Does The New Yorker Have Girl Problems? Reader Demands Gender Balance or a Refund

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Anne Hays is not happy with her subscription to The New Yorker. Hays, a Brooklyn resident, Sarah Lawrence MFA graduate and the founding editor of Storyscape Journal, posted yesterday, as a Facebook note, a letter she sent to the magazine's editors at 4 Times Square, complaining of a gender imbalance in recent issues and demanding a refund or replacement. "You may either extend our subscription by one month, or you can replace this issue with a back issue containing a more equitable ratio of male to female voices," she wrote. "I plan to return every issue that contains fewer than five women writers." Check out the full text after the jump. (Plus an update from Hays below.)

The New Yorker 4 Times Square, 20th Floor New York, NY 10036

Dear Editors of the New Yorker,

I am writing to express my alarm that this is now the second issue of the NYer in a row where only two (tiny) pieces out of your 76 page magazine are written by women. The January 3rd, 2011 issue features only a Shouts & Murmurs (Patricia Marx) and a poem (Kimberly Johnson); every other major piece: the fiction, the profile, and all the main nonfiction pieces, are written by men. Every single critic is a male writer.

We were already alarmed when we flipped through the Dec 20th & 27th double-issue to find that only one piece (Nancy Franklin) and one poem (Alicia Ostriker) were written by women. A friend pointed out that Jane Kramer wrote one of the short Talk of the Town segments as well, though it barely placated our sense of outrage that one extra page, totaling three, out of the 148 pages in the magazine, were penned by women. Again, every critic is a man. To make matters more depressing, 22 out of the 23 illustrators for the magazine are men. Seriously!

Women are not actually a minority group, nor is there a shortage, in the world, of female writers. The publishing industry is dominated by female editors, and it would be too obvious for me to point out to you that the New Yorker masthead has a fair number of female editors in its ranks. And so we are baffled, outraged, saddened, and a bit depressed that, though some would claim our country's sexism problem ended in the late 60's, the most prominent and respected literary magazine in the country can't find space in its pages for women's voices in the year 2011.

I have enclosed the January issue and expect a refund. You may either extend our subscription by one month, or you can replace this issue with a back issue containing a more equitable ratio of male to female voices. I plan to return every issue that contains fewer than five women writers. You tend to publish 13 to 15 writers in each issue; 5 women shouldn't be that hard.

A dismayed reader,

Anne Hays

Hays, it seems, will not be returning the January 10th issue. According to the Table of Contents, the new issue contains exactly five pieces by women: a television review by staff writer Lizzie Widdicombe, a politics story by Rebecca Mead, fiction by Louise Erdrich, a restaurant review by art editor in Goings On About Town Andrea K. Scott and a Stieg Larsson story by "critic at large" Joan Acocella.

(UPDATE: There's one female illustrator listed in the January 11th rag, as well, with the lone name sitting among a sea of men: Sam Gross, Paul Noth, Zachary Kanin, Bruce Eric Kaplan, Mick Stevens, Kim Warp, Drew Dernavich, Robert Mankoff, William Haefeli, Edward Koren, Gahan Wilson, Matthew Diffee, Michael Maslin, Lee Lorenz, Jack Ziegler, Arnie Levin, Joe Dator.)

As for Hays' larger message, it's gaining traction, with re-postings of her letter picking up across blogging platforms, with links on Twitter and beyond. But as far as going viral, the post is still in its infancy (with 18 "likes" and 16 comments on Facebook, though most promise to share the text) and that's where the New Yorker must be tactful: any response will reverberate, whereas ignoring Hays risks uproar. We've reached out to Hays to see if she's received word from anyone at the magazine either in the form of a retort or about her request for a refund, but we've yet to hear back. Updates as they come.

UPDATE 2: "The poor New Yorker doesn't even know," Hays told Runnin' Scared on Monday afternoon. "I just put it in the mail an hour ago."

Hays said the gender imbalance is a problem she's noticed for a while and across magazine titles, even canceling her subscription to Harper's. "The New Yorker is the best magazine there is," she said. "I just want to see women in it."

And so she won't be canceling her subscription, no matter the response: "I deserve a right to read the top magazine just like everyone else. I'm just going to return every issue," she said of editions that do not feature her benchmark of five females, a number she admitted is both arbitrary and low, to give the magazine a chance and save her the work of returning issues.

