By Tana Ganeva, AlterNet
Posted on January 15, 2011, Printed on January 15, 2011
Last week, Anne Hays put her latest copy of the New Yorker back in the mail, with a note explaining that the august publication owed her a refund for putting out the second issue in a row featuring almost no pieces by women. In December's New Yorker content by women made up only three pages of the magazine's 150; January's contained only two items by women, a poem and a brief "Shouts and Murmers" item.
"I am baffled, outraged, saddened, and a bit depressed that, though some would claim our country's sexism problem ended in the late '60s, the most prominent and respected literary magazine in the country can't find space in its pages for women's voices in the year 2011," wrote Hays in the letter, promising to send back every issue containing fewer than five female bylines. "You tend to publish 13 to 15 writers in each issue; five women shouldn't be that hard," she concluded.
Her letter, posted to Facebook and widely circulated last week, has prompted Ms. magazine to start an online petition reminding the magazine's editors that there are in fact lots of women in the world and that many of them write feature articles, reviews and poems, and that the premier literary/current events magazine in the country should reflect that fact.
"Publications as prominent as the New Yorker need to know they can't get away with gender inequity in bylines. This isn't one of those examples of insidious, difficult-to-measure sexism. They will get caught by anyone who can count!" said Jessica Stite, online editor at Ms.
Ms. senior editor Michele Kort told AlterNet that although the New Yorker has showcased many talented female writers over the years, it needs to do way better to ensure equal representation on a regular basis, "Obviously David Remnick, great editor that he is, can bring a greater percentage of women to the fore in the publiation. The New Yorker can only offer a richer perspective on the world if it includes more women's voices."
Of course, the New Yorker is not the only publication on earth that falls consistently short of reaching gender parity in its pages. In a Jezebel post about Hays' letter Jenna Sauers did a count of female writers in other current event and literary publications. January's issue of Harpers has only three out of 21 stories by women. The Nation's latest print issue has four and a half female bylines out of 17 articles. The Atlantic did a little better, featuring five and a half female bylines, of 18 total stories.
The OpEd project, which tracks the ratio of male to female bylines across publications, shows these depressing results for December 24 or December 31, the last week they gathered data: New York Times: 18 percent women, 82 percent men; Washington Post: 16 percent, 84 percent; Salon: 15 percent, 85 percent; Huffington Post: 25 percent, 75 percent; Daily Beast: 35 percent, 65 percent.
These ratios come up in every area of journalism and publishing. From the political blogosphere to cable news shows, men drastically outnumber women as commentators, pundits and reporters. In 2003 the American Journalist Survey found that the percent of female reporters was roughly the same as in 1983: only 33 percent. A 2008 report by Media Matters looking at the ratio of conservative to progressive columnists revealed that only about one third of the top 100 syndicated columnists are women. Sixty-seven percent of bloggers are men, according to a 2009 Technorati report highlighted by Mother Jones.
There are plenty of complex reasons behind the shortage of female bylines in journalism, and editors and publications use many of them as excuses when they're called out for their lack of diversity. (The lack of gender diversity is only part of the problem -- writers of color, and writers across status and class, are also severely underrepresented.) But an important first step of the solution is for publications to at least be conscious of the issue, and make an effort to address it by actively cultivating female talent and even pledging to including a certain number of female bylines per issue. Hopefully Hays' letter and the Ms. petition will get the New Yorker to pay attention from now on.