Brevity, All the Young Dudes, & the VIDA Count

February 14, 2011 § 5 Comments

We took the VIDA challenge and conducted our own count.  The result?  Well, if we have a gender imbalance, it seems to harm the dudes, not the ladies.  Over the last five issues, we’ve published 66 brief essays, and of these, 39 were written by female authors, and 27 by male authors.

For technical reasons (we recently switched from one submission management system to another) we couldn’t gender-test the submissions that resulted in those 66 acceptances, so instead we chose a contiguous block of 100 submissions from the last two months.  Of those, the mix was almost even: 52% female, 48% male.  Only a few submission were indeterminable: the name and cover note did not reveal gender.  We just didn’t count those.

If you are a scientist or statistician, you are likely horrified by our methodology right now, but we did our best.

So what can we conclude from this?  Do we have a bias that favors the female voice?  Do women compress better, writing sharper brief essays?

We’ll take that up at our next editorial retreat, but for now, thanks to VIDA for raising the questions and making us look inward.

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§ 5 Responses to Brevity, All the Young Dudes, & the VIDA Count

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Faye RapoportDesPres, dinty@brevity. dinty@brevity said: Brevity, All the Young Dudes, & the VIDA Count : http://t.co/7vlbomw […]

  • Tracy Seeley says:

    Bravo! This does make me curious about gender and genre. Do more women write essays, the allegedly “lesser” genre in the pantheon of prose? Does the essay’s mix of the personal tale and interior reflection make it more attractive to women writers than to men? Hmmmm.

  • Leslie McGrath says:

    Hi Dinty,

    Thank you for doing your own count and for doing it so quickly. I’ve spoken with one of the principals at VIDA, who told me it took a number of members long hours to count and make up spreadsheets, so I can imagine it was no walk in the park for you either.

    I’ve read criticism on a number of other sites about the nature of VIDA’s data collection and analysis. There’s nothing wrong with a simple count and with using the simplest of pie charts. And I say this as someone who has a number of graduate level statistics courses and social science research training under her belt.

    My impression is that the original count has done its job: it showed a glaring gender imbalance in a group of literary magazines, it lead to self-examination on the part of many other literary magazines and presses, and it’s generated broad discussion about why this disparity in publishing and criticism might be so.

    It’s such a complicated issue, borne of many factors. You’d asked for thoughts about why Brevity is at gender parity. After acknowledging the effect of the editors’ broadmindedness in terms of subject and style, I wonder how much is due to the fact that you’re an online magazine (there’s still a Maginot line in terms of age of readers and submitters for e-lit), as well as genre. I’m curious to know whether those who write short essays might be younger and more apt to have gone to graduate school. (Not asking you to do another count!)

    I wonder, too, if Brevity’s adoption almost a year ago (a change I heartily agreed with) of a $3 submission fee might be a factor as well in some way. Just off the top of your head, have you noticed a change in amount of submissions, quality of work, or thematic content since you’ve made this change?

    Thank you for following through, for making the process more transparent for your readers and the writers. It helps us all.

  • I don’t want to bad-mouth other genres, but I feel like a lot of my friends who write poetry and fiction will frequently confuse their own preferred aesthetic with “good writing, period.” I don’t get that same sense from nonfiction, which seems to embrace a variety of approaches (you’d never confuse an Ander Monson essay with a Lauren Slater memoir, or a Lauren Slater memoir with Joan Didion’s reportage). That’s not to say that there aren’t talented people doing bold things in other genres, but I wonder if they have more trouble getting editors and readers to appreciate their unique visions (as opposed to in nonfiction, where the new, the genre-bending, or the form-breaking is almost certain to be celebrated by somebody). All that is to say, I wonder if the lack of preconceived notions about what nonfiction is and what makes it good somehow spares it from the unintentional institutional sexism that might pervade other genres…?

  • […] than some other magazines in terms of publishing talented women writers.  Brevity, as we all know, publishes slightly more women than men, on average.  And, according to their online newsletter for the month of February, Creative Nonfiction […]

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