How many women write for magazines?

Jane Mayer rocks my socks

Not a whole hell of a lot, it would appear. I saw an article on Slate this morning about a recent breakdown of men to women ratios in bylines and book reviews in mainstream publications like the Atlantic, the New Yorker etc., as well as smaller literary journals. Meghan O’Rourke writes:

So the numbers look unequal—at least to a writer with two X chromosomes. But what explains them? Perhaps, some say, women send fewer pitch letters to editors than men (a conjecture offered a few years back when there was a similar furor about the maleness of newspaper Op-Ed pages); or, perhaps, the gatekeepers at publishing houses buy more books by men than women. Perhaps, but I doubt this is all that’s going on. As I’ve written before, we know that bias works unconsciously on women and men. (To take but one example: Studies have shown that men tend to cite male peers more often than female peers.) Critics of studies like VIDA’s often dismiss them as a bid for special pleading, arguing that bean-counting is just a way of evading uncomfortable questions about whether men are better (and more prolific) writers and thinkers than women are. The real evasion is the pretense that decisions about who and what get published are the result of merit alone.

If it’s hard to pinpoint what factors contribute to the inequity in magazines, pointed questions about “why” and “how” are still worth asking. It may be that more men than women write what editors consider “important” books—in part (and this is speculation) because more men than women write about international affairs and politics. (Of course, writers like Samantha Power and Elisabeth Rubin are successful examples of women who do.) If that’s the case—and I’d like to see the numbers—the salient question is why. Another salient question is whether what editors consider “important” is itself affected by gender.

Here’s what I find interesting: the New Yorker might not have as many women writers in their ranks, but the best one they have is a woman – Jane Mayer. She is without a doubt one of the best journalists in the business.


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