Friday, July 11, 2008

Would the Queens of Nonfiction Please Stand Up

Check out this article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed, "Where Are the Queens of Nonfiction?" by Anne Trubek, an associate professor of rhetoric and composition at Oberlin College. It's excellent. And majorly depressing. Trubek riffs on the title of Ira Glass' new book, The New Kings of Nonfiction, an anthology intended to commemorate and canonize our current golden age of nonfiction writing. Writes Trubek,
Huh? Glass is a trailblazing icon of alternative, indie culture, a very with-it, 21st-century guy. What was he thinking? Why did he choose a gender-specific title for his book?
She goes on to do some byline counting:
A few years ago, two women — Ruth Davis Konigsberg, a writer and former editor at Glamour, and Elizabeth Merrick, director of a women's literary reading series — tallied the ratio of male to female contributors at those four magazines on their own Web sites. The numbers called attention to a significant gender disparity. According to Konigsberg, on womentk.com, during a 12-month period (from September 2005 to September 2006), there were 1,446 men's bylines and 447 women's bylines. At Harper's, the ratio was nearly seven to one, at The New Yorker four to one, and at The Atlantic 3.6 to one.

I did my own tally. From May 2007 through May 2008, Harper's published 232 men and 51 women (a ratio of about 4.5 to one) and The Atlantic published 158 men to 49 women (a ratio of about three to one). In 2008, The New Yorker has published 185 men and 51 women (about 3.5 to one). Things are not getting much better.
Then analyzes what does make it into print:
As disheartening as those statistics are, closer inspection of what women do publish in such magazines makes the disparity even more disturbing. Many of the women's contributions are not features. (At The New Yorker, they might be a Talk of the Town piece, a poem, a cartoon, or a dance review.) And many are about being a woman. For example, the March 2008 issue of The Atlantic contains three substantial pieces by women. One, by Eliza Griswold, is both political and reported, and it does not integrate her personal experience. But the other two use personal experiences to make claims about women's lives. And in an almost absurd twist, both argue that women should start settling for less.
That other Atlantic piece of course is "Marry Him! The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough," by Lori Gottlieb.

For a great analysis of what gives, read the rest.

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