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VIDA Count 2013 - DO YOU COUNT?
Written by
Amy King
February 2014
Written by
Amy King
February 2014

Poets Cate Marvin and Erin Belieu joined forces in 2009, along with several other writers, after growing weary of sensing that women's voices were neglected in major publications. They wanted to find out if their suspicions were true, and from this desire, VIDA was born! Marvin and Belieu invited several women, myself included, to join forces and begin a "VIDA Count."

The VIDA Count is basically a tallying of table of contents of major publications like New Republic, Paris Review, New Yorker, London Review of Books, and many more, based on gender. We have now looked at the gender count of books reviewed, bylines, book reviewers, etc. of these selected publications for four years! See our "About" page for a quick synopsis. We are now able to compare trends and note improvements. This year, 2013, we are proud to say that the Paris Review and New York Times Book Review have improved.

We have also added a secondary count that includes a "lower tier" of publications, such as McSweeney's (sad face, what's up, editor Dave Eggers?), Ninth Letter (very happy face!), and numerous others.  What we see in these publications is that gender balance is much better, sometimes even tipping over to the women writers' side!

Of great significance as well is a response from The New Republic's publisher and editor-in-chief, who released this statement after the 2013 VIDA Count appeared on February 24th:

"Yesterday, VIDA released a breakdown of the genders of contributors to the major literary magazines in the country, including The New Republic. Unfortunately, we were near the bottom of that list. Our print contributor breakdown looks more like what you would expect from 1964 than 2014, and it must change. We will hold ourselves to a much higher standard in 2014.

The fields of journalism and literary criticism have historically had a gender problem. We have aspired to reach parity in the breakdown of women and men on staff, where we have made significant strides and nearly 50% of our full-time employees are women. Unfortunately that progress wasn't reflected in our bylines.

We must do better and commit ourselves to improving our print contributor breakdown over the course of 2014. We also encourage VIDA to begin to tabulate the number of contributors online where all of the writing of New Republic staff and contributors appears. We look forward to the release of the report in 2015 and will hold ourselves publicly accountable in progress toward our goal."

The mountains are moving! Women's voices will be heard in greater numbers as editors begin to recognize their own biases and take steps towards gender balance. But none of these improvements would have happened without many people speaking out and supporting a call to change the literary landscape wholly!

VIDA is currently working towards developing the conversation as well via our newly-added discussion forums and articles. We hope to connect women writers to a variety of resources, including publishers that support women, bookstores, reviewers and publications, and much more. Or as Amy Wheeler writes, "Gloria Steinem said to me a few years ago, 'Women writers need an old boys’ network.'" VIDA is working on it!


Lie by Omission: The Rallying Few, The Rallying Masses

First, the good news:

A couple of giants in the original VIDA Count have begun to move. While we can’t call it a trend or cause for partying just yet, it is certainly noteworthy that The Paris Review’s and New York Times Book Review’s pies have significantly baked up tastier for 2013.

The Paris Review’s numbers, previously among the worst in our VIDA Count, have metamorphosed from deep, male-dominated lopsidedness into a picture more closely resembling gender parity. While such progress is remarkable in one year, we are likewise pleased to note that we haven’t heard anyone bemoan a drop in quality in The Paris Review’s pages. Turnarounds like the Paris Review’s make it clear that with the right editorial effort, putting more sustainable gender practices into action isn’t too difficult for these magazines at the top of the major market heap. Pamela Paul, editor of the New York Times Book Review, also demonstrates what good can come when top tier literary outlets recognize the importance of presenting a balanced mix of voices by significantly increasing the number of female reviewers in the NYTBR in 2013.

So the mountains begin to move.

And yet–

Two steps forward, one step back…

I know I’ve got the saying backwards, but I’m making predictions this go-round. Despite our best hopes, various oppressions don’t magically die out with a little effort. People raise a fuss, things change a bit, and then the next generation enacts a lot of the old sentiments. We certainly have come a long way from women not voting and from segregation, but backlash still kicks at Affirmative Action and women earning equal pay, to only very briefly highlight the cycle. We have not come nearly far enough. So this year, I’m looking for evidence of paradigm shifts, progress as slow undercurrents or great tidal waves, as the backlash ups the absurdity ante, and the fed-up are rallying. People are growing fond of pointing the absurdities out, and in the publishing world this year, the absurdities continue to show in the disproportionately sliced pies of 2013. I’m not just looking for a Wendy Davis filibuster here; I’m listening for the gallery of voices who refuse to shutdown when told...(keep reading at VIDA!)


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