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Does The New Yorker have girl problems?
February 20, 2011 7:56 AM   Subscribe

Anne Hays wrote an open letter to The New Yorker, and posted it on Facebook, complaining about the gender imbalance in bylines. The Village Voice and two bloggers respond. The CBC spent an hour on it this morning.
posted by kneecapped (54 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Also: Dennis Loy Johnson from MobyLives noticed this problem in 2002. Sounds like things haven't improved.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 8:02 AM on February 20, 2011


I fully expected a GRAR-inducing response from American Power Blog, but for THe Village Voice to title their article, "Does the New Yorker have Girl Problems?" (emphasis mine) makes me want to set things on fire. It's possible they're trying to be ironic (c.f. the LitDrift title); if so, they missed.
posted by tzikeh at 8:05 AM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


"I deserve a right to read the top magazine just like everyone else."

The TLS must be so excited.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 8:07 AM on February 20, 2011


I'm surprised by this and disappointed. It is good she's calling them on it, hopefully it will go big and make an impact. From the Village Voice article:

"UPDATE 2: "The poor New Yorker doesn't even know," Hays told Runnin' Scared on Monday afternoon. "I just put it in the mail an hour ago."

lol.
posted by stp123 at 8:09 AM on February 20, 2011


I would be curious as to the ratio of submissions by women in relation to submissions by men.

Also, are there numbers regarding employment practices (male/female employees) of the publication available? I'm assuming (but don't know) that many of the pieces published are submitted by non-employees, whereas some writers are employed staff.

Some perspective would be useful in thinking about this.
posted by tomswift at 8:10 AM on February 20, 2011


Some perspective would be useful in thinking about this.

I think you have the wrong forum ;).

What if the New Yorker simply publishes the most compelling pieces it can get, and they happened to have been mostly written by men? Is that impossible?
posted by shivohum at 8:12 AM on February 20, 2011 [8 favorites]


It's possible they're trying to be ironic

99 Problems
posted by nathancaswell at 8:13 AM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


What if the New Yorker simply publishes the most compelling pieces it can get, and they happened to have been mostly written by men? Is that impossible?

It is possible, and I'll believe it as soon as they adopt a blind-submission policy like many academic journals.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 8:13 AM on February 20, 2011 [25 favorites]


I think she needs to start her own magazine and show those mean boys how it's done.

This said, a third isn't too much to ask in my mind.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:14 AM on February 20, 2011


It is possible, and I'll believe it as soon as they adopt a blind-submission policy like many academic journals.

Got it in one.
posted by tzikeh at 8:17 AM on February 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I began noticing this at least a decade ago. When every issue arrived, I'd play a little game with myself before I turned to the table of contents, and I usually guessed correctly that the pieces by women would be a poem and a review of some kind. Plus ça change.

On preview:

I would be curious as to the ratio of submissions by women in relation to submissions by men.


So would I, but I'm not sure that would tell us anything. I doubt that the New Yorker publishes much of anything that comes over the transom. It's a club - editors farm out pieces to people they know, people who have written for the magazine before, or who have written for other Big Magazines before. Each editor wants to gain (or keep) their reputation for getting Important Person to write about [subject], and it doesn't necessarily matter if Important Person isn't the best person for that particular job, especially if the actual best person is a relative nobody.

If an editor wants someone to write a piece about a thing, they'll call up a writer they know, and if the writer can't do it, he (yes, he) might say "Well, but you should call so-and-so - he's very good and knows a lot about [thing]," and so a new writer comes to the editor's attention.
posted by rtha at 8:18 AM on February 20, 2011 [8 favorites]


I support her and think that every woman should stand up and demand that an equal share of work be generated by the other 50% of the population.

As a software developer, I can attest that the vast majority of positions in the industry are filled by men. The last woman I worked with just took maternity leave and I'd be doubtful to expect an early return. Working with Ruby, Python or Javascript the male population is bordering on 100%. That leaves 50% of the population out, not to mention the wider mindset for improvement and adoption of software and ideas generated from those communities. I don't even know where I begin to attract more women to the field and they're not exactly banging on the door, either.
posted by jsavimbi at 8:20 AM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


...as soon as they adopt a blind-submission policy like many academic journals.

