March 4, 2013 | by | 18 | Tagged:

In a year kicked off by the Republican party fighting the Violence Against Women Act and a nationally-broadcasted song reducing Oscar-noteworthy actresses to “boob shots,” VIDA takes our annual look back to see if this regressive tenor is reflected in the treatment of women in literature in 2012. We also eyeball how the 2012 Count stacks up beside numbers from the years preceding. As always, the charts tell their own stories, whether publishers and editors listen or not. And now their histories are showing.

While it would be incredibly easy to begin by lambasting national publications like Harpers, The Paris Review, The New Republic, New York Review Of Books, Times Literary Supplement, The New Republic and The Nation for their gross (& indecent) neglect of female writers’ work, I fear the attention we’ve already given them has either motivated their editors to disdain the mirrors we’ve held up to further neglect or encouraged them to actively turn those mirrors into funhouse parodies at costs to women writers as yet untallied. Reason hasn’t worked. The devolution among their ranks screams itself increasingly red in the VIDA comparative charts.  At this point, the publications with the “most men” simply do not win.

Instead, let’s look at a few venues that have held steady or made calculable strides towards shaping a more egalitarian literary landscape via gender.  The Boston Review, with its slightly heavier load of male reviewers, has made a dramatic improvement proportionately of who they review since we began.  Threepenny is taking a slow but steady approach with incremental yearly steps up from 29 to 34 to 36.5% women published respectively.  Poetry remains the most consistently equitable in its publishing practices, reaching a 45% height of women published in 2012:  look to the poets!

Though Granta bumped its 2011 numbers by including an “All Female” issue, the salve did not remedy into the future.  We hope their editors will take notice and figure out how to make lasting strides as they proceed with their consideration practices into the rest of 2013.

Publishers have also begun to take it upon themselves to publicly account for their own numbers.  Places like Harvard Review, Drunken Boat and Tin House are assessing their authors each year. We do not think the significant jump in female authors reviewed at Tin House is temporary; they have bared the change in their attention and practices for the public record. Readers and writers, please take note. Additionally, the scope of tallying was recently broadened by Roxane Gay at The Rumpus, who initiated a count for writers of color. Poring over the minutiae of journal and magazine contents is no longer a process for VIDA alone; tallying has become a call to awareness, a movement for any and every publisher to voluntarily join.

Improvements will happen with effort, not accidentally or by ignoring the glaring disparities. Astute editors and reviewers at major and small press publications are finally acknowledging the weight and responsibilities of their career-shaping roles.  They are paying attention and implementing practices that evidence conscientious decision-making. They are beginning to showcase a wider swath of the writing field and the deserving writers within.  Obviously, the not-so-astute are sitting this one out. As our frustration over the worsening numbers carries on, we might think we have little to no ability to help them along.  But we do.

We want to thank publications that work for ALL writers in a real world way.  As I noted in the intro, publishers and editors can choose to listen or ignore thinking through biased-publishing practices, but what is of more import is that we can let them know that readers and writers are listening too. We can now make informed decisions when we reach into our pockets to buy publications.  Publishers can ignore the numbers, and we can choose not to buy their publications.

We at VIDA hope to turn the conversation into reader practice. We have been heartened by your enormous encouragement as well as the strides many are making to raise awareness — and wish to return the compliment. We are going to follow along and promote the hell out of publications that give voice, and pages, to a broader range of writers. Additionally, we hope that you will help extend the conversation by contacting individual publications to let them know of your appreciation or disappointment regarding their inclusion, or lack of, female writers in their publications. Each pie includes contact info, and a quick note from you could be the voice they finally need to hear.  We thank you for listening in –and for the decisions you make and emails you send — and look forward to, however large or small, impacting the tenor of the literary landscape via those real world results.

–Amy King

** Help support publications that make a difference:  please send us your observations and updates.


The 2012 Count lives here.

The 2012 3-Year Comparison Charts, which compare all categories for which we have three years’ worth of data, live here.


