VIDA!

The latest VIDA numbers are out.

If you haven’t heard about this, it’s pretty simple: two poet-professors, Cate Marvin and Erin Belieu, for the past few years, have counted men and women published in magazines like the The Paris Review, New York Review of Books, NY Times Book Review,  The New Yorker, Times Literary Supplement, The New Republic—to the growing embarrassment of progressive, literary America: males out-publish women 2-1, 3-1, 4-1, sometimes 10-1.

The numbers are plain, stark and have people talking, including the magazine editors, vowing to improve their numbers; one journal, The Paris Review, has achieved parity, for the time being.

Scarriet wrote about VIDA last year: https://scarriet.wordpress.com/2013/03/05/vida-shocker-are-women-to-blame/

Not many people are asking of these numbers: Why?

Most talk is indignation on one hand, surly defensiveness on the other, with some guilty apologies in-between.

It’s a good thing the numbers are out there and people are talking about it.

VIDA is certainly not a bad thing.

But the backlash against VIDA is growing; their critics are saying:

1. VIDA does not give us the larger picture: More women work in publishing than men.

2. The picture they give us is incomplete: gender is great, but what of class, race, sexual persuasion, etc?

3. I will publish the best, thank you; I refuse to publish anyone based on gender.

But again, it’s good that people are talking about this, and all sorts of provocative comments are bubbling up:

On the Guardian blog, under a piece, “Why the LRB should stop cooking up excuses over lack of women reviewers,” a commenter claimed she would rather read women than “ivory tower” males, and that “only women” should be allowed to write on “prostitution and abortion.”

Behind the pure numbers dwell opinions such as these, which, despite being anecdotal and crazy-sounding, flesh out what is behind the numbers.

If the whole question—of gender in literary magazine publishing—is more about “ivory tower” than gender, VIDA numbers could be nothing more than an indication that men are more “ivory tower” than women are.

After all, journalists know that a good anecdote is worth a pile of statistics, or that a good anecdote can explain a pile of statistics.

In the Guardian piece mentioned above, the 2001 quote from a female LRB editor “that most enraged” VIDA sensibilities was: “I think women find it difficult to do their jobs, look after their children, cook dinner and write pieces. They just can’t get it all done.”

Is this sort of remark realistic, or outrageous?

It really isn’t that far from the “ivory tower” remark.

What if it’s true that cooking, or looking after children, is far more important than publishing “ivory tower” pieces in magazines?

Not than anyone would say the VIDA numbers are encouraging the neglect of children, but perhaps rather than being an objective truth, the VIDA numbers are only a piece of a larger puzzle.

There is always something bigger lurking behind numbers: life.

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