From around the US, a tiny group of volunteers is wagging one powerful finger at the English-speaking elite.
According to this year’s VIDA count, released Mar. 30, stark gender inequality persists for the world’s top culture magazines. VIDA is a non-profit which advocates for balanced gender representation in contemporary literature, and every year since 2009, they’ve studied the tables of contents of publications identified as career-boosters for writers, and tallied up the women in bylines and book reviews, and the book reviewers themselves.
This year, 28 volunteers pored over 15 print publications, researching and making calls to be sure of the gender of every book reviewer, author, and writer. Their findings: When it comes to gender parity, The London Review of Books and The New York Review of Books rank low, with more than 75% of their reviews dedicated to books written by males. Both were also among the fewest with bylined female writers.
|Rank||Publication||Percent female authors||Total books reviewed|
|2||The New Republic||56%||43|
|4||The New York Times Book Review||40%||989|
|8||The Times Literary Supplement||25%||1288|
|9||London Review of Books||23%||263|
|10||The New York Review of Books||20%||455|
The Nation reviewed a majority of books by women, but only 30% of their bylines were for women.
|Rank||Publication||Percent female writers||Total bylines|
|2||The New York Times Book Review*||50%||946|
|5||The New Republic||42%||150|
|6||The New Yorker||34%||685|
|9||The New York Review of Books||27%||164|
|10||The Times Literary Supplement||25%||374|
|11||London Review of Books||25%||222|
* VIDA didn’t count bylines for The New York Times Book Review, but since the publication is almost entirely book reviews, we used their count of book reviewers by gender.
“It’s hard to say if there’s been consistent overall improvement. It’s sort of in spurts,” says Amy King, chair of VIDA’s executive committee. Not all steps toward parity are strategic or consistently linear year over year: This year, for example, the print version of The Atlantic (Quartz’s sister site) reviewed 29% books by women, down from 41% in 2014.
What has seemed to change, she notes, is that even editors who resist publishing more female writers are less likely to publicly take pride in that resistance, as some did when VIDA first started counting. “They no longer publicly boast,” she says. “They don’t guffaw—they’re aware they shouldn’t say these things.”
Data from 2011 to 2014 (VIDA changed their methodology this year) shows a slow but steady improvement in gender parity across the board. Here are the six print publications with the most women’s bylines, ranked by how much the balance has improved in those four years.
Despite the progress, King doesn’t think VIDA’s count will become obsolete in her lifetime. She says, “Sexism, even though we’re aware of it, is still one of the acceptable biases. Everywhere. I think we’re always going to have to make people accountable for bias.”
She points to editors who claim they only publish the best works, and the results happen to skew male: ”What does that mean, the best of what?” she asks. “The best of what you’re interested in, in the world?”
Quartz has reached out to the publications for comment and will update here with any relevant response.
Update (April 4, 8:25 EST): This article has been updated to clarify that the VIDA count only considers each title’s print edition, not online output.