18 Comments to 'VIDA Count 2012: MIC CHECK, REDUX'

  • Elaine says:

    Have you considered doing a count for new hires on tenure track jobs? I’d be curious to see whether this bias extended to hires at the academic level. I guess what I’m interested in is whether or not the notion that men write serious fiction extends to being considered for an academic position. I know awards are part of the equation as are publications.

  • Mary says:

    Thanks for the count! Women write and women work in publishing. Now, to fuse the two a bit more! You have given me and my fellow writers at the PDXX Collective a subject for tomorrow’s post!

  • lori precious says:

    Literary journal BLACK CLOCK out of CalArts regularly publishes a high ratio of female writers.

  • Erin Hoover says:

    @Elaine, you’re right, it might appear to be a systemic problem. Publications, awards, and jobs are all related. The stakes are both monetary and very real in terms of who has a platform for their art. What message is being sent to women writers or prospective women writers about what they might aspire to? Not by VIDA–but by publications that consistently slight women, however unconsciously it happens. What troubles me about these numbers–over a span of years–is that editors can be made aware of them, and take no steps to remedy the situation when Tin House, Poetry, and Threepenny clearly show it can be done.

  • Erin Hoover says:

    @lori, I’m glad to hear that BLACK CLOCK is publishing women writers! It would be great if VIDA could count and track all publications, but you can imagine what resources that would take. Many of these publications–the ones VIDA has counted, which are quite influential–don’t. One wonders if steps by BLACK CLOCK and by other journals to really take on the issue of gender bias in publishing can cause a groundswell that will pressure other publications to consider this issue?

  • This report is fascinating and necessary, if unsurprising. We’re more commercial readers than literary, but we often find the books – and authors – we like to read are underrepresented in media across the board. That’s why we created Shelf Pleasure, a new website focusing on women readers and the books they love. We’re trying to shed light on books that deserve to be talked about as much as any others, and also a place with recommendations you can trust due to all the shadiness surrounding reader reviews in recent months. We hope a report like this won’t be necessary in the future and that it will be obvious that women writers and their books are represented. Until then, we’re happy to try to even the balance. – Kristen Weber, Co-Founder,

  • Tarara Boumdier says:

    I’ve noticed a shocking neglect of Choctaws in these stories.
    I’m thinking of filing a lawsuit.

  • AFX-WIN says:

    Personally – and I fully realize I may have bias, being a male – most of the work of female writers just isn’t that… good, to me. It doesn’t appeal to me.

    Now I think that calling on publishers to ramp up their number of female writers published will not necessarily solve the issue. Quotas are never good for quality. What I think could be done are two things.

    One, have writers submit anonymously, only asking for their names once their work has been accepted.

    Two, call for more female editors, not for male editors to publish more females. If male editors are anything like me, then odds are they also aren’t drawn by female writing, which may be at the crux of the problem, rather than the very improbable scenario of editors actively discriminating against women (“well I like the work, but it’s by a lady, so no,” said no editor ever), so hiring editors with more feminine sensibilities could see a rise in lady writers.

    I’d be very interested in hearing what females think – honestly think – about other women’s writing. Does it resonate more with you? What do you think of its overall quality?

  • What’s interesting to me and something which doesn’t seem to have been addressed, is that women buy the most books. So wouldn’t it make sense to have more women reviewers and more reviews of literature written by women? As AFX-WIN demonstrates, gender differences may prohibit many male reviewers from even being able to see the merit in books by women, in which case, a review by a man might be more likely to be unfavourable. For too long, it seems, the male domination of book review publishing has shaped the way women-written fiction has been viewed and not for the good.

  • Shelley says:

    What do the editors of these publications say?

  • Frances says:

    To answer AFX-WIN’s question, I don’t publish anything I don’t like, much less work I wouldn’t champion. And half the fiction I publish is from women. So there’s that. But more importantly, going around with the assumption that women somehow aren’t that good is really toxic. One thing VIDA gets us all to do is to challenge our blind spots.