And for the inevitable claims of jealousy or self-interest? "I've never submitted there. I don't really intend to."

Dear Editors of the New Yorker [Facebook]

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46 comments
AED
AED

"And for the inevitable claims of jealousy or self-interest?"

the "self-interest" of women is arguably the primary and most effective basis of feminist organizing.

though of course, the men who participate in sexist institutions or are silent, defensive, or ignorant about the sexism of those institutions may be said to do so out of "self-interest."

Man223
Man223

Is a hamburgler male-female balanced enough, or is a letter to McD in order?

Guest
Guest

Indeed. The New Yorker has consistently f%cked me up as a woman. When I roll the magazine up and jam it into my p*ssy, it cuts my woowoo. When I use the torn pages as toilet paper it cuts my doodoochute. I have been viciously aggrieved time and time again AS A WOMAN. As a CRAZY woman. Dear New Yorker: you cut me in my woowoo and my doodoo. I h8 you. I h8 you!

Lgarrett
Lgarrett

While I am happy that Hays has brought the New Yorker's heinous gender imbalance to light, I have to say that there is nothing new in this. For several YEARS I have noted that issue-after-issue has no female authors for the main articles, with all female voices relegated to criticism, the arts or the news shorts spots at the front. Even issues with "lots" of female writers remain 80% male authors for the primary pieces. For years I kept a running tab on this, but eventually found it so distressing that I stopped.

I compared New Yorker to GQ, Playboy, Sports Illustrated, Rolling Stone and other bastions of male-think, and many months the New Yorkers is THE MOST GENDER-BIASED in terms of authorship of the main prestige pieces in the bunch.

I decided years ago that the only way to deal with being a female reader of The New Yorker is to stifle my rage and focus on content, trying my best to ignore the fact that 90% of the writers are white males of a certain age.

Sandra
Sandra

I'm amazed that the people commenting here are under the impression that The New Yorker gets most of its content by blind, random submissions. That would be insane. For one thing, a lot of the content is produced by people who are under contract to produce a certain number of articles per year. These people are hired like any employee, with the difference that the New Yorker will be head-hunting them rather than posting a job ad. It is not at all reasonable to assume that the New Yorker is helpless to have more women in the pages of its magazine. They can phone any female writer in the US and confidently expect that she will send them five pitches within a month, hoping to get published in the New Yorker. They apparently are not doing this. The fact that they aren't make a huge difference to the careers of female journalists. Getting an article in the New Yorker often means an instant book contract, for instance.

I don't believe they're being deliberately sexist, but I do think they fall victim to the assumptions that most people have about who can be an authority, who can be the Next Great Mind, and etc. It's true that female writers are also subject to these ideas, and therefore less likely to approach the New Yorker. But, see above -- most of the material in the New Yorker is not sourced in this way, so that argument applies to only about 5% of their content.

allison
allison

Bravo! Well written, letter, and thank you, I have noticed the same imbalance, and never even thought to do something about it, I just had a ho-hum, business as usual response. I guess I wasn't surprised. Thank you again, Allison

Bluefrog
Bluefrog

Hey I thinnk this is a great idea. And you know what? I think we should force hospitals to have gender balance in their nursing staffs. The fact that there are far more women in that profession means nothing, if they can't get balance - shut them down, don't give them any federal funds. Not only that, but lets have gender balance in all professions and not give anyone the opportunity to specialize. I want to see more women forced to become orthopedic surgeons who replace hips as opposed to pediatricians and other specialties. In any event, given current enrollment trends in colleges, this agrument may flip in 20 years. I would only agree with the individual who pointed out that we don't know if the bias is one of self-selection - not enough submissions, or the quality of the specific submissions made, or just frank bias. I don't agree that the term bias can be used where the population of submissions is skewed. However, it would be a really good academic project if rather than a survey of TOC's, one could get the information behind the TOC's. Maybe the editorial staffs could just review pieces blindly without knowing the authory or simply attribute all female names or all male names to the pieces. However, at the moment this is just another example of folks being whipped up into a frenzy by limited facts where it may or may not be justified.

bigyaz
bigyaz

The comments here show just how far we have to go to raise consciousness. Does anyone really think the New Yorker receives "...50 submissions from women and 1,000,000 submissions from men..." or that there are so few good women writers out there that this overwhelming ratio of males to female contributors is perfectly reasonable?

Or that somehow Ms. Hays has no right to complain about a product that she pays for?

