Vida, an organization devoted to examination and discussion of the roles women play in literature, has released its latest survey of the articles and reviews published by women in major magazines in 2011, and the results aren’t encouraging.
Of articles published by The Atlantic in 2011, 64 were by women and 184 were by men. In the Boston Review, the ratio was 60 to 131; in Harper’s, 13 to 65; in the London Review of Books 30 to 186; in The New Republic, 50 to 118; in the New York Review of Books a truly embarrassing 19 to 133; the New Yorker published 165 stories by women to 459 by men; and the New York Times Book Review printed 273 articles by women to 520 by men. The Nation, ostensibly a progressive publication, published 118 articles by women and 293 by men. Granta’s the only publication that’s close to parity—in fact, it published slightly more pieces by women than by men, 34 to 30. Perhaps some of these other publications should ask how Granta finds women, a task that appears so phenomenally daunting to the rest of the publishing world that it suggests that women, rather than man, are the most dangerous game.
Because really, the only answer here is not that these publications can’t find women. It’s that they don’t really care if they do or not. These numbers, and the annual discussion of them, seem to have succeeded in making a lot of female journalists and readers angry and frustrated, but they don’t appear to have made editors feel ashamed, much less called to action. And I’m not quite sure what it would take to persuade them to shake off their lethargy and acceptance of the status quo, which really means accepting sexism. Do we really have to educate editors that women can bring new perspectives on major stories, and not just to stories about living as a single woman or going through a divorce? What level of evidence would it take to persuade folks that while Katherine Boo and Marie Colvin are and were utterly extraordinary, they are not the only women who can go into profoundly difficult settings and win sources’ trust? Because at this point, I would like to know what it would take to humiliate or convince editors at the major magazines to think more creatively about story assignments and recruiting pitches. Numbers clearly aren’t doing the trick.