The Big Picture Gets Bigger: Commitment to Intersectionality
When Donald Drumpf kicked off his campaign with “Make Donald Drumpf Again,” every person in the country knew the coded message he was selling: Let’s get back to a time when queers were in the closets, segregation ruled public spaces, poor people were victims of their own failings, and moreover, white men determined the course of the country.
Now we are a year into “Making America Great Again” and can see how these implied values are playing out. We find ourselves in the midst of an unabashed war on women, alongside the systemic erasure of nonbinary and trans people. Access to contraception and abortion are being threatened by medieval thinking, and violence against women and trans people is being pardoned at the highest levels. From attempts to rescind Title IX to the push for discriminatory bathroom bills, the state-sponsored message is clear: men and women are the only two genders, and women are to be subservient to men, or face consequences.
We feel like a country divided because we are no longer able to hide our allegiances behind southern politeness or recede, unscathed, into the passive shadows. Very few can now witness the injustices in this country and claim to have “no opinion.” Privilege is no longer a viable cover. You are either for atrocities and injustices in this country or you resist—and speak out—against them. Yes, the country is divided. Telling anyone not to speak on these issues because they are “divisive” has become a transparent attempt to keep those injustices invisible and acceptable. But a call for silence is no longer an option. We are well beyond that point.
It is also apparent, from recent calls for free speech, precisely whose voices are valued and whose voices are given space. White supremacists are being defended on both sides of the aisle by institutions of higher learning, in the mainstream media and via the President’s official Twitter. Athletes and supporters taking a knee as a statement against anti-black violence are not afforded the same platform as literal Nazis. Women coming forward about serial sexual predators are discounted and unheard. Students who don’t want to be threatened with violence on their own campuses are being told they need to give space and listen to “the other side.” Credible journalists and writers are being dismissed as “fake news” while flagrant propaganda is allowed to flourish.
VIDA has written before about the staggering effect of implicit bias on publishing. We’re now facing state-sponsored propaganda that is anti-woman, anti-LGBTQ, anti-Black, anti-POC, anti-immigrant, anti-disability—state sponsored messages that not only center the white, cis-hetero, able-bodied patriarchy, but increasingly positions it as the only America that matters.
Amy Siskind, journalist and president of the New Agenda, has written that “experts in authoritarianism advise to keep a list of things subtly changing around you, so you’ll remember.” Her weekly lists have become invaluable documents. It’s no longer possible to support lies that “women are equally represented in publishing” the way men are, or most insidiously, that “men are just writing better.” In a year when we’re tired of hearing “now more than ever”—we need the work VIDA volunteers invest so much in.
We also cannot allow ourselves to forget that 53% of white women who voted did so for Drumpf, and the fight for liberation must include liberation for all marginalized people. Our Women of Color VIDA Count began in 2014, spearheaded by sociologist Ashaki Jackson. We received criticisms that we were being divisive and were told we should be happy that women were being published. But we refused to leave unexamined the disparities in representation of writers who are women and nonbinary people of color. And now with VIDA’s evolving intersectional focus, neither will we refuse to address the many other axes of oppression experienced by those whom we count in our Intersectional Survey. This is the first year we are attempting to track intersections of age and education, and our first year with new expanded breakdowns analyzing disability and impairment, Hispanic and Jewish ancestry, sexual identity, gender identity, and race.
The VIDA Count is a work-in-progress and is heavily reliant on self-identification. We are learning, and we are listening. But it is vital that we continue to expand our inquiries and document marginalized people who are left out of the broader literary discourse, who are routinely denied publication at exceedingly high rates compared to the favored demographic of straight white men. To that end, VIDA will continue to shine a light, exposing publishers’ biased publication rates so that discrimination might be more than just a feeling, so that writers, educators, and consumers might hold those publishers accountable for their omissions. The “body politic” is exactly that: a body. If only part of the body is attended to, the rest of it will suffer, and society as a whole will be bankrupt.
