The Fifty-One Percent

The numbers are in. Female writers are significantly underrepresented in major national magazines, just as they are here on Gangrey.

Anyone care to speculate on why that is?

Sub-question: Do you know of any up-and-coming female writers whose work we should be reading? Give us names and links, please.

19 thoughts on “The Fifty-One Percent

  1. Recommendations:

    Christine Peterson at Casper Star Tribune:

    Meg Kissinger at The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Meg’s been my mentor for half a dozen years. Folks here know how good she is but nationally she’s probably flown under the radar though she was a Pulitzer Finalist for Investigative Reporting. This story was featured on Nieman recently: . She does stuff like this every year.

  2. No doubt there are a lot of good women writers out there. But the more interesting question is why women aren’t getting more big assignments.

    I think it’s a combination of things. For one (and this is anecdotal), I don’t think women pitch ambitious pieces as often. Lots of great women writers that I know play it safe, especially when it comes to pitching the big magazines. And even more especially when it comes to pitching the big men’s magazines (GQ, Esquire, etc). I don’t really know why this is. Yes, there are one or two women who do successfully write for those magazines, but only a fraction compared to the men.

    Another reason has to do with women’s magazines. The majority don’t run a lot of in-depth narrative or investigative work. And for up-and-comers trying to establish a name, you probably don’t want to take on too many beauty-tip, relationship advice-type articles. So if they won’t take your thorough, science or health-based pitches, who will? It’s easier to spend your time pitching smaller pieces that pay than researching and pitching longer pieces that (more likely than not) will be rejected.

    I don’t think there’s inherent sexism from editors or anything. I think it runs deeper — editors can’t assign pieces to writers they don’t know, and in most cases men are just flat-out more likely to put themselves out there. It’s cultural. The only way for women to appear in more big-name magazines is for us to flood them with good pitches. Maybe then, if the numbers don’t change, we can think about other reasons.

  3. Thanks for those suggestions, Mark and Andrea; and for your ideas, Lyndsie. I’ve just asked, via Twitter, for the excellent Paige Williams, Amy Wallace, and Jeanne Marie Laskas to join the conversation.

  4. Thanks, T, for joining this dialogue and for raising the question in this particular forum! I’m whacking at a deadline and suspect JM and Amy are too, but I’ll weigh in here ASAP, promise.

  5. I’d agree with Lyndsie in part about some women not putting themselves out there, and I don’t think there are generally deliberate attempts to exclude women. But I’m pretty convinced there’s more to it than just women who don’t dream big or act on those dreams. I’ve had the experience, twice, of sending a cold pitch that got ignored, then happening to meet a male writer who knew the editor I’d pitched and who offered to champion me or the idea. Suddenly, the editors got in touch and were discussing the possibility of the story.

    I don’t think it’s usually gender that causes the initial ignoring, but I think editors tend to want to work with people they know (a point Lindsey touches on). And if the editor is approached by someone unknown to him/her, it makes a difference if the new writer comes recommended by a writer the editor trusts. Given the data we’ve seen, the person who’s already written for those editors is much more likely to be male.

    So networking is vital, and I don’t think it happens often enough. Most networks, like Gangrey, have men at their core–men who have worked together and done good work alongside each other (or even in collaboration). When the work being discussed and featured is overwhelmingly by men (as is the rule in most places), it can be difficult to tell which communities might be open to women writers. It can be hard for women to become part of those networks, even as outliers.

    I suspect that all these things combine to give men a slight edge in getting assignments. So an individual woman with chops who actively works to address that edge can probably still build a career. But when you look at the big-picture statistics in any highly competitive field, a consistently held slight edge will show up as a big difference in the track record over time.

  6. This reminds me of Gladwell’s “Six Degrees of Lois Weisberg,” where he explains the importance of affirmative action:
    “Minority-admissions programs work not because they give black students access to the same superior educational resources as white students, or access to the same rich cultural environment as white students, or any other formal or grandiose vision of engineered equality. They work by giving black students access to the same white students as white students — by allowing them to make acquaintances outside their own social world and so shortening the chain lengths between them and the best jobs.”
    Perhaps now there isn’t gender-discrimination in magazines, but based on the system that was around for over a hundred years of publishing, women were ignored. Because of the system, perhaps it’s harder to network.

