La VIDA Feminina

Well, as soon as I saw this post from The Living Notebook in my email this morning, I knew what I was (re) blogging about today.

VIDA: Women in Literary Arts has released The Count 2012, a look at the numbers in publishing as they break down along gender lines. Probably not surprisingly, many more men than women are published in some of the nation’s top literary journals and magazines. Check out The Count here.

This is, obviously, an issue that affects me. In college I wrote my senior thesis about the notion of the “woman writer” and anthologies of women’s writing. Is the moniker “woman writer” reductive, I asked? Did anthologies of women’s writing highlight and give space to women’s voices, or did they reinforce the idea that women writers are inferior (separate and thus, not equal)?

I never successfully answered those questions; I still haven’t. They’re complicated. My own publishing history is spotty, and I wonder if I attempted to publish as SE Meserve, gender ambiguous, whether I’d have graced a few more literary journals in my day. Quite honestly, I don’t think about my sex that much when I write. But when I look at The Count I feel more aware of the ways that the already uphill battle of being a writer is exacerbated by being female.


Woman Writer. Looking…shocked at the findings from VIDA?

Maybe this explains why I always get rejections from Boston Review.

Of course, one has to investigate further: how do these statistics play out in terms of numbers of memoirs published by women and men, respectively, every year? In literary fiction and poetry? Do newer, smaller journals do better at gender equality than Harper’s and Boston Review?

Next time you pick up a literary journal or a magazine, look at the number of women published in it. And in the meantime, I’ll try to get some statistics from the book publishing industry to share.

Keep the faith, ladies.



Readers! I made a bit of a tactical error way back when, by creating a mailing list AND a blog with its own separate...


  1. Amy

    Those counts are actually really surprising! You should try an experiment submitting with a gender neutral name…

  2. Jesse Taggert (@jtag)

    Whenever there is a collection of anything I always scan to see what the gender parity it. And yes, would be interesting to submit with a gender neutral name (said by someone WITH a gender neutral name who often have had people online think I’m a male).

    • Susie Meserve

      Yes! Do you often get mistaken for your male doppelganger?

  3. Anne

    A few months back, the Chronicle of Higher Education did an article about how many female authors of scientific papers there were in various fields, and also how many papers had a woman as the first or only author. And they did it for the entire past 200 years, and then separately for the last 20 where one might expect to see a radical change. I don’t remember the overall number — I remember the number for paleontology, which got SPECIAL NOTICE in the accompanying article for being particularly terrible: 16% of paleo authors were female. With no huge change in the most recent 20 years, which is exactly as long as I have been publishing in the field.
    I have been working with the same male colleague for the last 10 years. One summer we sent out two papers, which necessarily had one very similar paragraph in the introduction. A colloquialism had crept into that paragraph without either of us catching it. He was first author on one manuscript, and I was first author on the other. On “his” ms reviews came back generally positive, with a note that “there a colloquialism in paragraph 3 you want to fix.” On “my” ms one of the reviewers let go with half a page of raving about my apparent inability to write formally.
    Now these were not the same reviewers, so this is no kind of experiment. But I do think that as a woman one encounters a lot more people with big “issues” and you have to have a thick skin to shrug that off and just fix what needs to be fixed and send it back in.

  4. Anne

    Apparently I have an actual problem with where the commas go, too… I’m blaming daylight savings time.

    • Susie Meserve

      Totally. Daylight Savings. (I’m here for comma help anytime!)

      I’m so glad you shared this, though. Pisses me off.

  5. EDW

    …which is why I publish using only my initials. I feel kind of conflicted about it though, like I’m caving to a crappy system, or selling out.

    • Susie Meserve

      Selling out? I think probably you’re being wise. But you’re right about the crappy system and, sometimes, the necessity of caving. Accommodating? Compromising? : )

      Thanks for reading. Lovely to know you are.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like…