We hope that, just as many have made RESISTBOT part of their routine, more writers will look forward to the VIDA Intersectional Survey each year as an opportunity to expose and challenge the ingrained biases in the publishing world, and to take pride in refusing a world that attempts to silence and marginalize: women, people of color, people with disabilities, queer, trans, and nonbinary people.
Our hope is that every writer who reads this will push to be counted in the next VIDA Intersectional Survey. That they’ll tell their friends who have been published to also take the survey. Our hope is that the number of respondents is so vast that the publishing world can no longer ignore how many of us there are, or our ferocity and unwillingness to be dismissed.
Otherwise, people proud to align with white male power in the hopes of being allotted their own little slice will continue to try to silence others. Proud white people will continue to pull Hail Marys in a last ditch desperate effort to remove some of the rights and gains made by the marginalized over the decades. What they don’t seem to want to accept is that equality isn’t “taking away,” but sharing. They are so threatened, so undone, that even blatant racism is to be publicly applauded and defended these days. Today, the fight for statues commemorating men who upheld overt oppressions rages. White men seated on panels continue to make decisions about women’s rights and reproductive healthcare—as if it is their “right” to make sexist decisions affecting the bodies of women and nonbinary people.
But just as we didn’t imagine marriage equality could be a reality until people started actually hearing the stories and listening to the voices of LGBTQ people, neither can we see in the midst of this battle that we will never revert to the “Great” that Drumpf and his klan are calling for. White America is dying a slow difficult death with a rallying battle cry that will be short lived and harm many in the process, but nonetheless and with increased certainty, it is surely dying. VIDA remains committed to applauding publishers who do not succumb to such last-gasp appeals and who carry on creating platforms that more fully reflect the voices of the people in all of our demographic multiplicities.
Without the volunteers who donate their time, energy and devotion to social justice, VIDA simply would not be. We are grateful for the voices of our volunteers and applaud so many who work to create an equitable, welcoming literary landscape for everyone.
—Amy King, Executive Board, Editor-in-Chief of VIDA Review
—Sarah Clark, Assistant Editor, VIDA Review
Amy King’s The Missing Museum is a winner of the 2015 Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize. I Want to Make You Safe (Litmus Press) was one of Boston Globe’s Best Poetry Books of 2011. King joins the ranks of Ann Patchett, Eleanor Roosevelt & Rachel Carson as the 2015 winner of the WNBA Award (Women’s National Book Association). She serves on the executive board of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and is currently co-editing the anthology Big Energy Poets of the Anthropocene: When Ecopoets Think Climate Change. She is also co-editing the Bettering American Poetry series and is a Professor of Creative Writing at SUNY Nassau Community College.
Sarah Clark is a neuroqueer two-spirit Nanticoke editor, writer, and cultural consultant. They are VIDA Review’s Assistant Editor, the Features & Reviews Editor and Assistant Poetry Editor for Anomaly, and a co-editor of the Bettering American Poetry series. Sarah has worked with a number of literary and arts publications and organizations, including Sundress Press, Apogee, contemptorary.org, The Paris Review, and Blackbird. She curated Anomaly’s folio on Sound Art; a folio of global indigenous art and literature “First Peoples, Plural;” and a folio of writing by QTPOC writers on mental health, “GLITTERBRAIN.” Their body is a haunted house and she cannot pass a Turing test.
Highlights & Observations
There was little movement towards gender parity at the Paris Review in 2016. At 35%, women’s share of the pie increased by two percentage points overall. Interviews, in particular, saw negative change this year. In a reversal from 2015, women’s interviews decreased to just one in ten. Even so, there’s some cause for celebration: the percentage of women writers who contributed essays increased to 50%; women fiction writers increased to 43%.
Year after year, Poetry delivers consistently good gender breakdowns. For the eight years that VIDA has been counting, women have represented at least 40% of the publication. In 2016, 49% of bylines were by women and 1% of bylines were by writers who are nonbinary.
