They called it the Count, and the concept was simple: Tally up how many women get published in some of the world’s top literary magazines and journals, compare it with the number of men gracing those pages, and slap the results into a pie chart. Red for men, blue for women. The result was a lot of big red pie slices. First published in 2011, they conveyed a clear fact: From Harpers to The New Yorker to The Atlantic, it’s still very much a man’s world. Roughly 65 to 75 percent of the space in the prestigious magazines went to male writers.
The Count is the brainchild of two accomplished poets, Cate Marvin and Erin Belieu. In 2009, the duo founded VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, a nonprofit that acts as part online community, part advocate and agitator for women of letters. The idea, Belieu says, came in a “moment of loathing and terror and revolutionary spark.”
They intended the Count to be a conversation starter, and it certainly has been: After they published the first round, some major magazine editors slammed the numbers as unscientific or meaningless by themselves. Others took them to heart and vowed to work harder for parity. “We’ve got to do better,”New Yorkereditor David Remnick said of his magazine’s results. The conversation heated up again this February, after the second tally was published.
VIDA seeks to help publications up their submissions by women writers:
We’d like to be helpful. We’d like to partner with these places. A lot of editors are like, “So few women writers submit.” Would you like us to put you in touch with some? Because I know a lot of them. I know some fantastic writers. That list is deep, so call me, David Remnick. Call me because we can help, and we want to help.
We don’t want this to be a negative conversation. We want positive gains to come out of it. But you know what? Civil rights made people uncomfortable. Gay rights made people uncomfortable. Sometimes you have to be uncomfortable to change your perspective. If you’ve discovered it’s something you need to care about, then talk to VIDA. We’d love to be of use. That’s what we’re here for.