Under-Representation of Women in Literary Journals

By now, every literary type who frequents the interwebs has probably seen VIDA’s survey of women in literary publications. The numbers aren’t good. Apparently, only Tin House is not sexist. Every other major literary publication has a significant deficit of female writers, whether we are talking about short fiction that appears in the magazine, the authors of books reviewed by the magazine, or the book reviewers themselves.


When I saw these statistics, I couldn’t help but become self-conscious. The most recent issue of Saw Palm published one short story by a woman. One, out of five. To the journal’s credit, all but one of the poets we published were women. However, I was not the poetry editor—I was the fiction editor. When I made my editorial decisions (along with a colleague who is also a man) I felt certain that I was selecting the best stories we had received. When our advisory editor commented on the absence of female writers in the final picks I told him, with self-assurance, that was the luck of the draw. These six were the best.


I’m not going to go back through our submissions and second-guess my decisions. I’m proud of the issue we put together and of the pieces we chose. However, a recent article on Flavorwire about the VIDA results explores how Tin House manages to have representative numbers of female writers:


"We did a thorough analysis of our internal submission numbers and found that the unsolicited numbers are evenly split, while the solicited (agented, previous contributors, etc.) were 67/33 male to female. We found that women contributors and women we rejected with solicitations to resubmit were five times less likely to submit than their male counterparts. So we basically stopped asking men, because we knew they were going to submit anyway, and at the same time made a concerted effort to re-ask women to contribute."


The Tin House data suggests women are less aggressive/more polite than men when submitting work, something Emily Temple discusses in her article. Whether this is true and what might be the cause is a bigger topic for another day. Regardless, the strategy and policies adopted by Tin House should be standard practice at all lit journals. They’re simple, common sense, don’t rely on problematic quotas, and I plan to promote them among the Saw Palm staff next fall.