I got into writing and journalism to elevate other people’s voices. I find it demoralizing that I have to fight to get my own heard. I shouldn’t be surprised: my high school newspaper was sexist; my college newspaper was sexist. I decided to be a professional freelancer in part because I simply didn’t want to deal with being the “office feminist” in a newsroom that I assumed would be a hostile environment.
On one level, reading those skewed numbers blows my mind; on another, I want to shout “of course!” After all, the simple belief that women should have the same social, economic, and political opportunities as men, is treated by some today as compromising one’s “objectivity.” Even for male journalists, taking active steps to combat sexism probably jeopardizes their reputations as detached and scrutinizing (or they think it does, and that’s their excuse).
So VIDA, an organization that promotes women in literary arts, put out another count on the gender disparity at “thought leading” magazines and things don’t look great. Women are still far outnumbered by men in terms of who gets published and who gets reviewed in places like The New Yorker, The Atlantic and The Nation.
Last year I spoke with some of the editors of these magazines about this issue and most of whom said they are trying to change things. David Remnick of The New Yorker said “we’ve got to do better.” Unfortunately none of the editors seemed to actually have done much to make it better. But then again, neither did I.
I never bothered to pitch any of the magazines on the VIDA count last year. This wasn’t because I didn’t think they would pay attention to me because of my gender, but rather because they don’t seem to be much interested in covering the things I like to write about. I am talking about topics like gender, sexuality, culture and the intersection of the three.
Dear Jeffrey Goldberg:
You recently wrote a piece for Bloomberg in which you call Crystal Bridges, the new museum built by Walmart heiress Alice Walton, a moral blight. Your column notes that “many of the paintings in Crystal Bridges hang in eloquent rebuke to the values of the company that has made the Waltons so very wealthy.”
Among these paintings is Norman Rockwell’s “Rosie the Riveter,” which, you report, is described at the museum as a “transcendent symbol” of the “capabilities, strength and determination” of American women.
This is the sort of description that should give Alice Walton pause. After all, Wal-Mart’s female employees are not nearly so celebrated. In fact, one study shows that Wal-Mart’s female employees are paid less on average than their male counterparts, and are less likely to be promoted to management.
I am writing to remind you that The Atlantic magazine, where you are a staff writer, has not been entirely hospitable to women either.
Last month, The Sisterhood’s Elissa Strauss wrote post called “In Magazine Journalism, It’s Nowhere Near the End of Men,” using her own survey of magazines to show that male bylines still win out in terms of sheer numbers. And now there’s some serious research to back up her personal accounting. These numbers from VIDA, an organization that promotes women in literary arts, show that in essentially every single literary magazine, book review section or literarily inclined magazine, male bylines considerably trump female ones, as do reviews of books by men.
There’s been lots of excellent discussion of this on the Internet. Laura Miller essentially said that the problem is a matter of male readers not taking female writers seriously. Meanwhile Ruth Franklin of The New Republic crunched some more data to find that there are fewer books being published by women than by men. Even worse, publishing is an industry dominated by women. A friend of mine who works in the industry says she’s been banging her head against the wall all week in the face of these numbers.
So what gives?