Two days before the start of Women’s History Month, the ladyblogosphere got some bad news in the form of “the VIDA Count,” a yearly comparison of male and female bylines and reviews in a number of well-known journals, magazines and other print media. The report is put out by VIDA, an organization which “seeks to explore critical and cultural perceptions of writing by women” in a variety of genres and arenas. While there is near-parity for a few of the publications (Granta, the New York Times Book Review), it may come as no surprise that most of these publications more heavily feature and review writing by men.
The issue of female under-representation in the media is not new. The Women’s Media Center report on gender disparities across media came out last month, and told a very similar story. Jessica Pressler, who mostly writes for New York Magazine, tweeted her annoyance with hearing the same sad tale of too-many-men-in-media all over again. “Am I the only woman in media who finds these pieces annoying and offensive?” she asked, “Like we need an affirmative action program?” She then went on to compare asking why the industry was male-dominated to asking why “only sexy people with no cellulite [are] hired to model underwear.” The narrative that goes along with the VIDA report, however, is not a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps story of how young women need to be more assertive about sending resumes and clips and cover letters in to the New Republic. Publishing and journalism, like many other industries, are often about who you know. The best way, it seems, to change the VIDA pie charts for next year is for women to promote each other.
Ann Friedman, the executive editor of GOOD Magazine, made this a priority of hers by founding ladyjournos.tumblr.com, where she posts and links to the work of female journalists in varied areas of the field, so that the editors who control content can see the wide field open to them. Anne Trubek, an associate professor at Oberlin College, offers a bevy of advice for women in media on how to pitch stories, and how to get women into positions where they edit, and can then hire and publish other women. Both discussed an idea, trending after the WMC report – #promotewomen – about getting in touch with folks in your network and promoting the work of up-and-coming or just criminally under-read women in the field. There’s no sense that the industry is changing any time soon, and it takes a lot of savvy and know-how to get these connections and names on the masthead in the first place. It’s important for women to recognize and encourage each other, so if you have those networks and connections, you should share them! If you don’t, keep writing and creating and networking and meeting other people. The internet is great for these things, but so are in-person meet-ups; putting a face and personality to your work can help concretize a relationship, which can do all the difference.
Friedman made another good point, though: how many of the VIDA publications are ones read by this generation of up-and-coming ladyjournos, -bloggers, etc? GOOD did their own gendered byline count at the blogs which “serve as a talent pipeline to the established, top-level magazines,” and they tell a pretty different story than VIDA does. Some of the blogs (Gawker, the Awl) have “sister blogs” (Jezebel, the Hairpin, respectively), and so most of their female writers are mired there. While Grantland‘s pop culture commentary is some of the best around, and written in large part by women, everything plays second banana to sports over there (and remember, sports are for men), so their disparity is higher than many of the others. There is enormous potential in sites like Tavi Gevinson‘s 96%-female-scribed Rookie, and at Thought Catalog & Pitchfork where the byline counts are near-equal, for women to connect with other women, but there is a lot of room to make more headway everywhere else.
One note of caution: VIDA is about women in a very general sense, but women do not exist in a general sense. There’s no mention of who these women are, of their backgrounds, their education, their race and class and sexuality and gender performance. These elements of identity matter, and those historically marginalized are not as often included in conversations about equality as white, upper-middle-class, college-educated women, though their contributions are just as crucial, if not more so. All work to close the gender gap must address these dynamics in their intersections with gender, so that all kinds of women get their work reviewed and published.