Some editors in the comments say that’s their experience). Both? What percentage of published “literary” books to be reviewed are written by women?

So there’s more data to be gathered. On the other hand, the fact that we don’t know everything doesn’t mean we can’t see there’s a real problem which should be addressed.

I’ll quote two comments from The Rumpus thread:

Michelle Orange wrote:

I think the graphs are great exactly as they are: A blunt reminder that much of the publishing world is nowhere near parity, for reasons that are both blatantly systemic and too insidious to be counter-balanced by other numbers. The “maybe women just don’t write enough or submit enough” response is a superficial dismissal of a much deeper problem, and uses circular logic to protect the status quo.

Even if the submission numbers bear it out: Why do you think that is? And why has it not been important enough to these publications to address the issue in a consequential way?

Victoria of Engine Books wrote:

Two weeks ago I started a small fiction press; at least half the titles I publish will be woman-authored, a promise I articulated right away. In the first 48 hours after I announced the press, I had a pile of queries; 20% were from women. By the end of the first week, 30% were from women. Now, after two weeks, nearly 42% have been from women.

This doesn’t mean anything in particular–the people who know about my press are people to whom I’m connected in some way, probably online, or people they know, etc. Perhaps those connections skew male. But it’s been pretty fascinating to me to explicitly ask for work by women, and still have more come in from men.

The stuff I’ve already received, from both men and women, is good enough to fill my small slate for a year or two. I feel like I have to say this publicly, since one of the comments/replies I keep fielding accuses me of planning to publish inferior work so that I can publish women. This accusation, of course, is sexist all by itself. But it’s also a common part of our cultural response to this discussion, the goal of which is often to shut conversation down entirely.

Via an excellent post by Carla Fran.

This entry posted in crossposted on TADA, Feminism, sexism, etc, literature. Bookmark the permalink. 

4 Responses to Women Writers Are Underrepresented In Literary Magazines

  1. You beat me to this–though I will soon be putting something up on my blog too. Amy King, one of my colleagues, is one of the people behind this study. Katha Pollitt has a good piece up in Slate.

  2. 2
    Mandolin says:

    This isn’t super surprising, of course.

    Some of my classmates at the IWW reported better sales when they used initials, especially for fiction with male narrators. I submitted about a dozen subs with initials rather than my full name and didn’t see a difference, but it was a tiny sample size.

  3. 3
    mythago says:

    The first person to blather about “the pipeline” gets a kick in the goolies.

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