The trouble with rationalizing the numbers trouble. A logic problem.

by on Jun.18, 2011

I’m not commenting on the numbers themselves, which are pukeworthy, or the gazillion hours I’ve spent counting things (an expensive–if you believe my time is worth anything–and dispiriting process). I’m developing, eep!,  a very Twisty Faster reaction to the topic. If you don’t know the numbers are skewed, if you don’t understand what the skew means, it really isn’t my job to pluck your head up out of the sand and spoon feed you seventeen books of feminist theory. Except for when it is. I’m an assistant professor of gender and women’s studies. And: I love my job. I love my students. I don’t actually have to do any plucking or spooning. They’re inquisitive and analytical. This is Wyoming; they come in with tough questions. They come to class often with little experience of the discipline, little professional experience of any sort. They haven’t much been out in the adult world of careers, promotions, raises, cocktail parties, parental leave, aging, etc. They haven’t much been out in the world. So, when it’s a surprise to them that the wage gap exists and that our state has one of the nation’s most glaring gaps (the worst if you don’t discount the mining industry), or that even in the 25 top paying fields for women, fellas make more, or that the publishing ratios fall around 70/30 men/women, I’m excited to talk about how and why. I appreciate that men and women students alike find this unfair and weird and I never feel like jumping up on the table and yelling WHY IS THIS NEWS TO YOU? WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? LIVING IN SOME SORT OF PROTECTIVE PATRIARCHY CAVE? Because really, they’ve been very busy becoming the adults who will soon have to go out into the mess we’ve made for them.

[Update: VIDA’s 2011 Count can now be found here.]

The adults who have been out in the professional world awhile now, I hold to a different standard, though. I hold my literary colleagues to especially high standards–I can’t help it! They’re very smart! To these folks, I don’t feel inclined to explain the numbers or prove the numbers or even provide very many more numbers. Blargh. I do, however, need to say something about a logical fallacy that people inevitably employ to rationalize our literary numbers trouble. (If you’re curious about who said what when/where/how, please, visit a fine selection of the responses here.)

We need to know the submission ratios in order to understand these publishing ratios. No, I don’t think we really do. We know women submit less than men. Okay. This is a fact, and it would perhaps be a meaningful fact if we squinted and looked at it from a far-off ill-informed place. However:

1. Some editors seem quite pleased when their contributors’ gender ratio turns out to reflect the gender ratio in their submission pool. Why? This suggests that an editor is a fairly passive machine, an inbox that receives and selects writing, but doesn’t engender that writing or seek writing on its own accord. I’ve worked for/near/with a lot of literary journals over the past decade. I’ve never worked for one that published solely from its submission pool (often referred to as the slush pile). I have even occasionally worked for those that published only the smallest percentage of work from that slush pile, as most slots were already promised to solicted contributors. Of course, solicitations have their own numbers trouble. Some editors note that men are twice as likely (anecdotally) to respond to solicitations. By this, hands get tied, but editors could just as easily increase the number of women they solicit. An editor’s job, historically, has been to actively seek out writers. Publishing houses still do this, no? Go out and dig up new writers? It’s one of the perks, it’s fun. Beyond their solicitation control, editors have a great deal of influence over who submits cold to their journals. They write the little descriptions that go into the CLMP reference guide, the Writer’s Market, etc. They give interviews, they write the text on their own websites, they make the rounds at AWP. AND they publish work that sets a standard for what they’d like to see. Should they happen to want to change what/who they publish, well, duh, they’re going to have to somehow make that clear.

2. When we suggest that the submission ratio is important, we assume that the quality of each gender’s submissions will be identical. Social scientists. I married one. I work in an interdisciplinary program delightfully populated by ’em, and they’re delightfully careful with numbers. Let’s say we’re a group of anthropologists trying to figure out what the submissions numbers mean. We couldn’t just count them up. We’d have to establish a rubric for evaluating the quality of each individual work submitted (impossible!), create a system for applying that rubric, and determine the ratio of publishable-to-unpublishable work in each gender’s submission pile. There’d be a lot of math involved, margins of error, etc. We’d apply for a nice fat grant to conduct this study, get paid to count stuff, and perhaps feel less grouchy about the time it takes. (& we’d still be left with gray areas and contradictions!) Since we’re not going to do that, I’ll speak anecdotally and hypothetically. I’d be quite surprised if, in our hypothetical study, we found the quality of men’s and women’s submission piles to be equal. In my experience, which is: 11 years, 5 journals from micro to major online to hardcopy across the aesthetic spectrum, plus a few book/poetry contests, let’s say a fair grand total estimate of 25,000 submissions read, gracious, I think I need to lie down! In my experience, then, on the whole women submit more consistently publishable work with regard to quality, appropriateness, etc. Men on the whole are more likely to submit unfinished work and/or work that doesn’t suit the publication for which I’m reading. Word Problem: Let’s say I’ve got a stack of 100 submissions from women and 40 of them are publishable. I’ve also got a stack of 200 submissions from men, and 40 of them are also publishable. Not 80! The journal has room for 20 contributors. How should I choose them? Show your work!

3. This brings us to overconfidence. Any number of sociological studies demonstrate masculine overconfidence. And we know that our culture initially rewards that overconfidence. Men are more likely to ask for raises (and to receive them when they ask). Men are more likely to take primary credit for collaborative work. Men and women both overrate men’s contributions, in quantity and quality, at work and at home. It sounds like I’m saying men are jerks, eh? I’m saying we teach men to do this. Culturally, we’re the jerks who tell them time and again, make sure everyone knows you’re the best. How can each guy be the best guy? What a nightmare! So, yes, in some respects, overconfidence can work to men’s advantage, but ultimately it’s prone to hurt them, and not just financially.

4. No one’s reading blind. Though most editors claim to read for the quality of the work, not the gender, demonstrating that your publication ratio reflects your submission ratio suggests that you are indeed reading gender. Either consciously or un-, you’ve always already divided out your submissions into those by men and women. Why not own and direct that tendency, rather than trying unsuccessfully to suppress it?

5. The suggestion that it’s only fair to publish work in the ratio that you receive work baffles me. Why? There aren’t any laws about this. The very editors who cry NO QUOTAS when we counters suggest that a 70/30 split is unfair and sucko turn around and insist that they’re tied to a quota system determined by their own slush piles. Yikes! Look: if you’re happy publishing 80% men, 20% women, fine. Own it! You make the decisions, and the rest of us are welcome to critique or celebrate those decisions. Call you a badass rebel, call you a tool of the patriarchy, subscribe to your journal, cancel a subscription. If you’re, on the other hand, somehow embarrassed or disappointed by your ratio, then blaming the submissions pool isn’t likely to improve the situation in any immediate, effective way.