The New Republic fell short of last year’s high (45%). In 2016, women’s share of the publication was 41% overall. Bylines also included one writer who identifies as nonbinary. Our survey responses revealed that at least 25% of bylines were by writers who are queer or bisexual. Of the women and nonbinary writers who responded to our survey, 15% identified as people of color.
At The Atlantic, just 36% of writers represented were women. This movement towards gender parity is an improvement on last year’s ten percentage point slide. Still, women were underrepresented in all genres, showing that the publication still has work to do toward gender parity and representation.
At 32%, The Threepenny Review saw its lowest percentage of women writers since 2010. In the years that VIDA has been counting, women have consistently remained below 40% of Threepenny‘s bylines, and this year’s smaller share of the publication is cause for concern.
The New Yorker continues to make steady progress toward gender parity. The culmination of a six-year streak of small gains, 39% of bylines were by women writers in 2016.
At Tin House, women and nonbinary writers comprised a commendable 51% of the overall publication. In 2016, women writers contributed an impressive 65% of features and 57% of fiction pieces. Good work, Tin House!
While Harper’s published 50% of both male and female book reviewers, women writers were only represented in 37% of bylines and 36% of books reviewed—in both cases, nearly twice as many men as women are represented. Harper’s gender representation has fallen significantly since last year’s 50/50 split for bylines, which marked their highest representation of women since 2010. They had come far since 2010 saw only eleven bylines and six book reviews attributed to women.
Once again, the London Review of Books has the worst gender disparity in our main VIDA Count for bylines, book reviews, and authors reviewed, publishing a scant 22% of bylines by women, 18% of women who review books, and 26% of books by women reviewed. The number of women published at the London Review of Books has been roughly consistent since 2010. They remain one of the few publications to give space to even one agender writer.
Unfortunately, at The Nation more than twice as many men received bylines as women, 67% versus 33%, and there was no representation for nonbinary people. This marks a decrease in bylines by women by seventeen bylines since last year.
The New York Times Book Review has been making progress toward gender equity in its pages, with both the number of women reviewing books and writing books reviewed gradually increasing every year since 2012. This year, 50% of men and 50% of women have been credited as reviewers, and 44% of books reviewed having been authored by women.
Out of seventy-six pieces published in Granta in 2016, men wrote thirty-seven pieces while women wrote thirty-eight. This is the first year Granta published more women than men since the VIDA Count began, with an increase of five bylines since 2014.
Boston Review did slightly better than last year, with its total of women writers increasing by one percentage point to 47% overall. A total of 51% of bylines were attributed to women in 2016. However, 73% of the books reviewed in Boston Review‘s pages were written by men, who also made up the majority of book reviewers.
The Times Literary Supplement didn’t do well this year in terms of gender disparity. Only 27% of bylines went to women writers. More specifically, women made up 38% of The Times‘ book reviewers for 2016 and 29% of authors reviewed.
2016 Larger Literary Landscape VIDA Count
Our Larger Literary Landscape VIDA Count is in its fourth year.
Of the twenty-three publications in our 2016 Larger Literary Landscape (LLL) VIDA Count, 11 of them published as many bylines by women writers as men, or more!
Unfortunately, this suggests a decrease in women’s share of the pie overall from last year. In 2015, 58% of counted publications demonstrated gender parity, while this year, only 48% of counted publications published as many bylines by women writers as men, or more.
All the more reason to celebrate these eleven publications: The Normal School (67.1%), Ninth Letter (65.5%), Jubilat (64.4%), Harvard Review (59.3%), Prairie Schooner (57.3%), The Cincinnati Review (57.1%), Colorado Review (54.7%), Virginia Quarterly (51.8%), New American Writing (51.7%), Gettysburg Review (51.4%), and Missouri Review (50.5%).
In 2016, eight publications are closing in on gender parity, with bylines by women writers representing 40 to 49% of the pie: Callaloo (49.5%), Pleiades (49.3%), A Public Space (49.3%), Southern Review (49.7%), Fence (44.5%), Kenyon Review (43.9%), New England Review (43.3%), and AGNI (41.3%). We are looking forward to seeing these publications make progress in 2017—many are already within spitting distance!