Not a reader of journals or the New Yorker, but for the most part doesn't credentials sell the journals and celebrity or name recognition sell the second?

I wrote my own letter to the New Yorker after they put Not-Yet-Pres. Obama and Michelle on the cover and implied they were Muslim terrorists. I called them idiots.

They're idiots.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:29 AM on February 20, 2011


For those who don't have a Facebook login and cannot see the first link, the full text of the letter is printed in the Village Voice link.
posted by hippybear at 8:30 AM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


"I support her and think that every woman should stand up and demand that an equal share of work be generated by the other 50% of the population."

That statement brings another question to mind. What exactly IS the ratio of males to females that are actively looking for professional work? Is it actually 50/50? Or is there some factor of being female that results in the ratio being different than that (obviously an example would be women staying home to raise children, but I'm sure there may be other reasons)?

Should the ideal goal be 50/50, or some other number?

And, with the New Yorker in mind, I wonder what the racial/ethnic ratios are as well. Is the bias more than just gender?
posted by tomswift at 8:31 AM on February 20, 2011




I would be curious as to the ratio of submissions by women in relation to submissions by men.
That's been a pretty big theme in the discussion of the VIDA statistics, which show that the New Yorker is not at all alone in having this problem. Editors claim that they get a lot fewer submissions from women, and one question is how to convince women writers to be a little more assertive about submitting to the top literary journals and magazines. But one of the telling things about the VIDA stats is that these publications are also much more likely to review books by men than books by women, and that's less likely to be a matter of women not taking the initiative.
posted by craichead at 8:32 AM on February 20, 2011


Also, while I like the idea of pointing out the gender imbalance in The New Yorker's writers, I don't think the author does herself much good when she mentions specifically that Nancy Franklin is one of the writers in an issue, and then goes on to claim that all the reviewers are men. Because she's been their television critic since 1998.
posted by hippybear at 8:33 AM on February 20, 2011


Working with Ruby, Python or Javascript the male population is bordering on 100%.
I know it's offtopic, but yeah, this is really bad.
I don't even know where I begin to attract more women to the field and they're not exactly banging on the door, either.
Financially support groups focused on women in computing. Explicitly include women in positions of leadership, and get them on stage at conferences. Get your company to take on women as interns. Run hackdays with the female colleagues you do know, and make special effort to involve women. Support the Alice project.

Be reflective and deliberate about your development process, and in conversation with women developers, adopt a way of working which is compatible with their lifestyle. Ask your former coworker what it would take to get her back into development, and adapt to those needs. Hire women interns and trainees. If the first eligible candidate is a man, take extra effort to keep looking, in case you find a woman who can also do the job.

In brief, be willing to spend time, money, and reputation to make your corner of the profession more equal.

In the long run, this behaviour is compatible with enlightened self-interest-- it's about working in a way which values people and creates a good workplace environment. And when you're the kind of person who cares about these things, people will want to work with you.
posted by honest knave at 8:37 AM on February 20, 2011 [8 favorites]


It is possible, and I'll believe it as soon as they adopt a blind-submission policy like many academic journals.

But as rtha pointed out, they don't really pick from the open submission pool. They're picking from a pool of Important, Well-Known Writers--after all, a brand name is a large part of what makes a piece compelling. And obviously a brand name cannot be evaluated blindly. Perhaps a much larger percentage of IWKW are men than women? If so, the New Yorker could be justified in picking mostly men because the pool is already skewed that way. Doubts about that process would have more to do with the New Yorker being biased towards IWKW over new and unknown authors than any gender bias per se.
posted by shivohum at 8:40 AM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think she needs to start her own magazine and show those mean boys how it's done.

