An Open Letter to The New Yorker

Dear Editors of The New Yorker,

I am writing to express my alarm that this is now the second issue in a row in which women have only two bylines in the Table of Contents of your print issue. The January 3rd, 2011 issue features only a (tiny) Shouts & Murmurs (Patricia Marx) and a poem (Kimberly Johnson). Every other major piece—the fiction, the profile, and all the main nonfiction pieces—is written by a man. Every single critic is a male writer.

I was already alarmed when I flipped through the Dec 20th & 27th double-issue to find that only one piece (Nancy Franklin) and one poem (Alicia Ostriker) in the Table of Contents had women’s bylines. 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 150 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 that issue 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 replete with 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 I am baffled, outraged, saddened, and a bit depressed that, though some would claim our country’s sexism problem ended in the late ’60s, 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 my  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

Join Anne’s fight:

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Adapted from an actual letter to The New Yorker; letter has been updated to differentiate between the print and web Table of Contents. ABOVE: Cover of the Jan. 3, 2010 issue of The New Yorker.

Comments

  1. Nicely done Ms.Hays! Absolutely on the mark in every way, and I can't help but appreciate the fact that you are making it clear that you aren't canceling your entire subscription – you just want only those that give fair space to women!

  2. Preach it sista! That just ain't right.

  3. killlashandra says:

    Nice. I’m glad I gave up my subscription years ago, I never did feel they did women writers in any field, fiction, critic, poetry, any justice.

  4. checarina says:

    This is fucking awesome.

  5. I've noticed this disparity for a quite a while and it REALLY bothers me. I think I'll write them a letter too!

  6. Ugh, so true. In a fiction writing class I took in 2008, we read the New Yorker fiction piece each week for four months. In that timeframe, they published only one or two pieces by women! In addition, a suspicious number of the stories revolved around recently divorced men with bitter ex-wives. It was ridiculous. Many of the male-authored pieces were not even that strong. Reading other publications, it's evident that there are loads of really talented women writing today. I like that the New Yorker is old-fashioned in its use of the umlaut over the second o in cooperation but I am not a fan of its really silly sexist publishing practices.

  7. Lynnr Kaufman says:

    I signed the petition. Thanks for letting me know.

  8. Thanks for letting me know, I subscribed this afternoon.

  9. FYI…the table of contents for that issue also lists Rebecca Mead, Lila Byock, Andrea K. Scott and Amelia Lester.
    http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/toc/2011/01/03/

  10. Sumitra Shah says:

    My personal comment on the petition I signed:
    "I find it troubling that gender-neutral means anti-feminist to the august New Yorker. You prove that the more things change, the more they remain the same. I would have expected you not be a cliché."

  11. Problem is not just the strict numerical deficiencies, it also that the women writers that are represented, are often not very good. There are plenty of superb female writers, they are just not at the New Yorker. This is especially true of their new crop of writers. The older women, are skilled and witty and a treasured read. Some of the younger women, Jill Lepore, Susan Orlean are just not good. They have no depth, no interesting subject matter, no scope, no self-awareness, and their craft, leaves the reader in contempt. Sounds like a Fox news tactic, get sub-mediocre female voices to represent the feminine collective. Sad sad sad.

  12. Sheila Parks says:

    I gave up my subscription to them a very long time ago, decades ago, for this reason. They never really got better.

  13. Something is wrong with the input of e-mail adresses in the form. I was unable to write the @, and therefore also unable to fulfill the signing.

  14. dieseltaylor says:

    I was just curious how many male writers does MS., or for that matter any "womens" magazine use. It would be nice if MS. explained that as otherwise it would seem that we have a pot calling kettle black situation.

    However another criteria might be what is the market that the New Yorker is active in. Subscribers over 1 million and average age 47 – unfortunately I do not know the gender mix but my guess is that it is predominantly male. This does not mean that there should be any bias against writers for it is quality that counts and I am always of the belief if I subscribe to a magazine it is because of the content and I trust the editors for that.

    Then there are facts. This piece is premised on very few issues – fortunately I can offer a spreadsheet I have found on the Web looking at fiction:

    Gender:
    Of the 358 stories in the New Yorker from 2003 through 2009, 131 or 36.6% were penned by women. (That’s down from 38.1% last year.)

    Nationality:
    The fiction section of the New Yorker is a pretty multi-cultural place, but Americans still make up the bulk of the contributors. 184 of the stories, or 51% (up from 50% after 2008), are American (and this leaves off several writers who could be conceivably classified as both American and a native of another country). Coming in in second are the Brits at 29 stories and in third the Irish at 23 stories.

    Returning to the frequency question, below are all the writers who have appeared in the New Yorker at least five times over the last six years. These are the superstars of New Yorker fiction (stars indicate the number of stories, if any, they had in the New Yorker in 2009.):

    12:

    * Alice Munro

    10:

    * Tessa Hadley**
    * William Trevor

    8:

    * T. Coraghessan Boyle

    7:

    * George Saunders**
    * Jonathan Lethem**
    * Louise Erdrich
    * John Updike
    * Roddy Doyle
    * Haruki Murakami

    6:

    * Antonya Nelson*
    * Thomas McGuane

    5:

    * Tobias Wolff
    * Charles D’Ambrosio
    * Edward P. Jones
    * Roberto Bolaño
    * Lara Vapnyar https://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=0ApQuqso9

  15. I am so glad to read these contributors here; in fact, I ended my ten year love affair with The New Yorker for precisely this reason. The gender inequality is great. I routinely would count two of twelve contributors, from week to week, who were women. I wrote letters to the editor to make this concern known and never received any response. I loved the non-fiction but always from a 'Charlie Rose' perspective and at the end of my read, I felt discouraged. Finally, I left it behind this year to stay with Ms. and Mother Jones.

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