6. Whether you work for a ginormous journal that receives 15,000 submissions a year or a small one that receives 2,000, you are likely receiving more good work than you can publish. Just a hunch: in the women’s pile alone, there’s enough good work for a fabulous issue. Between your cold submissions and your solicitations, you’re likely rolling in riches. Unless you feel bizarrely beholden to run a conceptual journal whose primary mission is reflecting the demographics of its submission pile, this slush-pile-ratio point is moot. And boring. A strawman, a distraction. Plus:

7. When the group in power puts the onus back on the marginalized group, it always leads to bad feelings. It’s rude, folks! Instead of telling (less powerful, less privileged) others how they can fix the problem, ante up, tell us what you’re going to do and lead by example. Yeah? Yeah! And, editors, let’s hold each other to it.

8. Oh, and maybe it’s gross to say, but as a writer, I’m kinda tired of competing for fewer spaces. When I was younger and surlier, I might’ve welcomed the challenge, strutted into it, but I’m so very busy, now. I’ve got real, worthy challenges to contend with. Here’s an advance smoochy thank-you for making this less my problem as a writer and submitter, more my problem as an editor. Whew. That feels better.

*Images courtesy of VIDA.

65 comments for this entry:
  1. adam strauss

    Has anyone proposed funding policies: lit venues which recieve any state or federal funding must be required to display parity? Or am I tripping and there is no funding (not even partial/indirect)? Well if there is, could this be one way of improving the scenario? I guess this could damper anyone who likes the idea of their endeavors being indie (even if it’s not in actuality: aka venues stemmed from MFAs etc) but that–as far as I am concerned–is tres ok.

  2. Danielle Pafunda

    Hey, Adam, so it’d be kind of like Title IX except for literature instead of sports? Interesting! It’d be messy–government regs on artistic endeavors–and it’d probably just result in a government crackdown on what the bureaucrats considered pervy art, but I hadn’t really considered literary journals as public assets before… tres interesting!

  3. Ryan Sanford Smith

    regulation? really?

    The landscape grows heavier with ill-formed places.

  4. Danielle Pafunda

    Yes, Ryan, like I said, regulation would be a mess. I suppose I don’t understand your landscape metaphor, but it remains interesting to think of a literary journal as public asset, since they literally are in some cases. Look, I’d rather my tax dollars (pennies? portions of pennies?) drip circuitously into literary journals that advantage the careers of men over the careers of women than about a zillion things my tax dollars go into regardless of my approval, but I’d like it even better if my money wasn’t funding the same old hegemonic formula.

    Anyhow, I address my take on this pretty clearly in #5. Editors vehemently oppose such quotas, and then pretend they’re hemmed in by the quota of the slush pile? Weird.

  5. Johannes

    I think it’s good to have these discussions, but things do get a bit more difficult when it comes t implementing solutions (quotas or whatever). It might be that the discussion is useful in itself.

    Johannes

  6. adam strauss

    I think I’m trying to think of the issue “legally” because it seems like otherwise it’s dependent on good will; and if there isn’t enough good will, well. I do, too, tho, agree that this could get awkward rather fast, but it could help illustrate that these venues are not necessarily totally independent, and the government should I think regulate issues like this; supposedly it’s here to ensure the rights of its citizenry.

    Too, tho, I think it would be good if women bombarded the slush pile, made it ten times bigger, made the slush a giant snowman that cannot be ignored. I guess I shld state I believe submissions to be a crapshoot–period. So I say submitsubmitsubmit: I know editors like to say they have a vision etc, but it’s often hard to figure it out (R Armantrout, for example, seems to fit just about everyone’s vision within like 190 degrees of the lit circle). I’m not proposing this as sole solution, but it does seem like it would be a good activity–if only to say to naysayers: look-here, we rule the slush and still not much happens so then the slush defense would become more invalidated…or maybe slush would morph into shot velvet and be tres in!

    Too, I think it’d be good to have women and men who publish frequently write about what they do, so maybe others could emulate and up their credit number.

  7. Josef Horáček

    I’d say let’s make sure the publishing venues we’re all involved in don’t replicate the patterns of the established media. And if you think that can never happen, I’d say let’s look at the academic career environment as a warning.

  8. Ryan Sanford Smith

    If X journal is blatantly sexist why would one want to publish there anyway?

    The numbers prove the imbalance but the imbalance isn’t news to anyone. I guess I don’t necessarily feel invested in worrying over changing The New Yorker as much as I feel invested in ignoring them because they’re sexist and shitty. Giving them this kind of attention carries the sustaining implication that we have to care about what TNY does because TNY matters. Well, of course it does, you won’t quit talking about it. (Obviously just a metaphorical example).

    If the word ‘quota’ doesn’t make someone’s skin instantly crawl I’m not interested in that person’s opinion on anything related to art.

    It would be interested though I agree if there was more ownership of these obvious disparities; I don’t even necessarily disbelieve those that would say they’re honestly publishing what they like, but it’d be more honest and interesting if there was an admission that what they tend to like tends to be men (or the reverse, which is surely the case in some other journals though of course a tiny tiny slice).

    And I’m okay with that in a way, I’m okay with whoever liking whatever they like and if in whatever position to do so, publish it. But of course there should be a more corollary ‘right’ for access and choice in what journals to read / get published in. We can say how sad Famous Editor X doesn’t like more women writers but, well, opinions. It’s subjective, no matter how much it rubs us the wrong way. Decrying someone’s taste based on ratios or what Poet Y or Poet Z think their taste should be is, well, pretty insane even if it makes sense to ‘us’.

    I think Johannes is spot on really, this is all interesting and let’s write letters to these editors and here someone is blogging about it and, sure, awesome, I’m all for it. Actual, well, regulations, though? Imposed by…the government? I don’t even know how the wiring of someone who thinks that way works. It’s more than slightly unsettling even as it remains dull and unimaginative.

  9. adam strauss

    As in—if Conjunctions, for a hypothetical, has a 37/63 ratio, make it a no-go? I like this, but also wonder: many, regardless of gender, I bet would be happy to have themselves be the exception. Poetry strikes me as very caught up in egotism–even lines which aren’t clearly autobiographical etc; to think one merits attention I’d define as intrinsically egotistical. And I’m not sure egotism is intrinsically wrong–might be part of having a “sentient” body.

    I don’t know what is meant by “let’s look at the academic career environment as a warning.”

    I hope all’s well for all!

  10. adam strauss

    “Actual, well, regulations, though? Imposed by…the government? I don’t even know how the wiring of someone who thinks that way works. It’s more than slightly unsettling even as it remains dull and unimaginative”–were this to happen, of course journals would have the right to find their own money and do whatever. I find it a bit dubious to be so anti-regulation: to be in public, to be in “society” means to be a part of regulatory systems (unless one is extremely simultaneously powerful and liked), and they’re not all bad: standards of construction for roads etc, policies on lead-levels. (And, true-true, these policies aren’t without problems (unequal enforcement etc). If one drives a car, one is regulated; if one flies on an airplane one is regulated; if one attends school, one is regulated; if one goes to a coffee-shop one is regulated (service denied those without shoes etc). If someone is opposed to all these dynamics then I can get with an anti-reg stance, but if not them my question becomes: is there something quacky ’bout being so against this type–which could be said to be rather benign compared to some others (policies regarding health-care applications etc). Ok, I’m not gonna lie, I am putting on a somewhat snarky timbre.

