It’s almost impossible to scroll through headlines today without encountering an article on sexism or sexual harassment in the workplace. While the conversation has recently turned to sexism in Hollywood, Publishers Weekly was right to remind us that “Women in Publishing say #MeToo.” According to PW, women make up almost 80 per cent of the publishing workforce, yet “the industry is rife with sexual harassment.”
It’s also rife with underrepresentation. Cue VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, an organization that works to illustrate inequality in the industry. The nonprofit’s goal is to amplify the voices of women, people of color, writers with disabilities, and queer, trans, and gender-nonconforming authors – individuals who have, historically, faced discrimination in mainstream society.
Beyond providing a platform for marginalized voices in the literary landscape, VIDA works on:
- VIDA Count: examines book reviewers, books reviewed, and journalistic bylines to find gender imbalances in publishing
- VIDA Review: articles, original interviews, and essays on publishing, education, and the arts by an intersectional feminist and womanist writers
- VIDA Events: readings, panels, forums, and festivals on academia, activism, publishing, and career development
Each year, volunteers from across the U.S. work thousands of combined hours to compile and organize more than 1000 data points from top-tier journals, publications, and press outlets – sources “by which the literary community defines and rewards its most valued arts workers.”
Results are then released to the public as the VIDA Count.
“The gender (and racial) inequity exists. It is stark. Counting is useful for reminding us.” — Roxane Gay, author of Bad Feminist
2016 VIDA Count
VIDA’s “The Big Picture Gets Bigger: Commitment to Intersectionality” was released last month, and it’s a useful tool for publishers and people hoping to break into the industry to review.
“It’s no coincidence that great books are described as ‘seminal’ instead of ‘ovular.’ Publishing has come a long way, but as the sharp-eyed readers at VIDA keep reminding us, we have a long way to go.” — Ron Charles, Editor of The Washington Post’s Book World
Facts to consider from the 2016 report include:
- At The New Yorker, 39 per cent of bylines are attributed to female writers.
- While Harper’s published 50 per cent of both male and female book reviewers, women writers were only represented in 37 per cent of bylines and 36 per cent of books reviewed. This means that in both cases, nearly twice as many men as women were represented.
- The London Review of Books has the worst gender disparity in the main VIDA Count for bylines, book reviews, and authors reviewed. It published 22 per cent of bylines by women, 18 per cent of women who review books, and 26 per cent of books by women reviewed. These numbers have been roughly consistent since 2010.
- This year at the New York Times Book Review, 50 per cent of men and 50 per cent of women were credited as reviewers. 44 per cent of books reviewed were written by women.
- Of the 23 publications reviewed for the 2016 Larger Literary Landscape (LLL) VIDA Count, 11 published as many bylines by women writers as men (or more).