Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Speaking of New Yorker parity...

The magazine VIDA: Women in Literary Arts is on the case of the New Yorker - and other publications, with the feature The Count which has nothing to do with Count von Count, you big geek.

Here is their pie chart for how the New Yorker did in 2010:

Which translates into a 26% parity rate for the year.

Now the favorite excuse for why the parity for these various high-falutin' literary publications is half of what it should be in the twenty-first century is because women just don't submit work as much as men.

There are two problems with this argument as it applies to the New Yorker in particular - the New Yorker uses mostly the same cast of characters week after week.

Looking at this week's issue, and not counting the regular critics/columnists, and editor Devid Reminick, I see a bunch of people I recognize from other New Yorker issues: Ryan Lizza, Jane Mayer, Judith Thurman, Malcolm Gladwell, Jill Lepore.

It's a big insiders club. So the slush pile has little impact on gender parity.

Which may explain the second problem with this argument - the parity rate hasn't budged since at least 1971. Since I have handy access to the New Yorker archives I did a random sampling of four issues from 1971. Here's the breakdown:

February 13, 1971
Total bylines: 13
Female: 4
Male: 9
Parity score 30.77%

June 12, 1971
Total bylines: 12
Female: 3
Male: 9
Parity score: 25%

August 14, 1971
Total bylines: 11
Female: 2
Male: 9
Parity score: 18%

November 13, 1971
Total bylines: 19
Female: 3
Male: 16
Parity score: 15.79%

Average parity: 22%. So based on this random sample, parity has improved in 40 years by 4%.

But as is the case now, back in 1971 the same names pop up on the byline - Calvin Trillin, Edmund Wilson, John Updike. It doesn't hurt female representation that at that time Pauline Kael was movie critic and Edith Oliver was the off-Broadway theatre critic - both those spots are filled by men now.

But even discounting the in-crowd policy, are we to assume that women are only 4% more ambitious and career-oriented than in 1971? That would be odd, considering that 45% of all American women were in the workforce in 1970, the number was 60% in 2007. The rate for American men at the same time went from 82% in 1970 down to 75% in 2007.

So if the parity rate has changed so little in that amount of time, what can we conclude? That the New Yorker is an exclusive club that feels that a steady three men for every woman contributor ratio is just about right.