  11. Ryan Sanford Smith

    Yeah, you’ve introduced nothing unless you’re genuinely arguing from a place where the art world in any conceivable way compares to the commercial world (coffee shops) or driving or whatever. This is false dichotomizing of the most embarrassing sort. I can talk about how I love art because it more than anything else resists every atom that one sees behind regulation (and many other things) which is of course why so many slobber over it’s ‘intrinsic’ relationship to politics and resistance, etc. But it’s more interesting I think to simply rest on a rather immovable conviction of mine that if those are the comparisons being drawn I’m already not interested in what you have to say. I simply can’t respect that parallel, it doesn’t exist to me. If the thought then is ‘Well I was using hyperbole but you know what I meant’ then, no, the onus is on you to draw more nuanced comparisons and defend the idea. As it stands I don’t think it is defensible. Eventually, sure, there will be a wall, we can agree you probably shouldn’t shoot someone as an ‘artistic act’ but there are performance artists who do challenge even things in those realms, so, there you have it.

    If we want to agree that say, government-issued grants agree with such fairness (is this legally the case already? I’d be surprised if not?), I’m with you. But if I start a press am I under such quotas for fairness? Should I be? I have very crass and heartfelt words about anyone ready to say ‘yes’. You can sniff your nose and say ‘Well you just want to be sexist’ and blah blah, but that’s a big jump, why isn’t it all right to simply be angry at being told what to do with my press regardless of whatever fuzzy sense of fairness it instills? There are slippery slopes abound with this, that should also be obvious.

    If we put such things in place what about gendered presses / journals? Do female-only presses abide by the regulations? Do they change their policy? Do they by their own mission statements become unnecessary and disappear?

    This all feels very much like missing the forest for the trees, even if we can all agree the trees are great and noteworthy and oneself might even be a tree. If you’re interested more in fairness than what -forced- fairness would sacrifice…then I’m a speechless.

    Luckily no one really seems to be for this. The discussions are important, even more so than I necessarily even thought until I’ve just now thought on it more, which is to say the only fairness worth having is the fairness you gain without a strong arm. Pushing the magic button (regulation, whatever coercion) might be fast and satisfying in some short-term sense, but it’s losing the war for the fuzzy feelings of one battle.

  12. Danielle Pafunda

    Thanks for the comments, y’all, and I’d appreciate it if we could keep it all the way polite and productive, thanks!

    @Ryan, I suppose many people want to publish or have their books reviewed in sexist mags (or mags with sexist numbers) because those same mags remain standard bearers for the field–publication therein leads to tenure, Guggenheims, invitations to read, etc. That is–they lead to money (for food, shelter, childcare), time to write, health insurance, etc. They lead to cheerful, possible careers. Bonus: from that position of privilege & power, one might more radically alter the literary scene. Oh, and bonus: more people read your work! I’d love it if some normally dudetastic journal published or reviewed one of my feminist gut rot pieces. What a fun surprise for its subscribers (or, you know, fun surprise for me to imagine subscribers reading it)!

    @Josef, thanks! That’s helpful to think about. It’s perhaps more difficult to ensure parity in collaborative ventures, yeah? It seems when you get too many cooks, everything risks sliding back to normative neutral unmarked choices (straight white middle class dudes sans disability, etc.) because they’re the most obvious, or easiest to agree on or something? One actually has to struggle upstream to make sure her group has committed to parity among its visiting writers/contributors/visiting scholars/book authors/members of the committee, etc. Academia can be super gross this way. Good intentions (or at least good lip service), lousy follow through. Committing oneself to parity and following through. I’m’a take that vow and hope I can live up to it.

    & ha! yup, important to have these conversations not least because then I can link to them rather than have to type out the whole dang thing in a comments box each time the same cruddy logic gets deployed ;).

    Okay–hope that was all coherent. The children went cuckoo while I was typing (can you see the bite marks where the toddler gnawed on the computer? someone get me a Gugenheim, stat! hee hee.). Oh–happy pappy day to you parenting fellas.

  13. adam strauss

    @RSS

    “If we put such things in place what about gendered presses / journals? Do female-only presses abide by the regulations? Do they change their policy? Do they by their own mission statements become unnecessary and disappear?”

    I do find the above editorial formation problematic–as do many (women and men). Too though, I wonder if all-women journals are already more likely to be indepedent.

    “This is false dichotomizing of the most embarrassing sort”–my problem with this is it feels anti-relational to me in its logic, and I think it is necessary and very interesting to see if things which may historically be seen as unrelated in fact do have “authentic” links. In this case, I think it may be more than just a coincidence that regulation is a dynamic that relates to both writing and our lives as we rush down sidewalks. or put another way: for me the crucial terrain is regulation as a verb, a dynamic, a motion, rather than regulation as manifested by any one local point–regulation as a noun phenomena. Verbs move, verbs don’t neccesarily keep to confines; and this cheers me otherwise relations might all turn to skeletons!

    Too, what’s with ignoring how even if there were to be this policy (and it ain’t likely) it is not a requirement! Only if one wants money from a certain source.

    I should probably add: I don’t find any legislative argument for journals which are genuinly independent of state or federal aid.

    Grants are not identical to journal publications–tho they could help get a grant.

    Honestly my line of thought is very unlikely to be taken seriously by just about anyone (I wonder about therefore quikcly dismissing it as dumb: that slides close to an ad populum logical fallacy or however the Latin goes), but I think that it’s good to try and think of as many possible factes of an issue/its solution (and any solution is likely to be multifaceted) if only to sharpen the potnetial effectiveness of whatever strategies do get adopted. On this, I’m guessing, we may agree.

  14. Ryan Sanford Smith

    Mm. Interesting questions here about what obligations literary journals have and to whom. Who is owed? What exactly is owed? Which fairnesses are most pressing (gender, race, aesthetic?) and in what order? How big (what’s the metric?) or important (same) is a press/journal that it takes on such obligations? When the gatekeeper at a big journal changes and the journal’s biases subsequently change how do we really know it and when do we have the right to complain again? What’s the golden ratio here? At what status is there enough of a minority that it is ‘okay’ for there to be journals that say ‘We only publish women/men/Asian-Americans,etc.’? What exactly makes it not okay if a journal does this or not? Do art journals have an obligation to be a ‘fair’ space as much / more than a ‘this is what we like’ space, regardless of fairness? Is it only okay if those journals are small? Does explicitly stating ‘we only publish men/women’ then make it okay? Are we mad because of the numbers or the charade of fairness? Does the size factor enact the breaking point of obligation/fairness? Every art journal and every literary press in unfair towards somebody, obviously, so when is it okay to be unfair?