  • @AFX-WIN I understand where you’re coming from. As a woman writer and reader, there are times when I am drawn to male author regardless of the subject matter. That being said, there are also times when I seek out a female author because that is what I want. Like you said, it’s your personal preference — you are not drawn to female writing but you give no reason aside from it’s not “good” to you. What does “good” look like? Feel like? Sound like? I would be interested in hearing about your childhood. (I’m being sincere here, though it could come off as sarcastic, please don’t take it that way). Were you raised in a 2 parent home where Dad was the breadwinner? I think a lot of male dominance in the literary field comes from a childhood absorption of the macho male in the workforce. I believe as this next generation takes over, women will see a resurgence of literary credit.

  • Clara says:

    In response to AFX-WIN’s question, whether or not fiction by women resonates with me depends entirely on whether or not the writing’s any good. If it’s good, I like it. If it isn’t good, I don’t. Given that five of the past twelve Pulitzer fiction winners have been female, I’m puzzled by the notion that there might be a correlation between gender and quality, and I can’t say I’ve noticed any such correlation myself. My current favorite writers include Dan Chaon, Edith Pearlman, J.D. Salinger and Irene Nemirovsky.

    Incidentally, in addition to reading and enjoying work by people whose genitalia isn’t the same as mine, I often read and enjoy works by people of different races, religious beliefs, national origins, and sexual orientations. I can’t say I’ve noticed a correlation between those things and quality either.

  • @Clara, excellent point. There are always two sides to perception. Thank you for yours.

  • Alan Heathcock says:

    AFX-WIN: I once had this arrogant ranch kid out here in Idaho claim that he didn’t read women writers because he was a manly man with a manly sensibility. I had him read Joyce Carol Oates, Annie Proulx, Flannery O’Conner, and Carson McCullers. He was very impressed. He shut up. Men, women, we’re human, and we have a vast range of life experiences and sensibilities that should never be reduced down and dismissed by any silly and wrong-headed notion of what we are beyond individuals. If we’re now acting as proponents for female authors it has nothing to do with artistic sensibilities, but has everything to do with any remaining bias that disables a female writer from being shone the same level of respect as her male counterpart. Period.

  • I’m disinclined to believe the old story about male and female writing styles or tastes. These stereotypes have been trotted out famously against women from Jane Austen and Emily Dickinson to Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Bishop, and A.M. Holmes. The underlying problem—systemic misogyny that categorically devalues any element or cultural product that is classified (artificially, arbitrarily) as feminine—is certainly too big and ranging for mere editorial willpower to overcome. But editors are not being asked to fix those problems. Only to recognize, acknowledge, and address their formal expression within a given sphere of control; that is, women are woefully under-represented in publishing. Editors must do what they can. Tin House, for example, looked at their submissions numbers, recognized the patterns that led to the disfunction, addressed them accordingly, and thus rectified the problem. This rectification is important. Whatever exists today is an expression of past power structures. The world we have is already affected. By undermining the products of the current expression of sexist devaluation, we undermine its raison d’etre and change the expression of the future by exerting a values in the present. And the best art will take care of itself, in spite of editors and publishers, as it always has.

  • Elaine says:

    In more depressing news, not a single female debut novel was nominated for the Strand this year. (The Orchardist anyone?). The best novel of the year did nominate 3 women of 5, so perhaps they felt they’d filled their quota.

    Best Debut Novel
    A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash (William Morrow)
    The Yard by Alex Grecian (Putnam)
    The Expats by Chris Pavone (Crown)
    Disappeared by Anthony Quinn (Mysterious Press/Open Road)
    The 500 by Matthew Quirk (Hachette)

  • Where can literary magazines add their male/female/transgender totals on your site? I just did a quick count of The Literary Bohemian, where all submissions are judged blindly, and found that we have a 150 female to 90 male to 1 transgender ratio.
    Thanks for all the work you do for women writers!

    Carolyn Zukowski, Editor, The Literary Bohemian (

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