Women’s share of the pie represented less than 40% at four publications: Southwest Review (39.8%), n+1 (39.6%), Conjunctions (37.7%), and Copper Nickel (33.0%).
Particularly disappointing is that both n+1 and Conjunctions decreased from last year’s count. In 2015, both publications published more than 55% of bylines by women writers, and in 2016, the percentages for both publications fell to below 40%.
Several publications made great strides toward gender parity in 2016. At 67%, The Normal School continues to top the charts, keeping pace with last year’s high of 69%. Ninth Letter closed the gap last year in dramatic fashion (a 25 percentage point increase) and the overall percentage of bylines by women writers rose even further this year to a high of 66%. Southern Review increased by 14 percentage points to 49.7%, up from 35% in last year’s count.
Of the twenty-three publications that comprise the Larger Literary Landscape VIDA Count, seven published pieces by writers who identify as nonbinary: Callaloo (3.2%), Fence (3.1%), The Cincinnati Review (1.3%), Ninth Letter (1.2%), , Colorado Review (0.7%) and Prairie Schooner (0.5%). Three publications published pieces by writers who responded as other/unidentified: Callaloo (0.5%), Copper Nickel (0.9%) and Pleiades (0.4%).
2016 Intersectional Survey
Our intersectional survey is in its second year.
In 2016, our survey of women and nonbinary writers yielded response rates that varied by publication from 6% to 31%. The most encouraging response rate was from Boston Review (31%). Threepenny Review and Tin House both had response rates of 28%.
We are mindful to limit our discussion to the demographic data we received from women and nonbinary writers who responded to our survey. As more authors respond to our future surveys, our data will become more complete and accurate. We consider this year’s VIDA Count an important next step and believe the outcomes are worthy of careful consideration.
*A word about methodology; helpful reminders for interpreting survey data*
In 2014, we reported our first Women of Color VIDA Count. Our method relied upon survey responses from the women writers whose bylines we tallied in the fifteen publications that comprised the 2014 main VIDA Count. To contact these women writers, our interns reached out to journal editors, searched author websites, and used social media, listservs, and other networks.
Over the past two years, we’ve expanded our methods of the Women of Color VIDA Count to also tally self-reported demographic data on racial and ethnic identity, sexual identity, gender identity, age, education, and disabilities or impairments. Response rates varied by publication.
From the fifteen publications in the main VIDA Count, 1,738 writers were invited to complete our Intersectional Survey, 1,198 writers opened the survey (68.9%), and 588 writers completed it (33.8%).
2016 Women & Nonbinary Writers of Color VIDA Count
In 2016, of the survey responses collected from women who published in the fourteen publications included in the main VIDA Count, the publication with the greatest percentage of bylines by self-identified women of color was The Nation (25%).
At The Nation 18% of respondents identified as Asian, 11% as Black, and 4% as North African/Middle Eastern.
11% of women and nonbinary writers who answered our survey for both Granta and The New York Times Book Review responded as being people of color.
In The Atlantic, 33% of survey respondents identified themselves as Jewish by ancestry, but none identified themselves as Hispanic, Latino/a or Latinx. 6% of respondents reported as Asian, but none as Black, Multiracial, or Indigenous.
At the Boston Review, 7% of survey respondents said that they were people of color.
Harper’s and London Review of Books published writers who identified as white only, or who did not respond to the question on our survey. Neither publication published writers who responded to our survey and identified as a person of color or as Hispanic.
At the Times Literary Supplement, 1% of writers identified as Hispanic and 7% as people of color. Even so, The Times Literary Supplement has the largest representation of indigenous people in the main VIDA Count, with two writers self-identifying as indigenous.
2016 Disability VIDA Count
According to the self-reported intersectional demographic data, eight of the fourteen publications in the main VIDA Count did not publish bylines by women or nonbinary writers who identify as a person with a disability. These publications include Boston Review, London Review of Books, The Atlantic, The Nation, The New Republic, The New York Review of Books, The Threepenny Review, and Tin House. Further, Threepenny did not publish bylines by writers who reported an impairment, difference, or disability on our survey.