  15. Ryan Sanford Smith

    Sorry to doublepost in a row, but to sum all that up and answer simply, my personal answer of course is a press can be as unfair as they to whoever they want, it’s their art and their project. The charades should be dropped of though–if you don’t have conviction in what/why you publish you probably shoudn’t be publishing in the way you do (i.e. what you publish) and rather you shouldn’t be publishing at all. If Publisher X at Big Journal can’t look himself or anyone else in the eye about what he/she/they like, then they should think rather hard about how they approach who they publish and why, we can probably all agree on that.

    But the real final question: are you comfortable if Big Journal publishes you and gives you a shiny star for the precious CV for precious tenure etcetcetc but the Publisher’s asst. secretly confides in you that they thought your work was garbage but felt pressured because you fulfilled X quota, is that okay with you?

    I will concede there are journals and presses so big that they feel like they’re not ‘independent’, I do feel empathy towards ideas of fairness because they are large gates–but none of that erases all the many questions that come with it ideologically, when your press blows up and becomes a big gate you’ll face the same quotas, would you be okay with that? (No specific ‘you’ being targeted here, just to be clear, this is all hypothetical…).

  16. adam strauss

    “Are we mad because of the numbers or the charade of fairness?”

    Good question; my answer would be both: frustration at the numbers, and frustration at discourses which suggest the numbers just happen in some very organic way sans the hand of intention, and the way the dynamic as is can mutually reinforce a “logic” of exclusion which is not even being performed with conscious disclosure. Yes, too, size/reputation likely plays a role. This is one of my quips with VIDA counts: the array of venues is so broad, and I’m not sure I think it makes maximal sense to view the New Republic (a generalist zine whose purview is well beyond the strictly literary as equivlant to a Chicago Review (tho within respective millieus they are desirable so that’s a link). I am birthing fallacy: the point I just made is noun-based, not dynamic-grounded. This might be dumb but I’m leaning towards–this very moment–believing part of being logical is being to some degree fallacious (is there a perfect argument? Doesn’t a dialectic imply that an argument is always already not total?). Sophistry is sooooooooo where it’s at because syntax is sophistic! Cheers to Plato: who I think is the sophist par excellance despite what he states regarding him not being a Sophist.

    “Every art journal and every literary press in unfair towards somebody, obviously, so when is it okay to be unfair?” Yep-yep–good question and I have no idea how to answer without un or sub-consciously replicating taken-for-granted power dynamics.

  17. Danielle Pafunda

    This post takes it as given that it is not okay to publish disproportionately more men than women, and that the reasons it’s not okay have been well covered from many angles by decades of feminist theory. Anyone who disagrees with that is very welcome to write his/her own post about it on his/her own blog, or even on this blog (should s/he be a contributor to Montevidayo), but I won’t be indulging that conversation on *this* post, ’cause, like I said at the very beginning, it’s giving me a case of the Twisty Fasters. http://blog.iblamethepatriarchy.com/patriarchy-blaming-the-twisty-way/guidelines-for-commenters/

    Thanks!
    Danielle

  18. adam strauss

    “This post takes it as given that it is not okay to publish disproportionately more men than women”

    “Every art journal and every literary press in unfair towards somebody, obviously, so when is it okay to be unfair?” Yep-yep–good question and I have no idea how to answer without un or sub-consciously replicating taken-for-granted power dynamics”

    I don’t mean for my response to RSS’s question to endorse the notion that female/male ratios don’t fall within the zone of clearly unfair. I only mean to state that fairness doesn’t strike me as an easy topic as it is true that fair almost never covers every demographic and then deciding which one matters more at a given time gets difficult unless minority rights get tossed. This though is not quite exactly aligned with the issue at-hand, I certainly agree!

    Did a specific person coin the word feminism? I use the word all the time but honestly know little about its inception.

  19. Danielle Pafunda

    Also, Ryan, I don’t know if you intend to sound quite so rude or mocking as I read you, here, since one can always be misread online:

    “But the real final question: are you comfortable if Big Journal publishes you and gives you a shiny star for the precious CV for precious tenure etcetcetc…”

    But if you do indeed intend to mock or insult, I don’t participate in that sort of discussion.

  20. Ryan Sanford Smith

    You’re obviously welcome not to indulge, but in my little shining hope for further actual discourse I hope someone will. Of course the OP takes it ‘as a given’, which was one (of manymany) questions I was raising. Considering all the times I’ve been accused in various discussions here of ‘closing the door’ on discourse this line of posting has taken a markedly awkward turn.

    Intriguing link. ‘Rigorous discourse’ indeed. I’m only somewhat certain it’s not a masterfully crafted parody.

  21. Ryan Sanford Smith

    It’s not nearly as intentional as it probably seems though it happens enough (I’m told often enough it’s there) that surely it’s there?

    I guess I’m more interested in hearing an answer to the question, which is probably more interesting to everyone reading this than how big of an asshole I am (a big one).

  22. Danielle Pafunda

    Oh, agreed, Adam. All these basic units of power–gender, race, sexuality, disability, etc. etc.! How do you attend to all of ’em? I fall down on that all the time. But I’d be, I dunno, psyched? to see the balance tip toward any of the underrepresented categories.

    Ha! no idea who coined it–preliminary googlings suggest that like so many useful things we owe it to a French feminist: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hubertine_Auclert

  23. adam strauss

    I love this: “Ha! no idea who coined it–preliminary googlings suggest that like so many useful things we owe it to a French feminist”

    “Speaking” of, I so ought to read Wittig.

    I soooooooooooo ought to explore “disability theory”–I feel like it must be an awesome site (ugh is this quasi-pun really rude?).

    “Well-read” is a funny moniker; is it ever other than “well read in [put specific discourse of one’s choice)” and even then, really: there is soooooooo much “important” poetry I have not read. Ok, tangent, I totally admit.

  24. Rain Falling Without Meaning | Whimsy Speaks

    […] this doesn’t surprise me:  “In my experience, then, on the whole women submit more consistently publishable work with […]

  25. Jennifer Michael Hecht

    Danielle Pafunda you are brilliant and charming. I agree with you. I would like to send you some support but I do not have any time or money. Do you accept imaginary trucks of love?

    Jennifer Michael Hecht
    from
    Getting So Tired Of This Shit She’s Willing To Start Acting Up, New York

    xoxox

  26. courtney bambrick

    I really hate the assumption that gender parity in publishing will inevitably lead to crappier publications. That fear is what cements the current imbalance.

    And VIDA has linked to/posted/published essays and articles linking the imbalance in magazine publishing to the imbalance in book reviews and the imbalance in tenure track positions and speaking engagements, contests, etc.

    This is not an isolated problem and it has serious and far-reaching consequences for women who write. The conversation is important, but the conversation should be part of the momentum that transforms the writing and publishing community into a more gender-balanced “place” to work.

