Tuesday, October 03, 2006

What Can Women Write?

forward of a forwarded blog: maybe MoJo?
What Can Women Write? The Byline Divide -- Over at WomenTK.com, Ruth Davis Konigsberg, who’s also an editor at Glamour, has analyzed a year’s worth of bylines at general interest magazines—namely Harper’s, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, and Vanity Fair—and found that overall the ratio of male writers to female is 3 to 1. (TK, by the way, is reporter/editor shorthand for "to come," as in haven't yet nailed this fact/gotten this quote.)The breakdown is as follows:
The Atlantic: 3.6 to 1
Harper’s: 7 to 1
The New Yorker: 4 to 1
New York Times Magazine: 2 to 1
Vanity Fair: 2.7 to 1
As Ruth notes, the numbers speak volumes, but they’re not the whole story. As a former editor at The New Yorker wrote me in an e-mail, “in addition to counting bylines, you should look at what women are allowed to write about. I’ve been struck by a pattern, at The Atlantic in particular, where women only seem to write about marriage, motherhood and nannies, obsessively so. If you count the number of women’s bylines there that weren’t about hearth and home, the number would approach zero.” And a current student at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism also noted, “At The New Yorker, it seems as though many of the female bylines aren’t for hard-news-type stories. Women write about dance, or they write the short story, or a poem, or a profile of a fashion designer, or something. But the ‘heavy’ stories are left to the guys.”
At a panel I was recently at with editors of all these magazines, the EIC of the NYT Mag, Gerry Marzorati, rightly noted that part of the issue is that the punditocracy is dominated by men, in part because (warning: gross generalizations apply) they are more likely to believe that the world is just waiting to hear what they have to say.But another part of it is, as Ruth quotes, Ursula K. Le Guin’s observation that “there is solid evidence for the fact that when women speak more than 30 percent of the time, men perceive them as dominating the conversation.”These numbers are particularly surprising considering how many women read these magazines. The New Yorker, for example, has an audience of 1,799,000 women and 1,710,000 men, according to a 2006 report by Mediamark Research Inc. The Atlantic’s current audience, Mediamark Research estimates, is 609,000 women and 747,000 men. At Vanity Fair, there are almost three times as many female readers as male readers. When asked to describe the typical reader of The New York Times Magazine, editor Gerald Marzorati replied, “I imagine my reader is a late-thirties-something woman, a lawyer or educator or businesswoman. She’s busy with work, and also with family matters, but Sunday morning is a time she’ll allow herself to read something that is not work related, or kids’ homework related. She wants to lose herself in a story, one big story—8,000, 9,000 words. My hunch is she wants to read not something escapist but something substantive—something that holds a mirror up to her own life or opens a window onto a pretty troubled world.” (NYT, 10/9/05) What’s more, research conducted by Time Inc. in 2005 showed a decline in the number of men reading magazines, while female readership held steady. (BusinessWeek Online, 11/07/05)

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