The Latest VIDA Statistics: What Are The Interesting Questions To Ask?

February 28th, 2012

The VIDA Statistics for 2011 were published today, and the numbers look bad for women, who write or are written about far less often than men.

The discussion of women contributors to big literary publications, and how often books by women are reviewed, is tiresome but necessary. The statistics, laid bare, are striking. I’ve written about the dearth of women in literary journalism before, in a piece called “Where Are The Queens Of Non-Fiction?

But what story do these statistics tell? The most common backstories are these:

  • male editors prefer to assign men stories, and reviews by male authors
  • the publications don’t take women seriously
  • the publications, and the editors, are sexist
  • topics that women want to write about are deemed “less serious and important” than ones men write about
  • fewer women are mentored and encouraged in the world of these publications than are men
These are all possible explanations, narratives and analyses of the piece charts VIDA produced.
There are other compelling arguments to make as well:
  • women don’t pitch stories to these publications as often as do men
  • women do not self-promote themselves enough to get the attention of these publications
  • women have a harder time taking rejection, and thus get discouraged more easily than do men.
 I have a horse in this race, so I’m glad the discussion comes up a few times a year, explanations are bandied about, and people weigh in to add to the list of possible reasons and solutions.
Could it simply be that publishing remains an old boys club? That, to a greater degree than other professions–say law or medicine or academia–it has resisted including women its highest ranks? I’m tempted to make this conclusion.
Then the next question becomes, for me, a more interesting one: why? why has publishing been slower than other areas to include women? It is certainly more female-friendly in cliched ways than many other professions. Is it because it is more of a closed world, reliant on networks and informal connections?  What is it about literary publications, or publishers, or editors, that leads to this rather puzzling situation?

comments

  1. I think you’re right about every. Single. Point. Male editors have a certain perspective about what makes a good story and if you’re a woman reporter, sometimes it’s just harder to figure out what the guys want.

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