    And yes — EVERYONE should read Monique Wittig!

  27. Kirsten

    Hey Danielle, guys… It seems to me that VIDA is doing quite a service. First, when people noticed gender imbalance– the internets said “what? no… if you are going to claim that, show me the numbers.” Now that VIDA has shown some numbers– voices are saying “hey, well, those aren’t enough numbers/those are the wrong numbers/those numbers are explained by the slushpile imbalance/subjectivity/the vision of the editor/the make-up of the universe.” Danielle then, mensch that she is, posted this as the beginning of a discussion of the slushpile excuse. Probably because, as an editor herself, she was tired about hearing an excuse that in her experience did not play. And so now she is hearing it all over again. I feel for you, D.

    Regulation is not a good fix for artistic endeavors, education is (i.e. meaningful discussions that do not travel the same twisty roads of denial and what-is-feminism-anyway), and then effort (hey you editors “here’s some stuff you might try if you care”). If you don’t think there is a problem, don’t speak. Or speak elsewhere. If you do think there is a problem, the answer is probably NOT for women to just act more like men (bombard the slushpile). Such a thing would only camouflage a deeper problem–the systemic elevation of the familiar.

    Yes– I think, at the heart of it what the VIDA numbers signify is narcissistic elevation.  I think that the over-appreciation of art that is like your art, like art you might make, art about someone like you– is the result of a terrible disservice done to the young white heterosexual able-bodied Judeo-Christian male of privilege (I say as mother of three of them). VIDA, by showing these figures clearly, is not attacking simply gender imbalance in these publications (yes, the-socially-most-powerful ones–easy to dismiss the need for social power when it’s yours to take or reject), but self-replication. i.e.–the curatorial making of copies (or slightly newer models).

    And yes, good will may eventually be the answer. One hopes. I hope. Forcing others to conform–not particularly good art (or life) practice. Messy conversations–messy, yes. Action? Necessary, and sometimes way too slowly implemented for my taste. But there you have it. Danielle put forward some suggestions for why the slushpile excuse is not a good excuse. Please speak to her points. Engage honestly or move your carcass out of the kitchen–we’re trying to make something better
    .

  28. Elisa

    The solutions are not difficult (stop being a slave to your submission numbers; reject more men; make it obvious as hell that women are welcome in your space), what’s difficult is getting people to care, getting people to question their assumption that men really are writing better work. For any given editor, it’s easy enough to solve the problem, but most editors don’t really agree that it’s a problem. They just want to appear sensitive to the issue, hence the hand-waving and the claims that there’s no clear solution.

  29. Johannes

    In some ways it might be that editors don’t want to or have never bothered to question their aesthetic assumptions. Most people seem to want to believe that they’re just interested in “the best, no matter what style.” I think the Vida discussion might cause people to think about their editorial vision and perhaps question some of the fundamental rules assumed. /Johannes

  30. Elisa

    Johannes, exactly, I think most editors think “I’m just publishing the best stuff I see, and if more of that is by men, well, so be it.” They’re not willing to question how their measure of what’s “good” might be affected by gender.

  31. Laura Wideburg

    @Elisa — so simple and yet so necessary.
    @Jennifer — I have bought so many copies of your poetry book “The Next Ancient World” and given it as gifts to poetry lovers (both men and women).
    As to the matter at hand, women do twice the work and get half the recognition — that’s just life and has always been so. And both men and women would do well to recognize this intrinsic bias towards men as more valuable (and economically rewarded accordingly, even in Sweden which has the closest parity on the planet). Women have to read men — heck — we’ve been educated! — But men don’t have to read women unless they go out of their way to do so. Maybe you of the younger generations have read in a more balanced manner, but I remember in my M.A. work, out of the 500 works on the reading list, only 10 were by women. Has that changed?

  32. Laura Carter

    Thank you, Danielle! I think this conversation needs to continue. I am also usually troubled by gender disparity in comment boxes at times, and, Danielle and Kirsten, I agree with your point that our culture raises men to be “giants,” etc., or at least encourages them to toot their own horns too much. There really is no excuse, though, for the disparity in journals, and to make any sort of effort to read with gender equity in mind seems like the least editors can do.

    <3

    Laura

  33. Spencer

    Great conversation. I’m somewhat concerned that we narrow the argument when we argue that:

    “[Editors are] not willing to question how their measure of what’s ‘good’ might be affected by gender.”

    I imagine that it’s absolutely true, and probably somewhat unavoidable, that what individuals think is “good” is, in some way, affected by gender. Which leads me to think that another, perhaps more immediate response is…the proliferation (and support for) more editors, and more publications, where determinations of “what’s good” are made by those with (currently) “non-dominant” gender influence.

    I don’t mean to apologize for bias, I’m just trying to be practical. I think that it’s likely that “bias” and “taste,” while not co-terminous, have some overlap. That said, I guess my hope would be that the increased democratization of publishing (market shifts) have already begun this process. Clearly, men (and we are talking about the biases of men) need to be aware of their own inclinations, and embrace challenges to their preferences. But it seems doubtful that self-awareness, alone, is either an antidote or a vaccine.

    I think these audits really do a great service in revealing these disparities and illuminating that what we have right now is not a fair, free market.

  34. Julie

    I haven’t read everything here yet, but I’d like to shift the term “fairness” to the term “quality” by which I mean a journal (or press) that publishes 70% men is not, in my view just “unfair,” it is of low quality. This is because our society benefits best from conversations that include all, not some, of its participants. However, the journal might be of very high quality in terms of the level of discourse it is making available (like the New York Review of Book), but low quality in terms of the content included in that discourse. Though fairness and parity are an issue, a huge issue, there is even more at stake. Since many intellectuals and artist of great importance are women, we want to hear from them. We want their voices to be everywhere. We are simply BORED by reading articles (poems, stories, etc.) by men. So, yes, we want our tenure, we want our paycheck, we want our careers to go well. But we also want to read other women. And we do not want to have to search them out in tiny journals or “women only” presses. We want to read them everywhere.

  35. megan milks

    danielle, thank you for renewing this conversation and shouting down so persuasively the kneejerk defense of the gender divide within slush piles.

    i don’t think anyone’s nodded to juliana spahr and stephanie young’s collection A MEGAPHONE here – so i’ll add that in: http://www.chainarts.org/megaphone.htm. the anecdote provided by AE Stallings in her essay, originally published on Harriet, about having to say no due to personal/childcare obligations to a solicitation after pointing out a journal’s gender disparity – is illuminating.

    also, this: http://jezebel.com/5781688/jonathan-franzen-loses-book-award-to-some-lady

  36. Danielle Pafunda

    Thanks for the comments everyone! JMH, I live on trucks of love! And, whew, thank you Kirsten–ha! I was thinking, as I tried to fall asleep last night, does even the attempt to dismiss bad logic actually cause bad logic to reproduce at fluffy bunny rates? Is bad logic undead?