Lisa
Lisa

Sexism isn't always intentional and it can be practiced by an institution with women publishers/editors. Almost all the points supporting the magazine below might be legitimate if the stats weren't so dramatic (and if they didn't reflect similar problems in the larger literary and media culture). We all lose if we have a society that gives more voice to one gender than another. I haven't had a subscription to the magazine, but was getting close to thinking about it and I am sure there are many women like myself that have submitted poetry there. I'll delay buying a subscription until I hear that the magazine is willing to look at its decision process.

Bill
Bill

Everyone calm down until the New Yorker responds. We have no idea what the facts are here. Personally, if they have the guts and do consider themselves respectful, they'll hire an independent (not necessarily female) writer to do an investigation on their own selection process and put it out there for public debate.

If they don't do something like that, then we'll have our answer, won't we?

tauceti
tauceti

The comments on this post are depressing.

If a magazine consistently fails to publish pieces by a particular group, and the best response to that is to say that this is because they care about quality rather than group representation, that shows a lack of respect for the group of note. I see this all the time and it's obnoxious. Stop doing it.

swami
swami

Did her New Yorker subscription card promise "at least 38.5% female contributors per issue or your money back?" Mine didn't.

Tulletilsynet
Tulletilsynet

It's not enough to check names in the TOC. (I mean, "Lee"? "Drew"?) From now on all MSS must be accompanied by a scanned image of the writer's most recent pelvic examination, and that of their literary agent, or else I'm going to post a note about it on Facebook.

Joe
Joe

I work for an orgnization that fights for gender equality and equal pay, but this is just silliness....Ms. Hays needs to grow up.

Mark Handelman
Mark Handelman

This passive aggression will not stand!

If the publishing world is "dominated by female editors", wouldn't it be "fair" for them to showcase some male writers? In other companies, male higher-ups surrounding themselves with male employees is frowned upon. I understand that. But the reverse should be true, too.

Sims5487
Sims5487

I don't like this meal! It's good, but it doesn't have enough of the spice I like in it. I've noticed that a lot of dishes recently don't have the particular spice I like. I am going to get a refund of every meal I eat that doesn't have that spice, but not before I have already eaten the entire meal. I will do this just to make a point.

However, I will remain silent when other spices I don't much care about, like black pepper, are ignored in the same fashion.

thehipp
thehipp

If her priority is gender and not good writing, then maybe the New Yorker wasn't the publication for her.

Guest
Guest

Although the New Yorker may well be gender biased, it's also true that it caters to a certain audience that wants certain things. While female authors may be as good as, better than, worse than, or different than male authors, there are also differences in the content that they most frequently write. The New Yorker, like any magazine has to fill itself with content that fits its ethos, and while Car and Driver is not a sexist magazine, it is far more male dominated than even the New Yorker.While the New Yorker has clearly not gone to any lengths to encourage female writers, and none of the above or below posters have knowledge of the submissions ratios, it may also be true that there are fewer female writers of the specific kinds of fiction that the New Yorker seeks out. As to non-fiction I cannot say, since I rarely bother with it.

citizenrobot
citizenrobot

Hear hear. I never once felt that their omission of female writers was some kind of deliberate editorial stance.

Besides - even if women aren't writing the pieces, they are often the FOCUS of the pieces - Sasha Frere Jones' article on Marnie Stern sent my heart a-soaring with hope - and he recognized that she is a fierce talent in a male-dominated rock scene.

lazzari
lazzari

"50 submissions from women and 1,000,000 submissions from men" was a blatant exaggeration for argument's sake. I sincerely hope that nobody took those number seriously and that nobody needed that explained to them.

All I was saying was that we are missing a lot of facts, which I thought I had made abundantly clear. Apparently not.

As for Ms Hays being able to complain about a product she pays for, of course she can complain. But her complaint would go a lot further if she stopped paying for it. Why would the New Yorker change if she's still willing to send them money?

Me
Me

So...there might be secret sexism?

Um, if women aren't submitting articles, what do you want the editors to do? I agree that there should be a diversity of voices, but do you want it to happen at gun point? Are the magazine's creators to go around like some stereotypical New York mugger with a revolver and say "Stick'em up -- write an article for the New Yorker or your life!"

Guest
Guest

Wait for the New Yorker to reply, and I'm sure it'll be a well-written reply. We may learn that they have a large female editorial staff, and whatnot, but that the article submission pool is what it is.

