The numbers for women in publishing are in and the results are not pretty.
Yesterday, VIDA released its annual report tracking the representation of women in publishing, from reviewers, to bylines, to authors reviewed in reputable magazines like Harper’s and The Atlantic. This year, the nonprofit that supports women in the literary arts had also released graphs that compare the rate of growth (or lack thereof) of women’s representation in said publications. The New York Times Book Review experienced a drop in female reviewers and reviews of books written by women from 2011 to 2012, while Poetry increased its overall representation of women within its pages. The numbers are still overwhelmingly dismal, which is why its important that organizations like VIDA have been created to address this disparity in publishing.
Started in 2009, VIDA was “founded to address the need for female writers of literature to engage in conversations regarding the critical reception of women’s creative writing in our current culture.” The conversation has certainly been started and is continuing across the Internet today. At the PDXX Collective, we too feel the need to address this glaring problem with the publishing industry.
An Industry of Disparity
As a student of the publishing industry, I’ve spent the last year and a half looking around my female-dominated classrooms and wondering how it is that if so many women are entering the publishing field there is still such a disregard for us in high-profile awards like the Pulitzer and the Nobel, why our salaries are less than our male counterparts, and why books written by females still receive less attention and reviews than those written by men.
How did publishing become a “gendered” field? Are we still ascribing to the Victorian ideals of the public versus the private spheres? Book reading is meant for leisure, something women have more time for while the menfolk are out earning wages. It is more appropriate for women to work in this industry while men take on the important work in the economic and technology fields. Literature is frivolous, therefore it is okay for women to have these jobs.
I have a hard time with this notion for two reasons: the legacy of male editors and the recognition men receive in other aspects of the publishing industry. I cannot name a famous female editor. I can list Gordon Lish, Maxwell Perkins, and Jason Epstein, who are intertwined with such important literary figures as Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Carver. Come to think of it, I can name a famous female editor: Anna Wintour. She is famous as the editor of Vogue, a fashion magazine. Even though 85 percent of the publishing industry is made up of women, the most famous female editor is not even a book editor, she’s a figure tied to the fashion industry and a magazine with a strong female readership.
While men may not be working in the editing side of the industry as much, they are certainly receiving the recognition in the writing side. Take for instance the Nobel Prize in Literature. Only 12 out of 109 recipients of this award have been women. In the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction’s over sixty-year history, female authors have won less than half the time. What does this mean, that men are better writers than women? I think George Eliot, Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Kate Chopin, Edith Wharton, the Bronte sisters, Harper Lee, Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood, and Alice Munro among many, many others would beg to differ. Why is there such a disparity between the quality of writing female authors produce and the amount of recognition they receive?
Sometimes my anger over this issue feels impotent. We talk and we talk, but it feels like we’re not getting anywhere. And yet action can’t take place until somebody speaks up first. This is why organizations like VIDA are so important. We can’t stay quiet about these issues any longer.
This first week of March—which happens to be Women’s History Month—I am saddened by the findings of the recent VIDA survey, which compared the number of men and women reviewed in literary publications and journals over the past three years. Unfortunately it may come as no surprise that the vast majority of the publications surveyed reviewed far fewer women authors and their books than male authors and their books. The survey also found that many publications, including mainstays such as The Atlantic and The New Yorker, are written mostly by men.
It’s common knowledge that women are regularly paid less than men (for doing the same exact jobs with the same qualifications) and that the vast majority of mainstream movies do not include enough women to pass the (ridiculously simple) Bechdel test (which means it 1. has two women with names who 2. talk to each other about 3. something other than a man), but perhaps even scarier is the fact that even among topics that are women-centric (abortion, birth control, and women’s rights, for example) far more men are consulted and quoted in newspapers than women.
Across the board, in a variety of industries and sectors, women are consistently underrepresented and undervalued, compared to men. And we are half the population! Which is why it’s imperative to support women in their careers and creative pursuits. Watch movies made by women. Read (and buy) books written by women. Support those literary journals, like the Harvard Review, Drunken Boat, and (Portland’s own) Tin House, that have made a commitment to achieving gender equity in their publications. To the casual consumer of media, women are strangely hidden, but scratch the surface, and you will see that we are here. Seek us out. Support us. Vote with your dollar. Demand a change. We, too, have stories to tell.
Great White Novels
Who wants to read women’s writing? It’s all, like, about feelings and periods and babies and how to win a man. This stuff (probably just regurgitated from their diaries) that women write is a) gross, and b) not really representative of Mankind. The enormous, throbbing novels and articles that only a man can achieve. It take a manz to write a Pulitzer, baby!
Maybe women aren’t published as often as men because women don’t write very much? I think I heard that somewhere. Women do have to spend that extra hour or two each day performing unpaid work (child care, cleaning, cooking). On the other hand, women don’t have to spend a lot of time running for office (they might win, or something!). We think we know that women read more than men and more women attend college than men, for certain. Maybe after men write their Great White Novels, they sit down in the living room and watch “Pawn Stars” and don’t crack open a book or clean up after themselves and wait for Simon & Schuster to call.
Maybe more women should submit their writing. Yes, ladies. Yes. Do that. Submit your writing and do not get discouraged when your rejection letters flood your inbox. Submit your writing to Harper’s and The New Republic (seriously, it’s a sausage fest over there) and The Paris Review (if they would please interview more women, thank you!). I will read what you write and be happy. Git_in_thar. (If you somehow get published by the fearfully dull and male-dominated New York Review of Books, I will force myself to open up that crusty publication and dirty my paws with its newsprint.)
A number of journals are dedicated to publishing the voices of women writers. Blessings upon you, Seal Press, Calyx, and Bitch for your work. Based on VIDA’s Count, you might also think that Tin House and Poetry have such an ethic as well, but, no, they’re just lovely, egalitarian publications like that (and were founded, in part, by women).
All joking aside, the idea for this very site came to me in September when, after Kait’s suggestion, I read a piece in The Rumpus called “Explicit Violence,” by Lidia Yuknavitch. This story, devastating and gorgeous, was published soon after Todd Aiken’s idiotic comment in August and showed me how urgently women’s voices are needed in publishing.
Thanks to VIDA and writers like Lidia for kicking us into gear over this because, gosh, publishing, you’re still crazy after all these years.