The gender gap in print

Where are the women?

It’s a line we hear often in news and commentary when people are talking about business, politics or the sciences, fields where it seems like we should see greater numbers of women in positions of authority and influence.

And we can add to that list the fields of publishing and journalism, where the glass ceiling is covered in 12-point font.

A recently released study from the non-profit organization VIDA: Women in the Literary Arts, exposes the continued—and disappointing—disparity between men and women in the rates of publication.  For the second year in a row, the VIDA Count looked at prestigious publications and tallied the bylines according to gender.  They found that 2011 looked much the same as 2010.

The results paint a lopsided picture. In 2011, THE NEW YORKER* published 613 articles by men and just 242 by women.  THE NEW REPUBLIC* printed 344 pieces penned by men, but only 78 written by women (we hope the new owner, Chris Hughes, will notice).  HARPERS* had 141 for the males and 42 for the females, more than a three-to-one ratio.

This story isn’t new.  Back in 2006, editor Ruth Davis Konigsberg took note of the fact that national issue-oriented and political magazines were, on average, publishing three stories by men for every one written by a woman.  She began the now-defunct WomenTK.com, as a project to keep a running total of women’s bylines.

Other studies have looked at editorial assignments for women and the subject matter they are given to cover.  More often than not, they are relegated to gender, marriage, motherhood, family and health, the so-called hearth-and-home topics.   Is it any wonder female writers gravitate toward women’s magazines?

Beyond the question of why this problem exists, is the bigger question of how to change it.  If installing more female editors was the magic answer, then THE NATION*, led by a woman, would do better than a male-to-female articles ratio of 440:166, and articles by women at The New Yorker, under Tina Brown, wouldn’t have fallen from 40% to just 20%.

Some think it’s time for magazines to set quotas as a way of closing the byline gap, making a commitment to place a minimum number of articles by women in each issue.  The theory is that it would force editors to seek out more quality content from women, and broaden the editorial pool.

Will some magazines, under pressure, try this type of journalistic affirmative action?  We shall see.

To view the VIDA Count and read more, visit www.vidaweb.org/the-count.

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