I graduated with a degree in the liberal arts and ended up working in medical and technical publishing. When I was in school, the male and female ratio was half and half. Every year from age 25 onward, the number of women in the publishing workplace declined by five per cent. Now, its like working in a logging camp: it's all male.

Long hours, lunatics are always on the phone, pressure to perform, all of the usual stuff. And I don't know where the women went. They just left.

I'm all for, and have campaigned for legal, political and social equality, but if women aren't pushing articles into the submission queue, I don't know what the letter writer expects? Does she want editors to lurk in dark alleyways, clubbing women who are passers-by in order to make them write for the New Yorker?

ellid
ellid

Thank you. It's good to see that someone hasn't fallen for the "but it's solely about quality" mickeymouse.

ellid
ellid

You do that, Skippy.

Liar Liar
Liar Liar

I think you're full of shit. If you weren't lying about your career, I'd tell your boss she should fire your sexist ass.

ellid
ellid

I would respectfully suggest that you read Joanna Russ's "How to Suppress Women's Writing." It might change your attitude about Hays being silly and juvenile.

ellid
ellid

Interesting, that it's men who seem most upset by the mere idea that the New Yorker might be slighting women....

Kay
Kay

Women are not a spice.

carpet bagger
carpet bagger

and we know they're mutually exclusive. We don't need the New Yorker - we have Glamour.

Marimic
Marimic

Are you saying women don't write as well as men and that's why the omission? Or is it that 'a woman's voice' hasn't relevancy in such a magazine?

bigyaz
bigyaz

I realize it was an exaggeration (albeit a a lame one) for effect, but to suggest that the New Yorker simply chooses from a pool of unsolicited submissions -- rather than commission articles from writers it knows, who appear to be largely male -- and that somehow there might be significantly more male writers than females out there (which is patently false) suggests you (and others) are offering up simplistic excuses for what is clearly a legitimate issue to be discussed.

As for your second point: It's pretty obvious she is doing more to get the issue into the public eye this way than if she had simply canceled her subscription. She would like to see the New Yorker address the issue, which would be hard to see if she didn't, you know, actually read the magazine.

Your argument sounds like the tired old excuses for racism and sexism in the workplace: "I can't help it if the only good candidates I come across are white males."

carpet bagger
carpet bagger

yeah women just don't WANT to get published in the New Yorker. We can't FORCE them to do something that goes against their nature.and we've never had a woman president because women don't WANT to be president.

carpet bagger
carpet bagger

yeah Women can't TAKE long hours, and that pressure to perform? THAT'S a mans job. What woman wants to deal with lunatics always on the phone?Better to get married and knocked up and have an easier life.Women are getting mugged at gunpoint and clubbed in dark alleys right here on this blog! Journalism is WAY too dangerous for girls.

lazzari
lazzari

The numbers certainly are telling, but they only tell half the story. How many of the submissions were from females, and what was the quality of the articles that were rejected? We need to know those kinds of things before making any claims against the New Yorker. The story changes somewhat if we find out that they received 50 submissions from women and 1,000,000 submissions from men, or vice versa. Is it likely that they're being sexist (whether consciously or subconsciously)? I'll go out on a limb and say yes. But I would also suggest that it is not appropriate to make these claims until we know all of the facts. Having read Ms Hays' letter, I would suggest that she does not know the number of articles submitted from men vs women, or else she would have included that in her comment (provided it supported her point).

As for returning each issue until they meet Ms Hays' quota, that is admirable and ambitious, but The New Yorker is as much a business as it is a source of information. If someone wants to get the message across, they have to hit them where it hurts the most - their bank account. What is their incentive to change if people don't stop paying for their product?

Most likely, until people start canceling subscriptions, this kind of complaint will be met with some token response like "The New Yorker is committed to providing its readers with articles of the highest quality, and does not discriminate based on gender, race, age, creed, or sexuality. We thank you for your continued patronage and sincerely hope that you are satisfied with our magazine in the future" or some such garbage. They'll think that it's bold that she sent back her magazine the first couple of times, but after a while, when they see that return address, they'll just toss it into the recycling bin. I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that they won't refund her the money.

