Gender bias? What do the numbers reveal?

We at VIDA are gratified to hear the response that has recently surfaced in the media based on the numbers we gathered in our 2010 Count. But we also understand that these statistics are simply the beginning of a conversation we believe is necessary—not an end point, but a way to think about the more nuanced questions such numbers beg to be asked.

While the Count seems to quantify what many women have privately suspected for some time—that male writers take up most of the space in established literary venues in the States and in Britain—the much thornier question our literary community needs to ask is why. We at VIDA know these numbers bring up a complicated set of issues that deserves much more than a superficial response.

A number of people commenting in newspapers and blog boxes around the country wondered how many women are actually submitting work to these magazines. So far, what we know about rates of submission is anecdotal. A good number of editors have spoken to VIDA Board Members directly, some telling us of their often frustrated attempts to
solicit work from women writers, some telling us that they see women submitting work in goodly numbers. So the issues are not black and white and not ones that a handful of pie charts can fully explore. That work is left to the women and men who care about women writers’ clear marginalization in relationship to our on-going literary conversation.

Because VIDA as an organization doesn’t have access to the numbers for individual magazines’ rates of submissions, and because much of what is published in high visibility magazines is often solicited by their editors, we will need help in moving this conversation forward. We ask that the editors of all literary magazines—large and small—begin to count for themselves. A simple database program, a good-hearted intern—either will get the job done simply enough. And for those editors out there who do decide to count, VIDA will be happy to share your numbers and your thoughts on how this process has affected your thinking about gender, publishing and the other myriad observations such a process is likely to reveal. We look forward to the opportunity.

-The VIDA Executive Committee