VIDA: On Commotion


The recent chick lit writers versus Franzen conversation, while not without its own tedium, has brought to light some serious concerns about the utterly transparent gender disparity in the literary (and we do mean literary) world. And because we, too, are fascinated by our own marginalization, we have been faithfully, and frustratedly, following the dialogue.

We recently read, for instance, with great interest, Ruth Franklin’s article in The New Republic in which Franklin rightly frets over Slate’s discovery that the New York Times has reviewed far fewer books by women than it has by men.  Ruth Franklin’s piece is smart, and so we’re thrilled as she thoughtfully considers the possibilities behind such numbers. (Are fewer women publishing?  Are commercial books by women getting more recognition than literary ones?)  And we’re even more thrilled when she goes on to state that the “most damning evidence of sexism—in the literary world and in our culture more generally” has more to do with “the lack of commotion” over these numbers.   And when she says, “Why has the Times not felt it necessary to respond to these shameful statistics?” we’re like, “Nicely done, Ruth.”

But we then decided to take a look at the numbers for The New Republic (where Ruth Franklin is a senior editor), and we sadly discovered that it has been one of the worst offenders of gender inequality in publishing.  We could count up the women they published in our heads.  Counting the men, however, required a calculator.  This is not an exaggeration; see the numbers on Erin Belieu’s article on Double-X.

So now we ask:  Why isn’t The New Republic responding to its “shameful statistics”?

VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, a new writers’ organization of which we are a part, has spent many months tallying and listing the numbers of men versus women publishing, winning awards, and meriting book reviews in the literary arts.  The full list is soon to be released on our website feature “The Count.”  But in the meantime, check out what we have so far.  Check out, in particular, the numbers for the Nobel Prize.  Where is the commotion, indeed.

Susan Steinberg is the author of story collections The End of Free Love (FC2) and Hydroplane (FC2). She teaches at the University of San Francisco. Cate Marvin's most recent book of poems is Fragment of the Head of a Queen (Sarabande, 2007). She teaches creative writing at the College Staten Island, City University of New York. More from this author →