This was a joke, right? From the Voice article:

"Hays, a Brooklyn resident, Sarah Lawrence MFA graduate and the founding editor of Storyscape Journal"

And really. "Show those mean boys"? Please please tell me your sentence was an allusion to that line instead of yet another dismissive quip.
posted by kavasa at 8:43 AM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


cjorgenson, yeah, this is OT, but since you brought it up: The liberal New Yorker has no motivation to put out a magazine implying that the Obamas were/are terrorists. The argument against that old cover (which was satirizing that right wing viewpoint) was that the satire was tasteless, or as you have demonstrated, perhaps too subtle.
posted by kozad at 8:45 AM on February 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Does anyone have some stats on the relative percentages of female and male graduates of the top MFA writing programs (Iowa, Ann Arbor, etc.)? I've been trying unsuccessfully. I know that in undergraduate English creative writing programs, women are a sizable majority, and I would speculate that's probably still more or less the case at the MFA level.

If that's so, then I'm really curious about why the proportions in that group, which we might say represent the most talented up-and-coming writers in the US, change quite a lot when it comes to who's getting published and who's getting reviewed.
posted by FelliniBlank at 8:49 AM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wrote my own letter to the New Yorker after they put Not-Yet-Pres. Obama and Michelle on the cover and implied they were Muslim terrorists. I called them idiots.
You didn't realize it was satirizing the absurd "Obama is a Muslim terrorist" notion? Really? You are right - you apparently don't read the New Yorker.
posted by ghastlyfop at 8:50 AM on February 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


er, trying unsuccessfully to find some.
posted by FelliniBlank at 8:50 AM on February 20, 2011


Should we really post things on metafilter that you have to log onto facebook to read?
posted by delmoi at 8:53 AM on February 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


But one of the telling things about the VIDA stats is that these publications are also much more likely to review books by men than books by women, and that's less likely to be a matter of women not taking the initiative.

Yes, for my money, these are the damning data right here, and they seem to be pretty steady across all the surveyed magazines regardless of the staff demographics.
posted by FelliniBlank at 8:54 AM on February 20, 2011


Well, if the New Yorker is known for anything by non-readers, it's for having a very very dry sense of humor. But they've done some great covers. We laughed out loud over the Obama fistbump painting. I still have the issue with this cover on it, because I think it's just so perfect. And more recently, they did this cover, which again made me laugh out loud when I was going through my mail the week it arrived.

But basically, if you're offended by a New Yorker cover, you probably aren't reading it correctly. Dry sense of humor, after all.
posted by hippybear at 8:55 AM on February 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Should we really post things on metafilter that you have to log onto facebook to read?

It is republished in almost every other one of the links.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:55 AM on February 20, 2011


Yes, I realized it was satire. And if I thought it was effective I would have praised them for it. Instead it was a disrespectful piss-poor caricature that had no place in honest discourse, and only fed into the racial and religious stereotypes they were trying (and failing) to lampoon. Good satire takes a bit of effort. That was lazy, full of obvious yucks, and was done for no reason than to piss a few people off.

If it had been the cover to Mad Magazine or National Lampoon I'd have thought it brilliant. I think people generally expect a little higher level of sophistication from the New Yorker.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:56 AM on February 20, 2011


They're picking from a pool of Important, Well-Known Writers--after all, a brand name is a large part of what makes a piece compelling.
I am very, very far from an expert on this, and I could be wrong. But it seems to me that the New Yorker doesn't just pick from a pool of literary celebrities. They help to anoint literary celebrities. Getting published in the New Yorker is one way to become an IWKW, not just a reflection of already being an IWKW.
posted by craichead at 8:56 AM on February 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


That statement brings another question to mind. What exactly IS the ratio of males to females that are actively looking for professional work? Is it actually 50/50? Or is there some factor of being female that results in the ratio being different than that (obviously an example would be women staying home to raise children, but I'm sure there may be other reasons)?

