Last year, VIDA: Women in Literary Arts released “the Count” a magazine-by-magazine rundown of the gender breakdown of work published in top-flight magazines such as The New Republic and the New Yorker. They found that across the board, women were published far less often than men. Moreover, women also had their books reviewed less often, and so on.
Understandably, people were pretty darn peeved. And when you look at the numbers, the disparity is shocking. Well, VIDA just released their 2011 count, and the numbers haven’t changed all that much.
When the original 2010 Count had been announced, I engaged in some lively debate online. Specifically, I had a number of questions. Essentially the entire VIDA debate (and the pie charts they produced) seemed to assume a few things:
(1) there are an equal number of female writers out there
(2) they submit work to the listed venues as often as their male counterparts
If both of these statements are true, and women are rejected more often than males by these venues, then this is due to sexism.
I have no problem with this argument; actually, I wholeheartedly agree with it. But both premises have to be true for the conclusion (sexism is the result) to stand. When the 2010 count came out, I argued that while the first premise is no doubt true, I had my doubts about the second. In other words, one pie chart isn’t enough. You need two. One for submission/gender and the other for publication. Unfortunately, arguing about the New Yorker or the New Republic was pretty fruitless, as there’s no way to know their submission/gender breakdown.
Knockout’s another story, however. Over the past year, Knockout’s started using Submishmash, and it’s been a lot easier to track all of our submissions. So I decided to put my theory to the test, and I ran Knockout’s gender/submission numbers for the past year.
A note about process:
(1) I exported all of our submitters, deleted out all the extraneous information and left only the submitter’s first name. (So if they submitted more than one, they got counted twice.)
(2) I then went through and manually designated them as male or female. For names where I wasn’t sure or had no idea, I deleted them. There weren’t too many of these, as I often recognized folks who had submitted in the past.
(3) Then I compared it to the gender breakdown in our past three issues to see how things matched up.
(4) Please note, I did this really quickly, so I may have miscounted.
As it turned out, I was right—and wrong.
Over the past year, here are the numbers:
Total Submissions: 496
Male: 305 61 percent
Female: 191 39 percent
I was correct that we get more submissions from men than from women. (This may have to do with the fact that Knockout publishes a lot of GLBT work and we get more work from gay men than from lesbian women. I don’t know why, we just do.) Even so, this has an important impact on the final results, as it makes a 50-50 gender/publication breakdown unlikely from the get-go, but that doesn’t mean sexism is the reason; rather, it’s a matter of submission volume: we just don’t get as much work from women. On the contrary, a magazine could conceivably get fewer submissions from women and publish more of them proportionally than work by men.
Now for the purposes of this post, I’m assuming that last year has been pretty typical. (n previous years, we used Gmail (a goddamn mess!), and there’s no easy way to track submissions there, so compiling this data just isn’t possible. So if in 2012, for Knockout to be truly equitable, we’d need 39 percent of our contributors to be women, as that’s proportionate to the number of submissions we get from women.
That’s where I was (mostly) wrong:
Here’s the breakdown:
Knockout #4, Total Contributors: 28
Men 20 71 percent
Women 8 29 percent (spread: -10)
Knockout #3, Total Contributors: 39
Men 27 69 percent
Women 12 31 percent (spread: -8)
Knockout #2, Total Contributors: 34
Men 19 55 percent
Women 15 45 percent (spread +6)
So the good news: Hey, we beat the spread once, and we weren’t that far off in the other years. (I’m ignoring our first issue for our purposes, as the work was mostly solicited.)
The bad news: We’re not perfect and I was a bit surprised by our KO-count. In addition, it’d be good to get more submissions by women. Women of America (and elsewhere): consider that a call for submissions. When our next submission window opens, send your work our way, yeah?
Update #1: Danielle Pafunda has an interesting post up at Montevidayo in which she addresses the “slush pile defense” that I make above. I’ve got some comments on it, but they’ll have to wait until tonight.