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

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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.