Photo by Stefano Corso.
Our pop culture often isn’t fair to women. As we point out ways that news stories bank on stereotypes or leave out women’s voices, it’s helpful to ask a simple question: Who makes our media?
For the past five years, the VIDA Count has explored that question by seeking hard numbers. The group’s newest report came out Monday—it painstakingly tallies up the gender of writers for major print magazines and literary journals in the United States and also records the gender breakdown of book authors whose work gets reviewed. The annual reports makes the scale of the gender gap clear. As VIDA Count director Jen Fitzgerald writes, “We were not surprised to find that men dominate the pages of venues that are known to further one’s career.”
This year, the results of the count are mixed. Some publications have improved significantly over past years: the number of women in Harper’s and The Atlantic increased six percent. Other publications remain disappointing: only 20 percent of journalists writing for The Nation are women. Overall, it appears that publications are slowly chipping away at the gender gap, but a disparity persists. Of the 15 publications examined by the VIDA Count, only two had more bylines by women than men: the New York Times Book Review and literary quarterly Tin House.
This year, for the first time, the count also looked at race. In addition to counting up the number of women represented in media outlets, the count tried to pinpoint the number of women of color in each publication. The VIDA Count approached this complex task by sending out surveys to 2,000 writers who published articles in the outlets and asking the writers to self-identify their race.
The data from the women of color survey isn’t complete enough to paint a clear picture. Most publications did not have enough writers respond to the survey and to create a significant sample size. But results of the New Yorker give a peek at what the landscape looks like.
Hopefully the VIDA Count will figure out a way to get more data on race next year. As Women, Action, and Media Executive Director Jamia Wilson points out on the VIDA Count page, even though it’s tricky to tabulate how many women of color are represented in national media outlets, it’s an important job. “When women of color’s voices are missing from the public narrative, the insights and wisdom of a significant percentage of the population is wasted,” writes Wilson. “In a literary culture that centers writers that are often white, and male, our perspectives are not adequately presented.”
Related Reading: The State of Women in Media — Why We May Never Run the Press.
Sarah Mirk is Bitch Media’s online editor.