Vida: Life for Women Writers

About a year ago, an organization called ‘VIDA: Women In Literary Arts’ dug behind stories of gender discrimination in publishing by conducting an analysis of the rates men and women writers appeared inside the pages of respected journals.  Their “count” proved that inequities did exist.  VIDA decided to continue their count until “the glorious time when it is no longer needed.”  In February they released new figures for 2011 and after examining fourteen major literary outlets, including Harper’s Magazine, London Review of Books, and The New Yorker, learned that things have pretty much remained the same.  To satisfy my own curiosity, I decided to total the individual figures for each journal posted on VIDA’s website and discovered that women writers were represented, on average, at a disappointing rate of 28%.  Only one periodical, Granta, published women at a slightly higher proportion than men (53% to 47%, respectively).  At 43%, Poetry published the next highest number of women writers in 2011.  Of the fourteen, the Atlantic came in at the bottom with a 16% publication rate for women. (For more information, check out VIDA’s website: http://www.vidaweb.org/ and consider making a donation).

I am an “emerging” writer but I got into the game late. I don’t have oodles of time ahead of me to perfect my craft. (On the bright side, I have collected many years of stories to tell and, hopefully, a little bit of wisdom for telling them).  For many of my generation, gender inequities are nothing new but given the high percentage of women who have attended MFA writing programs, I didn’t think I would (once again) have to jump higher hurdles than men in order to be recognized for my work.  Now that I’ve seen the reality, please indulge me for one minute and allow me to put my complaint in writing.

Here’s a little back story. When I was in the sixth grade, I learned that my school was planning to participate in a city-wide track meet.  In addition to the regular events, every elementary school was also invited to select their four fastest runners to complete in a relay race at the end of the day.  I found this out because my gym teacher scheduled a tryout for all the boys, clocking each of their times with a stop watch.  From our games of ‘chase’ during recess, I suspected that my times might be slightly better than some of the boys competing for a spot. I asked if I could try out too and my teacher (who was a woman), let me. You already know the outcome– I was added to the team.  Not only that, my school won the relay race.  But here’s the rest of the story.  The following year, when I wanted to continue my illustrious track and field career at my new junior high school, there was no place for me. Title IX did not exist.  Outside of cheerleading, not a penny was spent on sports programs for girls at my school.  I joined the drama club instead.

In relation to sports and careers and child rearing and so many of life’s pleasures and challenges, my two teenage girls will have more choices than I ever dreamed possible.  Big changes don’t happen overnight and I admire VIDA’s decision to remain hopeful.  They understand that the first step is to get folks talking.  Why aren’t women getting published with at least the same frequency as men?  I know it’s not because we don’t have something valuable to say.  So let’s talk about it and ask questions and raise a little awareness. 

I know it’s a bit selfish, but I do hope I get to see this change within my lifetime.

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About HomenDunRoamin

Teaching Artist & Writer: fiction, poetry & nonfiction. Recently completed work: a hybrid memoir. In progress: a novel set in an unnamed Latin American country on the brink of war. The book examines violent and nonviolent resistance and the choices women are forced to make to survive.
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