At a rate of 56%, Granta has the highest percentage of survey respondents who identified themselves as having a disability.
12% of women and nonbinary writers for The New York Times Book Review responded as having one or more disabilities or impairments.
At the Times Literary Supplement only 4% of respondents indicated they have a disability.
At the London Review of Books only one respondent identified as having a disability.
2016 Sexuality VIDA Count
The Boston Review had some of the best representation for writers who aren’t straight, with 11% of respondents identifying as bisexual, 11% as queer, 7% as lesbian, and 4% as pansexual.
Of a small sample of respondents published in The Paris Review, 67% identified as bisexual and 33% as heterosexual.
While 11% of survey respondents at the London Review of Books identify as bisexual, no gay or queer writers indicated being published this year. Of survey respondents, 88% either did not respond to the question, or responded as straight.
At The Times Literary Supplement 1% of survey respondents indicated that they’re asexual, making this one of the few publications to publish asexual people this year. A total of 76% of writers either did not respond to this question or indicated that they are straight.
2016 Trans Women & Nonbinary Writers VIDA Count
Only two pieces published in the New York Times Book Review out of its 1,954 pieces were authored by nonbinary people, this is sadly the largest number of pieces by nonbinary people in any of the main VIDA Count magazines, despite making up only 0.1% of their publication in 2016.
The VIDA Count has only recorded one person identifying as trans, genderfluid, genderqueer, or nonbinary appearing in the pages of The Nation since 2010.
84% of writers at The Times Literary Supplement identified as cisgender, or did not indicate their trans status. One small victory: of those surveyed, 1% were bigender and 1% identify as demiwomen—earning some of the first visibility for these genders in any magazine in the VIDA Count.
In terms of publications that comprise the Larger Literary Landscape, it appears that nonbinary writers were almost exclusively only given space to publish poetry in 2016. Prairie Schooner published one nonbinary book reviewer, and Fence published one nonbinary person’s work in the “Other” category. No publications in the LLL seem to have published fiction or creative nonfiction by nonbinary writers.
2016 Ageism & Academic Access VIDA Count
Ageism and academic access are both under-discussed aspects of inequity in publishing. According to our survey responses from writers who contributed to the publications that comprise our main VIDA Count, four publications (London Review, The Nation, Tin House, and Paris Review) did not publish writers under the age of 25 or over the age of 74. They also published only writers who held a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Granta and the New York Times Book Review are the only publications from which we received survey responses that indicated they published writers with a high school education, but no post-secondary school experience.
Only one respondent reported being published with less than a GED, in the New York Times Book Review.
The Nation has one of the highest rates of postgraduates—75% of respondents reported attaining a Master’s or Doctorate degree.
Granta, The Times Literary Supplement, Boston Review, The New Republic, New Yorker, and The Atlantic published work from writers under 25.
The Times Literary Supplement, Harper’s, New York Times Book Review, Boston Review, and the New York Review of Books published work from writers over 74.
We received the most narrow reports on age from Granta writers, with writers exclusively identifying as 25-44 years old, or choosing not to share their age.
The Boston Review has one of the largest spreads of ages, according to those who responded to our survey.
Infographics: The 2016 VIDA Count
Infographics: The 2016 VIDA Larger Literary Landscape VIDA Count
Credits & Acknowledgments
VIDA thanks the following individuals and organizations for their roles in the completion of the 2016 VIDA Count:
VIDA Count Team
Sara Iacovelli, VIDA Count Director
Jennifer Rabedeau, VIDA Count Coordinator
Amanda Faye Harris
Kelly Lynn Thomas
Maggie Cooper, Advisor
Aimee Noel, Advisor
Sheila McMullin, Team Lead
Christina Mun-Lutz, Assistant Team Lead
Kristen Zory King
VIDA Count Committee
Alexandra (Ola) Jacunski
Josh McCall, Web Design & Support