    @Spencer, I wish we were just talking about the biases of men, not because I want men to be the culprits or suffer limited taste, but because then we’d only be have half the preconceived notions to combat. Sadly, no matter how we critique it, we’re all products of our culture. We’re all taught to over-value the work of men, and be skeptical of the work of women. There’s a wonderful (depressing) playwriting study where the same play was sent out with a man’s name as author or a woman’s name as author. When the play appeared to be written by a woman, it was judged more harshly, particularly by the women reading it. Julia Jordan speaks about this study wonderfully, but can’t find the link, so for now this blog on Emily Sands work will do!: http://www.off-stage-right.com/2009/06/continuing-the-discussion-on-gender-disparity-in-theatre-opening-the-curtain-on-playwright-gender.html

    Anyhow, it’s well documented in most fields. Women (or other individuals from marginalized groups) when they make their way into positions of power in men-dominated fields tend to be just as hard or harder on women. For a variety of reasons–I worked hard to get here, you should too; I know how good a woman’s work has to be to get accepted; I can prove that I’m as smart as a man (I like the same things!); I know what’s important (dude stuff!); I’ll get punished (cuckoo feminist!) if I start opening the floodgates to other women!; if yours isn’t the best, the customer/audience will rip you apart!; etc. Women can be sexist against women. Women can operate in bad faith or via false consciousness, or just be plain ol’ anti-feminist. Women can know what risks other women face when they become visible. & when women dare to alter the landscape with an endeavor like VIDA, people will police them: are you trying to tank your career? don’t you ever want to publish again?

    The important thing is that *we talk aloud and sensibly* about these cultural impulses. Things are certainly less extreme than they once were–on an exam reading list, you might have a list made entirely or largely of women, gadzooks!–I’ve got English MA students whose lists are more women than men! And there are often 30% women in a publication rather than 5% (or 0%!). It’s just surprising to me that we’ve been talking about these things for near-on 50 years and 1. they’re only minimally improved, 2. still surprising? and 3. people will come up with cotton-mouthed excuses for them?

    I suspect Elisa & Johannes are right about many editors. I mean, look at the fellas lamenting the demise of obvious GREATNESS (which is clearly code) or the quote from the TLS editor in the Guardian: “Peter Stothard, editor of the TLS, said the gender issue was “not a small matter” for the magazine or its readers. “We take it pretty seriously,” he said. “I’m not too appalled by our figure, as I’d be very surprised if the authorship of published books was 50/50. And while women are heavy readers, we know they are heavy readers of the kind of fiction that is not likely to be reviewed in the pages of the TLS.” …”The TLS is only interested in getting the best reviews of the most important books,” Stothard continued.”

    It is a long wearying road of saying the same thing ovah and ovah and ovah again, and committing to do better oneself. My very specific, simple-in-comparison-to-the-whole point here was to make it embarrassing to use this dull, flawed deflection technique of blaming the slush pile, blaming women in their limited power & privilege for what’s really a systemic illness to which we are all subject and must work actively against if we don’t want to 1. be complicit a-holes and 2. die of boredom (thanks, Julie!).

  37. Spencer

    Danielle – First, let me apologize. I didn’t intend to imply that the only form of sexism is male-on-female, or that the only kind of mindless (or, I guess mindful) taste/preference is male-for-male. The result of unfortunate short-hand.

    My point was really that it seems to me that VIDA gets at a very institutional preference, expressed through editorial staffs that are (pre-)dominantly or historically male. As such, I considered and basically adopted the argument that women at traditionally “male” publications may feel pressure (for a variety of reasons) to conform to the dominant male aesthetic. Your examples are, I think to a one, the byproduct of the very disparity/preferences you criticize. In those cases, there’s really not much difference between male-female and female-female bias. It’s normative pressure, with the norm being something like “masculinity.”

    Obviously, the rationalizations of the disparity are largely unpersuasive. (Which doesn’t mean they’re value-less. Though they are often superficial.) The disparity is far too great.

  38. Michele

    @Julie
    This makes so much sense to me. I’m thinking about Cary Nelson’s book, _Repression and Recovery_, which discusses how the historical literary landscape is formed through contemporary political and sociological concerns, and how our view of literary history is a very narrow one. It’s not just a question if, in 50 years, readers and scholars will come to the conclusion that men were doing most of the thinking and writing of the early 21st century (instead of the conclusion that there was this weird, manufactured gender imbalance in publishing that DOES have fallout).

    It’s really a concern that our daughters and sons won’t have access to the rich, full field of thinking and writing that is happening but not reflected in publishing. Editors are shaping literary history, and they are aware of this privilege and responsibility, so Danielle’s thesis, that they need to stop blaming slush and submissions, is right on, because when it comes to the aesthetic of their publications, they aren’t saying that it is constructed by submissions, they claim (proudly and correctly) that they shape it.

  39. Danielle Pafunda

    Oh, Spencer, thanks, I see, now, thank you! I misunderstood–reading too quickly. Yes, sounds like we’re very much on the same page here. We’ve all adopted male-gaze, and not just at the movies, eh?

    And thanks, Michele, for these excellent points! It also often occurs to me that those of us raising boys have a vested interest in broadening what are accepted and celebrated modes of literature. It’s completely bizarre to think that I’d hand my daughter everything, but only hand my son a narrow swath of what’s written, just what’s deemed appropriately important/masculine enough. Also bizarre to imagine I’d give my daughter all the texts, but tell her half the world’s experiences are invalid, or outside meaningful.

    I like to take this survey where I ask my students how many books they’ve read that graphically depict soldiers in battle, and how many they’ve read that graphically depict childbirth. Then we talk about how both of these events (war, birth) have been crucial to nation-building, have directly impacted human survival, etc. I also like to ask how many of them plan to be in battle, and how many plan to give birth (or be present at the labor of the female they’ve knocked up 😉 ). Then I give them Toi Derriocotte’s poem “Natural Birth” because I am a big believer in preparation, ha!

    Related: Tara Rebele has an excellent post about Representation and Responsibility re: the numbers trouble up at her website: http://www.tararebele.com/blog/representation-and-responsibility

  40. Holly Burdorff

    Very nice essay. A response to the second comment, by Danielle (and, sorry if this has already been addressed; I don’t have time to read through all the comments):

    “so it’d be kind of like Title IX except for literature instead of sports? Interesting!”

    My response: Title IX isn’t just for sports, and it never has been. (Common mistake, though! No biggie.)

    Its full title is the Equal Opportunity in Education Act, and the law states that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

    One example: the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is currently investigating the wide-spread discrimination against women in undergraduate admissions:
    http://chronicle.com/article/US-Civil-Rights-Panel-to-/49011/

    So, definitely not just for sports, and Adam is onto something – journals that receive federal financial assistance, especially journals that are integral parts of MFA programs which make use of federal funds, could be investigated, fined, et cetera.

