Anne Hays noticed that the two most recent issues of the New Yorker featured almost exclusively essays and reporting by male writers. So she's returned those copies to the magazine, accompanied by a blistering open letter to the editors.
The New Yorker
4 Times Square, 20th Floor
New York, NY 10036
Dear Editors of the New Yorker,
I am writing to express my alarm that this is now the second issue of the NYer in a row where only two (tiny) pieces out of your 76 page magazine are written by women. The January 3rd, 2011 issue features only a Shouts & Murmurs (Patricia Marx) and a poem (Kimberly Johnson); every other major piece: the fiction, the profile, and all the main nonfiction pieces, are written by men. Every single critic is a male writer.
We were already alarmed when we flipped through the Dec 20th & 27th double-issue to find that only one piece (Nancy Franklin) and one poem (Alicia Ostriker) were written by women. A friend pointed out that Jane Kramer wrote one of the short Talk of the Town segments as well, though it barely placated our sense of outrage that one extra page, totaling three, out of the 148 pages in the magazine, were penned by women. Again, every critic is a man. To make matters more depressing, 22 out of the 23 illustrators for the magazine are men. Seriously!
Women are not actually a minority group, nor is there a shortage, in the world, of female writers. The publishing industry is dominated by female editors, and it would be too obvious for me to point out to you that the New Yorker masthead has a fair number of female editors in its ranks. And so we are baffled, outraged, saddened, and a bit depressed that, though some would claim our country's sexism problem ended in the late 60's, the most prominent and respected literary magazine in the country can't find space in its pages for women's voices in the year 2011.
I have enclosed the January issue and expect a refund. You may either extend our subscription by one month, or you can replace this issue with a back issue containing a more equitable ratio of male to female voices. I plan to return every issue that contains fewer than five women writers. You tend to publish 13 to 15 writers in each issue; 5 women shouldn't be that hard.
A dismayed reader,
Among the New Yorker writers of the female persuasion whom I personally look forward most to reading are Judith Thurman, Joan Acocella, Jane Mayer, Ariel Levy, Nancy Franklin, and the incomparable Janet Malcolm. (Malcolm's last piece for the magazine, published in May, was a devastating portrait of a woman accused and likely guilty of murder, trapped in a horrifyingly dysfunctional judicial system.) And among the fiction writers the New Yorker picked for its last "20 under 40" list of rising stars, an even ten were women: Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, Nell Freudenberger, Rivka Galchen, Nicole Krauss, Yiyun Li, Téa Obreht, ZZ Packer, Karen Russell, C. E. Morgan, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. And as far as I'm concerned, the only Shouts and Murmurs in recent memory that was actually funny belongs to Allison Silverman.
Even given all of the above, however, it's true that most (if not all) issues of the magazine feature far more work from men writers than they do women. And Hays' accounting of the appalling paucity of female bylines in the last two issues is correct. (The January 10 issue comes out today, and at a glance I note only two pieces by women: a short story by Louise Erdrich and an essay of criticism by Acocella.) The under-representation of work by women in the most recent issues of the New Yorker is concerning indeed. A subscriber boycott is a pretty ballsy move, and I certainly hope it will make the editors there think differently.
But what about other top literary and current affairs magazines?
The January Harper's is a little worse. It includes 21 bylined stories, but only three pieces from women writers: Lynn Freed, Deb Olin Unferth, and Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts. Barbara Dobrowska and Tom Littlewood translated a piece together, as did Clare Cavanagh and Adam Zagajewski.
A look at the page of contents for the January 13 New York Review of Books reveals 21 essays, including six-and-a-half by women critics: Mary Beard, Arlene Croce (who used to be the New Yorker's dance critic), Sue Halpern, Amy Knight, Margo Picken, and Ingrid D. Rowland; Econo-couple Paul Krugman and Robin Wells contribute a piece under a shared byline.
The Believer is doing comparatively well. Out of 23 bylined pieces, its current issue boasts poetry by Tracy K. Smith, an essay by Unferth, a review by M. Lynx Qualey, and a conversation between John Ehle, Michael Ondaatje, Linda Spalding, and Leon Rooke. Two women (Thalia Field and Bianca Casady) are interviewed (by male writers) and three of the books reviewed in the issue are by women.
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