If Ms Hays really wants to make an impact, then her letter needs to be accompanied by the cancellation of her subscription. There are plenty of places that she can read the magazine for free until they meet her quota of female writers - her Facebook page indicates that she is in Brooklyn, and the Brooklyn Public Library holds an active subscription to the New Yorker. She is free to read the magazine without cost, and restart her subscription once the New Yorker has met her standards, thus providing the New Yorker with an incentive (albeit a small one, but larger if many people follow her lead)

Ms Hays' quest for gender balance in the New Yorker is very admirable, and it's one in which I support her (in theory); the feminist perspective is very important in modern serial literature and must be adequately represented. However, the fact that an article is written by a woman (or an East Asian man, or a special-needs white man, or a Middle Eastern immigrant to the Mid-West, or a Native American whose first language is Cherokee) does not automatically qualify it for inclusion in ANY publication. There are many factors going on behind the scenes that we don't know about, and until we know how many submissions were received from men vs women, the topics of those submissions (perhaps they did not feel as though the topics were timely) and the quality of the submissions themselves (poor writing knows no gender or racial boundaries), I don't feel as though the numbers to which we are privy are sufficient to form a substantive complaint.

Fletchersc
Fletchersc

Really? Who here is upset? Did Mark abuse the exclamation button to give you this impression? It is pretty obvious that the person who has the most invested in this thread is the one who has systematically gone through all the posts and made snarky, one dimensional comments.

Jvincentp
Jvincentp

Oh gawd...it was a metaphor to make a larger point!

thehipp
thehipp

Really? Those are the only two ways you can imagine I might have meant my comment? I was saying that the New Yorker might just be spending their time on publishing quality pieces instead of double-checking the by-lines to make sure they give equal time to the sexes, that maybe it isn't a nefarious and intentional lack of female-penned pieces on their part. You know, it could just be that they don't receive strong pieces from female writers because, like the very woman who is complaining, they're not interested in submitting. Maybe not. I'm saying there are more possibilities in play than just gender bias in who they publish. And we're not even aware of the ratio of men to women in their submissions. It could very well be that the ratio of submissions is 100 to 1 in favor of men and published stories have a ratio of 5 to 1 in favor of men.

Chastising people over their practices when you don't know what their practices are is foolhardy, lazy, and reactionary. And it solves nothing.

lazzari
lazzari

Respectfully, I'm not convinced you read and understood the entirety of my first point. What I said was that we are missing facts, which we are. If you interpreted my post as making excuses, then I don't think there's much I can do to change your mind. Heck, I even said the following:

"Is it likely that they're being sexist (whether consciously or subconsciously)? I'll go out on a limb and say yes"

As for her not reading the New Yorker if she canceled her subscription, how did you miss the part about the New Yorker being available at the Brooklyn Public Library?

Me
Me

Thank you CarbetBagger for a reply that makes no sense. Read the post again and you'll see that it's asking a question and not making an assertion.

carpet bagger
carpet bagger

I think "guest" has summed it up nicely. Women might just be less talented writers than men.This thread clearly shows that when they can hide behind screen names "progressive" men are sexist douche bags in equal number to conservative men - the only difference being conservative men have old fashioned manners to go with their old fashioned assumptions about women.

Guest
Guest

Let me sum up this long comment: women writers probably are lazy or talentless; the editors aren't responsible for the contents of their magazine; you don't have a right to criticize the faults of a product you can hold in your hand unless you have access to internal information that the company that produces it hasn't released.

thehipp
thehipp

This is exactly what I'm saying. Presuming the reasons behind anyone else's actions is a fool's game without the necessary information.

ellid
ellid

And a really stupid one. Half the species is the equivalent of a non-essential ingredient in a recipe? Is that *really* what you mean?

carpet bagger
carpet bagger

I'm sure 100 men submit good writing to the New Yorker for every one woman.

thehipp
thehipp

Since I can't reply to ellid's comment for some reason, I'll do it here: women do write as well as (or better than, or worse than) men. I'm saying that I very much doubt that there's gender parity in the number of submissions the New Yorker or any magazine receives, so there would naturally be a disparity in what's published. If you receive 20 submissions from men, 10% of which are worth publishing, and you receive 10 from women, 10% of which are worth publishing, you're still publishing twice as many men as women. Prove to me that there's an equal number of men and women submitting, and I'll eat my hat. There isn't.

ellid
ellid

Her point is that women *do* write as well (or better) than men, and that the editors need to work on their editorial bias, conscious or not, that favors male writers and cartoonists over female.

Your outrage at Hays' action is evidence that she's onto something.

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