  41. Holly Burdorff

    Ok just checking my facts on good old Wikipedia – just to clarify, “In 2002 it was renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, in honor of its principal author Congresswoman Mink.”
    So that is it’s full current name. Kind of irrelevant, but I didn’t want to leave incorrect info. 🙂

  42. Danielle Pafunda

    Oh, thank you, Holly for the excellent clarification of my not-careful reference (boo, me, I should know better 🙂 )! And for the link to the chronicle article–an investigation to follow carefully. I’m now thinking on your speculations re: educational equity, MFA program journals, etc. Really interesting stuff!

    I guess what appeals to me about the sports element and all the many tangled Title IX cases/articles about sports in particular is that many of the same arguments used on women writers get lobbed clumsily (not athletically!) at women in sports: fewer women participate in sports, women’s sports could never be as marketable, women’s sports aren’t as rigorous or aren’t properly regulated, women don’t play as hard, women are less competent athletes, women’s athletics are a niche interest, only for other women, probably just lesbians, who really wants to see that on television or the cover of a magazine, maybe if we find a hottie in a swimsuit for a special women’s issue, etc., blather.

  43. Holly Burdorff

    Yes – agreed! Definitely a lot of similarities there. I only played college basketball for about ten weeks, but there were a lot of connections between that and my English/Creative Writing major. Interestingly, though, I never got those reactions to the visual art (mostly printmaking) I produced – but perhaps that had something to do with the professors or department or something.

  44. christine wertheim

    Dear Danielle, Vida and others
    Thank you all for your contributions to this discussion. Apparently, unfortunately, according to the numbers (both by Vida and Juliana and Stephanie), we still need to keep having it. I’ll just chip in a few comments riffing on previous posts:

    1)- “…while women are heavy readers, we know they are heavy readers of the kind of fiction that is not likely to be reviewed in the pages of the TLS.” …”The TLS is only interested in getting the best reviews of the most important books,” from the editor of the TLS.

    2)- “I like…to ask my students how many books they’ve read that graphically depict soldiers in battle, and how many they’ve read that graphically depict childbirth. Then we talk about how both of these events (war, birth) have been crucial to nation-building, have directly impacted human survival, etc. I also like to ask how many of them plan to be in battle, and how many plan to give birth (or be present at the labor of the female they’ve knocked up,” from Danielle P.

    To me these quotes point up two of the main issues in this “numbers” debate – the continuing ideology that there is a non-constructed scale of what is “best,” and the subsequent need for us all to embrace other and wider frames of value.

    For over 150 years (important) Literature across both the mainstream and avant-garde has specifically defined itself against the kind of books women are heavy readers of, i.e., Romance, which, as the editor of the TLS implies is generally seen as trivial, escapist and apolitical, even anti-political. As critic Lauren Berlant shows in “Women’s Complaint,” this whole view is based on notions of “seriousness,” “the political,” “conformity/resistance” and “social improvement,” that have little to do with most women’s lives and aspirations. An analogue is the critique of 2nd wave feminism, whose supposed aims and values were seen as having little to do with the lives and concerns of women of color in either the developed or developing worlds. How do we go beyond these narrow definitions that acknowledge only the values of small elites?

    Certainly affirmative action (setting quotas for space/s for underrepresented groups and values in every aspect of society, including discursive space) is necessary. History has shown that it works, even if it is not enough by itself. Secondly, as Danielle so acutely shows, there is a need to not dismiss writing we don’t immediately relate to, but take time to consider why other kinds of work might be meaningful to other groups; what other values it might encapsulate. For that matter, what values do we admire in the work WE enjoy, and why do we see these as so important?

    For instance: Why is work that presents a desire for worlds in which long-lasting love relations are possible seen as escapist fantasy, whilst death and alienation-fixated tales are seen as serious and real, whether posed in mainstream or avant-garde forms? Why is the idea of co-operation deemed nostalgic, while competition and conflict, even at the expense of annihilating one’s opponent, are seen as progressive? This question is circular because the very idea of progress is built on notions of competition, and the falling-away, i.e., death, of some body in order to make way for a new body.

    It is very unfortunate that we live in a society where death (in all its psychological and textual forms, as well as its physical ones) appears a more worthy topic for art than life, at least for “serious” art. Some have even said that we need an Art of danger in order to have a safe life; Art is one of the “sublime” realms where we can confront and work-through dangerous aspects of life without having to live out their real consequences. But is this all it should do? And what about the dangers of intimacy, which in fact afflict more people than those of the battlefield, as Danielle has pointed out?

    It is even more unfortunate that such matters are gendered, though this may be diminishing as more and more “women” seek to enter the “man’s” game. In my view, one way to alter this cultural landscape is to deconstruct our collective death-wish, whilst simultaneously (re)-constructing the conditions for long-lasting relations of love and intimacy, both in art and in life. To my mind this has always been the main aim of most feminism/s, however narrowly they may have been able to implement their goals. Whether such an aim can be pursued within the field of contemporary writing and publishing is, to my mind, a question. One thoroughly worth pursuing.
    All the best,
    Christine.

  45. Danielle Pafunda

    Christine! So nice to hear from you, and this is all very welcome food for thought–opens up new fields of discussion!

    Everyone should read the anthology Christine edited that came out from Les Figues–Feminaissance http://www.lesfigues.com/lfp/200/feminaissance I’ve been searching the whole house for my copy today–where’ve I stashed it?

    I think it is true, no?, that when men take on the topics/tropes that normally get women’s writing codified as apolitical/unimportant, those topics get positively reevaluated. I.e. when men write the domestic, it’s often considered an act of resistance; they’re insisting on their subject position in their own spaces, their humanity, etc. And what is that poem by the man everyone loves about a man having sex with his wife from behind while she breastfeeds their child and everyone’s always impressed with the speaker’s embodied experience? Oh dear. Do not search for it by googling those terms. Likely what’s happening there is that the value isn’t being conferred upon the domestic or the female body itself, but on the man’s ability to via these access important experiences… Late here, so I’m prattling a bit. I need to think more about all you’ve said; esp about creating the conditions for long-lasting love and intimacy!

  46. adam strauss

    I like this a lot: “In my view, one way to alter this cultural landscape is to deconstruct our collective death-wish, whilst simultaneously (re)-constructing the conditions for long-lasting relations of love and intimacy, both in art and in life.” Pleasure/happiness, needs to be taken more seriously! This all reminds me of Guy Davenport in an interview stating that I think it’s Zolas, is unrealistic for overemphasizing unhappiness/the shit of life.

  47. Hugh Behm-Steinberg

    I just tallied up the numbers for the new issue of Eleven Eleven (#11!) and we’re roughly 2:1 women to men.

  48. Danielle Pafunda

    Love it, Hugh!

    & Eleven Eleven Eleven? Make a BIG wish!

  49. Elizabeth Treadwell

    <3 your response, Elisa. I can't read any further as I am working, raising children, and writing two books.