As you mention, it is pretty obvious that more women than men decide to focus on raising children. Calls for women to represent 50% of all fields are at odds with women's actual choices. Fairness and equality are important as general ideals, but they don't dictate that there must be any specific percentage of women or men (or blacks or whites or straights or gays) in a specific field. Men and women do not make identical choices in life. These choices are going to be reflected in statistical breakdowns of how many women or men have a certain job, make a certain salary, have bylines in magazines, etc. I have no idea if the New Yorker has a gender bias. It might, or it might not. Citing raw numbers and percentages doesn't answer the question. You'd need to know the real-world details that actually led to those numbers, and I'm not privy to most of those details.

I'd bet that shivohum's comment gets closer to the truth than Hays's attempt to make this a clear-cut feminist issue: we know that the New Yorker prefers "Important, Well-Known Writers," and we know that the majority of them are men. If we want to attribute that fact to feminism, OK, but that would be getting pretty far from "this specific magazine is sexist."
posted by John Cohen at 9:00 AM on February 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


What bothered me most was the CBC spending an hour on a single American magazine and only mentioning Canadian stats as a footnote at the end of the broadcast.
posted by furtive at 9:00 AM on February 20, 2011


If we want to attribute that fact to feminism, OK

Of course, I meant to type: if we want to attribute that fact to sexism...

(How's the edit feature coming along, cortex?)
posted by John Cohen at 9:01 AM on February 20, 2011


Clearly a call for more Kate Beaton illustrations.
posted by maryr at 9:03 AM on February 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


How can they say this about the New Yorker? They had Dorothy Parker write for them quite a lot, and she hasn't been dead that long!
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:03 AM on February 20, 2011


I'm a little weirded out by the argument that women aren't represented in the New Yorker because they're busy having babies, only because being a freelance writer is a profession that is pretty compatible with raising children. In fact, it's a whole hell of a lot easier to do if you have a spouse who is providing regular income and health insurance. The question of why women are less likely to write book reviews for major literary magazines doesn't seem to be easily answered with the same glib response that you'd trot out to explain why women are less likely to be corporate CEOs.
posted by craichead at 9:06 AM on February 20, 2011 [13 favorites]


It is possible, and I'll believe it as soon as they adopt a blind-submission policy like many academic journals.

I wish the academic journals I submit to had that policy --- I have only seen anonymous refereeing.
posted by TheyCallItPeace at 9:31 AM on February 20, 2011


Men and women do not make identical choices in life.

No, they don't, but they'd be more apt to make a choice to pursue a career in a field where they knew they could find motivations beyond those of a paycheck. By no means am I an accomplished genius in my field, and even though I am aware of a certain glass ceiling as applied to my educational/social background, I'm not as deterred to pursue my career in my field as someone who cannot find leadership and success represented by those they share common cultural ties with.

Putting that into perspective, every developer on my current team (I'm not the boss) is a white male and although off-topic to the New Yorker, I think that it's representative of many fields where the first choice is to go with the easy white guy. In the short term that will fill hiring needs as they are more readily available for recruiting, but in the long run I recognize that we shut out a greater percentage of the population.

And yes, I did hire a female developer once but she turned out to be a person of condescension and not much of a team player. It never crossed my mind that she would leave work to start a family, but I can see how that would come into play in some circumstances. Another problem I find is that there are no women in what we'd call the hardcore disciplines of the field. They tend to gravitate to the softer side, and that's not exactly a big draw for investment.
posted by jsavimbi at 9:32 AM on February 20, 2011


Yes, women are less likely to pitch— that's why a friend of mine started the Op-Ed project, after hearing that something like 80% of submissions to newspaper op-ed pages come from men. That's more important than it seems because op-eds often drive the political and policy dialogue and are the launching pad for pundits across the board.

But what astonishes me is that this problem is seen, as people say, across the media even though many areas of writing—and book reading— are actually dominated by women.

I recently attended a conference of science bloggers and writers— attendance was roughly 60/40 female dominated although the panels were more like 90% male and the science blogs that get attention tend overwhelmingly to be male. As a woman who writes about neuroscience, it's extremely frustrating.

