Editors of Major Magazines Address Gender Gap in Bylines

My fellow blogger at the Forward's Sisterhood blog, Elissa Strauss, has been concerned the dearth of female bylines in major magazines-- a suspicion of hers that was confirmed bythe lastest set of numbers from VIDA, an organization for women in the literary world.

The VIDA numbers showed male bylines dominating in almost every single major magazine, and set off awave of discussion on what can be done on the part of women writers, editors, institutions and readers to rectify this problem.

This week, Strauss  got editors and staffers at The New Yorker, Harper's, The New York Review of Books, and the New Republic to respond to the issue in another excellent blog post.

Most of them acknowledged there was a problem.  "We’ve got to do better — it’s as simple and as stark as that," said David Remnick of The New Yorker. 

The New Republic's Jonathan Chait chimed in about gender socialization and internalized sexism, which he fears begins at such an early level it's hard to combat in journalism's upper echelons:

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.

It's worth  reading the other editor's  responses and all the comments for more angles on this pervasive problem, but there's no question, as Strauss says (and I have also said) that the problem isn't solvable unless everyone--writers, readers, editors, decision-makers--remains aware of the subtle biases that go into these byline disparities, our value of what content is "important" and what is niche.

But just because it's a vast social problem  doesn't mean editors should be off the hook. It's great that Strauss got so many editors on the record committing to be more proactive and do better.    AlterNet has been at the forefront of this issue with our Gender Byline Project, initiated by Ann Friedman in 2005. Read more about where we are today here.

AlterNet / By Sarah Seltzer

Posted at February 24, 2011, 5:51am

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