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On the Count

Sandra Beasley at Chicks Dig Poetry talks about a factors which could be contributing to the gender gap — aggregate choices made in a key decade.

in my mind, the question is How do we create a support structure that encourages women to prioritize and privilege their writing during their 30s? Because I think that’s where the gap is really opening up. Same as so many other professions–law, business–we’re losing a very specific decade of incredible women to the demands of their loved ones.

Men are also marrying and having young families and building up careers in the same decade. How much is that a factor? What are the age and home life demographics of females who are solicited to publish but decline?

Brenda Schmidt pointed out what was said at Book Slut who says, make sure you don’t waste time meta-bellyaching when you could participating. I don’t know that that big scene drags energies that much. Or that excuses is a factor that disproportionally affects women. Men are no more likely to see a magazine with a 95% slush pile rate and quit, are they? Stepping back from gender assumptions and consider who you can hear and who can hear you with that gratifying resonance makes sense. Jennifer Howard there says,

Pick your mentors and role models wisely. Sisterhood can be a wonderful thing, but a supportive and productive working writer-editor/publisher relationship is going to be built around individual personalities, not gender per se.

You’ll recognize encouragement and good advice when you encounter it. Don’t assume that all female writers and editors will automatically help you; also don’t assume that all male writers and editors are intent on keeping you down.

Be alert for evidence of bias, though, and be prepared to contest it. You deserve equal consideration as a writer; you don’t deserve to get published just because you’re female.

Think about the published writers you admire who are also female and take heart from their example. They did it, ergo it can be done.

That’s a lot of points but beyond take heart and keep moving, what causes the skew?

Sure, the culture is misogynist, but also selectively, and it seems to a lesser degree, misandrist and misanthropic.

What is feeding into the pattern?

Many things are going on with gender.

What could build up the patterns we see?

Are females writing less? Less seriously? Sending out less? Getting work accepted less? Promoting less? Starting fewer journals? Sitting on fewer panels? Starting fewer discussions? Chiming in more? Following more? Emulating more? Giving more priority to things outside poetry? Doing the same things but interpreted as less pro when gender is known by men and women? Transmitting a subjects and tones that are gender-coded as marked lesser forms?

Decisions are made unconsciously in moments by individuals who want to believe they are a separate entity from the cultural air. Air varies by who you are immediately around. Who you internalize, what you notice.

But for there to be the skew we see, there could be a funny roll of a lot of random dice that could add up like this but for a holding pattern this long, that seems unlikely enough to look at causes beyond randomness.

Males are starting journals and magazines therefore internalized gender chooses encultured male-voice? To pooh pooh gender existing and just carrying on lessens the aggravation of inalterable but maybe the inalterable is changeable with an awareness of systems at work at various scales. It’s the legacy systems behind eyeballs that perpetuates. Jennifer Howard’s advice tempered with fresh eyes to remake visions and press on makes sense. Not denying nor being crushed by awareness but curiosity, not with upturning but radical steady awareness of minutiae and living a pressure for new internal biases.

Rules of engagement seem to teach males to pipe up, press forward. Males are more encouraged to speak up and when bashed down to take it or bash back whereas it seems more acceptable for women to cry foul.

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3 Responses

  1. Because VIDA as an organization doesn’t have access to the numbers for individual magazines’ rates of submissions, and because much of what is published in high visibility magazines is often solicited by their editors, we will need help in moving this conversation forward. We ask that the editors of all literary magazines—large and small– begin to count for themselves. A simple database program, a good-hearted intern—either will get the job done simply enough. And for those editors out there who do decide to count, VIDA will be happy to share your numbers and your thoughts on how this process has affected your thinking about gender, publishing and the other myriad observations such a process is likely to reveal. We look forward to the opportunity.



  2. and here I am again at my head count. Not counting the categories with no announced readers (like youth slam and Griffin Trust events) the gender is 4:1 male to female of readers at versefest.

    What accounts for that? What are females doing or not doing? What are males doing or not doing? If it weren’t so consistent it would look less random.

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