And the children issue is almost certainly one of the most important parts of the problem: without paid family leave and affordable daycare, it's nearly impossible for a woman who wants to have kids to do as well in her career as a comparable man. I laugh at all the studies etc. about "why are women doing poorly in X field," that happen to note in passing that they tend to have issues because of childcare and then go on to propose solutions that have nothing to do with childcare and are about "mentoring" or something else that won't solve the problem.

I understand they think that family leave and daycare are politically untenable and are trying to propose a pragmatic solution— but it's ludicrous. That needs to change.
posted by Maias at 10:05 AM on February 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


I too know that this is a derail, so ignore at will, but...

And yes, I did hire a female developer once but she turned out to be a person of condescension and not much of a team player.

Careful, jsavimbi. The trap there is judging all female developers based on the one you hired once. Surely among all the male developers you have hired there are some personality flaws. You don't judge them all by that one person.
posted by maryr at 10:17 AM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


They had Dorothy Parker write for them quite a lot, and she hasn't been dead that long!

No mention of Tina Brown yet? I mean, I know during that era it was more New Vanity Yorker Fair, but it still counts. (The "American Power" neo-con blog seems to be the only one of the links that notices.) Aside from her role, however, was there a particular trend during her editorship, and what has happened under Remnick? Are there historical and N-year moving averages to measure against?
posted by dhartung at 11:05 AM on February 20, 2011


I am one of those people that looks through the bylines of her new yorkers every week and is frequently disappointed by the gender ratio. It's frustrating because journalism and writing are nothing like software development in the most important way: there is a huge pipeline of women out there in the field. It's pretty easy to know why it's hard to hire female developers, there simply aren't many of us and it is a problem that really starts so early it is hard to correct for when you get to people of working age. Writers, on the other hand, cannot claim that there are just no women out there wanting to do that work.

(On a sidenote, this probably paints me as crazypants but am I the only person that looks through the new yorker cartoons and notices that they almost always have a man as the subject speaking? I suppose that isn't surprising, and I know everyone hates the cartoons, but it's just flat weird that you'll go entire issues where there is no human female speaking in a cartoon).
posted by ch1x0r at 11:10 AM on February 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


The Millions went through the last ten years of stats for the New Yorker's fiction pieces. Women writers accounted for 35.8% percent of the pieces. That's nowhere near as high as I think it should be, but it's also sadly a much higher percentage of women writers than I've seen for other places. Though I think there's a large skew to the results given that just 28 writers account for 42% of all the fiction pieces for the last ten years (11 out of those 28 being women, which is about 39%).

As a subscriber to the New Yorker, I think they have no excuse for this gender imbalance. As has been pointed out by others, there is no shortage of quality writers who happen to be women. I probably won't renew if they don't address this issue directly. (Although I would like to see what the gender balance is for the Profiles. Are more men profiled than women? Are more men writing profiles about women? That sort of thing.)

I have one simple suggestion to help the New Yorker out:

Murder David Denby. Replace him with a woman. Any woman. Hell, you could replace him with a Markov generator based off of Pauline Kael for all I care. I've heard less banal opinions about movies from ten-year olds. The fucking movie listings in the front of the magazine have a more nuanced and original analysis than Denby.
posted by fryman at 11:26 AM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's both boring and depressing to open up any thread related to sexism and find the usual gang of idiots trotting out the same tired excuses: "Hey, maybe women just don't write good stuff! And how do you know they even submit stuff? Maybe they're happy being homemakers, ever think of that?" Newsflash: All of that is bullshit. Further newsflash: Even women can be sexist; just because the magazine had a woman editor for a while doesn't mean everything is or was hunky-dory.
posted by languagehat at 11:29 AM on February 20, 2011 [15 favorites]


I'm not a big fan of Denby... but you do know that a great number of the movie listings in the front of the magazine are capsule-sized reductions of previously published reviews? In the newest issue I'm holding (the anniversary issue), 6 of the summaries there were written by Denby.
posted by hippybear at 11:36 AM on February 20, 2011


I don't have the resources to do the research, but I would love to know what percentages of the photos they use alongside the fiction are of women, especially women in their twenties, and often sad women wearing not all that much clothing.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:50 AM on February 20, 2011


The trap there is judging all female developers based on the one you hired once.

