Where Are The Women Writers?

After Vida published “The Count 2010,” detailing the dearth of women bylines in major magazines, Forward.com’s Elissa Strauss decided to tackle the problem at the source.

She wrote to the (editors of The New Yorker, The New Republic, The New York Review of Books, Harper’s Magazine, and The Atlantic; she received responses from all but the Atlantic.

The responses varied from short (The New Yorker’s David Remnick, who wrote two sentences, the latter being “It’s certainly been a concern for a long time among the editors here, but we’ve got to do better — it’s as simple and as stark as that.”) to defensive (NY Review of Books’ Robert Silvers, who sent two paragraphs listing names of women the magazine has published).

The New Republic’s senior editor Jonathan Chait sent a long letter about the magazine:

…I’m sure the maleness, to some degree, has a self-perpetuating quality — women are more reluctant to apply to a heavily male staff, so the staff remains heavily male. But I believe the bigger factor by far is that opinion journalism disproportionately attracts men….My explanation, which I can’t prove, is socialization predisposes boys to be more interested both in producing and consuming opinion journalism. Confidence in one’s opinions and a willingness to engage in intellectual combat are disproportionately (though not, of course, exclusively) male traits. I’ve come across several writers in my career who are good at writing in the argumentative style but lack confidence in their ability. They are all female….I want to be clear that I am not defining this as a non-problem. It is a problem. I have a young daughter who, through my admittedly biased eyes, has displayed a curious, morally passionate, and deeply analytical mind at a precocious age. I want her to grow up a fearlessly opinionated woman. I would be very happy if she decides to enter opinion journalism. And I fear that somewhere along the way she will receive signals that hold her back. That is the primary thing that I think needs to change.

Graph showing female vs male bylines in The Atlantic from VidaWeb.org