    Also, for young writers, look at the Hearst Awards for the best journalism by college students. Last year, there were 15 writers chosen in the monthly contests (outside of sports writing), and 13 of them were women.

  7. I don’t think it’s lack of ambition on the part of women writers. I remember when I was writing for Esquire feeling like the pet girl. Exotic! My sense has always been there are so few outlets for longform journalism–and women’s mags ain’t one of them. Where is the proud literary tradition of women’s mags? Why does it not exist? That’s the part that makes me angry and frustrated. Nobody wants to risk betting on the notion that an audience of smart women readers is worth the ad buy?

    • “Where is the proud literary tradition of women’s mags? Why does it not exist?” Women in journalism have been asking this question for years. I do think advertisers’ expectations are a part of the problem—advertisers in women’s mags have come to expect that their ads will appear alongside innocuous product reviews and fluff essays. Why is it that companies selling razors or menswear don’t have the same expectations? Because men’s mags have been “smart” all along and published great reporting alongside the sex and fashion tips. Even newer women’s publications that I’ve had some hope for, like The Gentlewoman, are more fashion-forward than journalism-forward. All Q&As and photo spreads.

      Anyone know someone who has millions to invest in this wacky idea that women like to read smart journalism? Editing an intellectually serious magazine aimed at women is my dream job.

  8. Great topic. Personally, I don’t know what to make of the “men are more aggressive and think more grandiosely” notion. Maybe. Seems very hard to suss out. I do think there’s a lot of truth to Lyndise’s point about the content of women’s magazines – which obviously says much more about the types of female readers the advertisers who subsidize said magazines are trying to target than about the quality of the female writers working for them. Everyone first and foremost has to pay their mortgages.

    As for the social/editorial network notion, absolutely. That’s not special to editors and writers; that’s the way the entire world works. You go with the name you know. Good call on the Gladwell article by means of illustration. And better call regarding the Hearst Awards and young writers – if you look at the raw numbers when it comes to gender and college grads, a lot of gender disproportionality in the workplace across the board is going to go the way of the Dodo over the next 10-20 years.

    In fact, you could make a strong case that Gangrey 2035 will be asking why male writers are underrepresented.

    • I wish I could say I believe the next wave of journalism will be female dominated. But I’m not so sure. Yes, women are the majority in j-schools and at Hearst. And, I’m proud to say, the top placings in the Hearst Championships last June (minus television) were women. I met some amazing talent that week and am excited to see where we all end up. By if you looked at the judges and at the crowds gathered at the dinners and awards ceremony, it was impossible to ignore how many power positions were filled by men. When it comes to transforming numbers into top reporting and management positions, the numbers just don’t convert.

      I think Mark’s comments below are along the right lines. I’ve spoken with a lot of women about this. Yes, you can have a family and be a kick-ass reporter, but it’s hard. Really, really hard. And certainly much easier for a man. Usually, one of your roles suffers. And, let’s be honest, most women aren’t going to let their families suffer. So they cut back and take more manageable articles. Or they try to wait to have kids until later, which brings its own issues. Plus, it takes a hell of a lot of hard work and time to even get a shot at these in-depth, big deal stories, whether you’re a man or a woman. So even if you wait until your early 30s to have children, you’re probably still fighting for street cred in the newsroom.

      I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t devoted a decent amount of thought to this issue. And if I didn’t admit that I’m still pretty worried about it.

  9. Well, I’ll take a crack at the reason. I think that roles in parenthood remain unequal. I see it my newspaper, and, embarrassingly, in my own personal life. Magazine length stories and narratives require a great deal of time, some sacrifice, and, if we’re honest, selfishness. Whatever the changes over the last 30 years, it remains simpler for men to meet these requirements, even with kids. The recent article on Gene Weingarten talked about when he is on a story how absolutely focused he is to the point where you can’t talk to him. This isn’t necessarily a great thing, but I’ve done it myself. How do men react if a woman tries to do the same? Not well, I think. Most of the women I know feel the unspoken burden of being the one who puts family first. I do know women who do tremendous, deeply reported work. Sometimes I wonder how they do it. I may be off base here, so go ahead and tell me I’m full of shit.

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