No, there's no trap there. I was doing a buddy a favor and hired his sister. The lessons of nepotism were learned me very well and it's something I won't do again, regardless of gender.

I meant to use that as an example of at least trying to find parity when looking to hire. And I stil do because I believe that diversity makes us better, but the fact remains that I'm unable to find well qualified female developers experienced in open source projects. Sure, you can find qualified female Java developers and many more experienced with .Net, but even then the overwhelming majority are men with the lead roles almost exclusively occupied by men with women relegated to a supporting roles. And I think that's a shame.
posted by jsavimbi at 12:30 PM on February 20, 2011


I'm glad this is getting some attention.

I also think the New Yorker non fiction is really formulaic. It's a pretty successful formula, and I don't think I ever read something in there that I thought was badly written, but sometimes I wish they'd take a little bit of a chance.
posted by serazin at 1:04 PM on February 20, 2011


hippybear: "I'm not a big fan of Denby... but you do know that a great number of the movie listings in the front of the magazine are capsule-sized reductions of previously published reviews? In the newest issue I'm holding (the anniversary issue), 6 of the summaries there were written by Denby."

No, I mean the movie times and locations. *rimshot*

For other reference, I pulled out a New York Review of Books I had laying around (Feb 24th, 2011) and out of 13 contributors, 1 is a woman. All of the books under "review" seem to be by or about men (though three of the editors of Vol. 2 of Twain's autobiography are women. although "leslie" can be a man's name too, so it might be two.)

Though 8 out of the 12 credited editors and other masthead seem to be women. I don't really know what to make of that, since I know little about the inside of publishing.

Sure it's just one issue, but that is not a good ratio for contributors or subjects. Though I wonder how much of that gender disparity is caused by disparities in other fields, like academic publishing.
posted by fryman at 1:09 PM on February 20, 2011


Ny'er does have some great women writers like Kate Boo and Susan Orlean but there seems to be a subtle bias that when women write it is not "serious." Ie, if you write about medicine and are a woman, it is "health" but if you're a man, it's "science." And being a war correspondent or covering foreign policy is seen as more "important" than covering domestic policy, especially domestic policy which pertains to education or families.
posted by Maias at 1:19 PM on February 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


chix0r is absolutely right -- the "not enough women in the pipeline" theory is an oversimplification, but basically true in tech fields. It's completely false in journalism.

The Dennis Loy Johnson piece I linked to upthread came out around the time when I decided to stop trying to be a journalist with a technical background and instead just work in science/engineering. It was one of many things that convinced me that it was the right decision. My journalism school class and magazine internship were overwhelmingly female. When you're in a group that constitutes 80 percent of those trying to break into a field but 10 percent of those who become successful, it could be in your best interest to switch fields.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 1:28 PM on February 20, 2011


> For other reference, I pulled out a New York Review of Books I had laying around (Feb 24th, 2011) and out of 13 contributors, 1 is a woman. All of the books under "review" seem to be by or about men (though three of the editors of Vol. 2 of Twain's autobiography are women. although "leslie" can be a man's name too, so it might be two.)

Just checked my new issue (March 10, 2011) and found two women contributors out of 16; the ration of authors reviewed is five out of 19, better but still pathetic. Hard to believe this is still going on in 2011.
posted by languagehat at 11:00 AM on February 21, 2011


Needs more Agatha.
a few threads ago I posted the Vida link that fizz put up in this one. I got mine from Ron Sillimans blog and he has some more great articles with supporting evidence.
posted by clavdivs at 3:54 PM on February 21, 2011


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