    Altho I would say, perhaps the rationale would make sense if instead of the best work they were looking for the most familiar & obtuse.

  50. Danielle Pafunda

    I hope respondents to the new 2011 Count who cite submissions numbers, etc. as relevant to publication numbers will consider my thoughts on the logic of that argument! http://www.vidaweb.org/the-2011-count#comment-12386

  51. UUU

    Danielle,

    You bring up some good points, but I think it is fair to take a step back and look at this situation in regards to the general attitude toward submissions.

    In general, the idea in the literary world, right or wrong, is that the focus should be entirely on the best work and that nothing else should play into it. Writers rage at the idea that editors pass over good work by unknowns just to get big names in the issue. Writers rage at the idea that friends of the editors get better treatment. Etc.

    So both writers and editors, correctly or incorrectly, get into this mindset that what they are about is the work pure and simple, nothing else. You said that editors don’t read blindly, but many BRAG about doing just that. many claim to not read the cover letters until after they’ve decided to accept or reject. Blind contests are a staple of literary publication.

    So in this environment, suggesting that editors actively solicit women and drastically higher rates than men to achieve a parity is indeed a fairly “radical” request and one that I would imagine flies in the face of the values that many people calling for it otherwise hold.

    Let me be clear here that I myself am not saying it is wrong to do. At magazine’s i’ve edited, we did indeed solicit more (because women did indeed submit less and respond to solicits less). So I’m not saying you are wrong, only that you should not be surprised that editors don’t automatically do this or advocate for it.

    It is probably also worth wondering what kind of mindset this helps create. If women writers now have to submit less than their male counterparts, does this merely increase the attitudes of men and women? ie do women become even less likely to submit and men become even more aggressive in their networking and submitting?

  52. UUU

    Personally, I would like to see more work done to encourage women to submit–both from editors and from women’s groups. Perhaps that is unfairly putting the onus on women, but I think that the submission question is indeed a large piece of the pie here and the attitudes need to change as much as editors need to work around the attitudes.

    It isn’t the only piece of the pie, of course. It is true that women’s work is often not regarded as highly as men with a (unconcious?) bias. And it is true editors could do more. But writers could too.

  53. Danielle Pafunda

    Thanks, for your thoughts, UUU. I’d agree that my suggestions are radical insofar as they ask editors to go to the root, to question the structure of the process and change it.

    If people are committed to the idea of an objective BEST, or to the notion that when they read work without names attached they’re able to avoid gender bias, then I encourage them to define their terms and methods and support all that with specific examples that we can engage and respond to. I’m inclined to believe that such assumptions reflect a reluctance to unsettle the status quo, or an aversion to uncomfortable realizations.

    & of course it’s wonderful when women produce a lot of great work and send it out into the world. More power to that!

  54. UUU

    I’m not suggesting that editors believe they know the “objective” best without prejudice. I am saying that the literary world has a lot invested, again rightly or wrongly, in certain ideas that you are saying they should abandon to fix a specific problem—and it is a problem. But the “sacredness” of the slush pile, and the “blind”ness of editors to concerns other than what they like best, are ideas that people care about. If editors fix along these lines, does that mean it gets harder and harder for new writers to get published (since editors are soliciting from known writers), for example?

    Of course, I should point out that what I’m talking about here really only applies to the literary magazine world, not the world of The Atlantic and other glossy mags.

  55. Danielle Pafunda

    Hmmmm. I’m not sure I totally get your drift, UUU, but I’d say these “ideas that people care about” don’t strike me wise or productive investments.

    And, no, I don’t think soliciting and reading cold submissions thoughtfully would hurt the chances of new writers. Certainly not more than pretending the current process treats all voices equally! As I mention above, one of the best parts of active editorial work is searching out new voices. One can be committed to gender parity and the promotion of emerging writers–it’s really not that tough–and as folks suggest in this comments stream, certainly boosts the dynamism of a publication.

  56. mynameischeese

    I think some lit mag editors are using code to turn women off sending in work. Sometimes I see guidelines about how the editors aren’t really interested in publishing “domestic” stories.

    I read this article a year ago and I’m reading it again now. I thought after a few years of Vida highlighting gender bias, the numbers would improve somewhat, but they look pretty stagnant. I’ve continued to send out fiction despite the bias, but haven’t noticed any change in my own count either.

  57. Ryan Sanford Smith

    “and the “blind”ness of editors to concerns other than what they like best…”

    What other criteria is there? If I start a journal to publish stuff that knocks my hair back isn’t that a genuine core value above all else? I should sacrifice that to what, be fair? The fuck do I care about fairness? Art experience is subjective, people get rejections for all kinds of reasons, let’s all get weepy about it. Why stop with gender fairness? What’s the publishing ratio of disabled / abled? Old / young?

    There’s disparity everywhere in so many ways in publishing. At what ratios / in regards to which groups does everyone feel warm & fuzzy, finally? It’s one thing to recognize disparity and have some discussion about it, but what comes next? I feel like there’s so much intellectual laziness / short-cutting in pigeon-holing the evil ‘Editors’ / ‘journals’ in the abstract and making it all look simpler than it is. It’s so convenient and self-serving.

    Also, holy blog comment thread necromancy, Batman! So glad to be back here ramming my head against this particular wall with such fine company.

  58. andras

    “Oh, and maybe it’s gross to say, but as a writer, I’m kinda tired of competing for fewer spaces.”

    — well, that seems to be precisely the point. IF the f/m ratio of published work reflects the f/m ratio of submitted work, then you are NOT competing for fewer spaces. You are competing for the same number of spaces as a male submitter. Aren’t you?

    Magazines reflect a problem that reaches much further down / up / back. And no, I don’t think affirmative editorial action is a solution to that problem.

  59. Danielle Pafunda

    Thanks, Andras,

    I am indeed competing for fewer slots than a man, tho we may argue my chances are proportional to his, if we take it for given that a contributors list reflects the precise demographics of the slush pile and women submit less than men.

    I’d be interested in competing for 100% of the open slots in a publication.

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  61. Women in publishing | Irrational Tonics

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  62. So those magazines I like don’t seem to run women « Major Karnage

    […] gender scholar Danielle Pafunda has written a relatively compelling argument for other factors being less important than they would seem, noting that much of the result still […]

  63. VIDA and The More Things Don’t Change | Girl with Pen

    […] not the case.  One thing that is rising, however, is awareness of the gross discrepancies about who is published in the literary world. Here is the article I wrote last year, with excerpts from several prominent writers I was thrilled […]

  64. Sherrie

    . Urwał, zmieszanу. Rусerz spojrzаł
    pytајąco. – Żе Sherrie w tаki
    sposób. Ϻówili, ze ryсerz mа obowiązeκ
    ω zbroi na beѕtię napаść, kopіą zjawić się, zatratować w odnіesienіu dο
    dużej chwale bożеj. Oгaz dο tego
    stopnia,