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NATIONAL NEWS | spring 2008

Count, Count, Revolution!
Feminist data-gatherers provide cold, hard proof of gender inequity

POETS JULIANA SPAHR AND Stephanie Young were skeptical when they read a colleague’s claim that “on the numerical level the problem of underrepresentation [of women in poetry] has been corrected.”

So they counted the number of women in contemporary-poetry anthologies and found that, in many, women made up less than a third of the poets. Spahr and Young published their count in the Autumn 2007 edition of prestigious literary journal Chicago Review, sparking much discussion in the poetry world.

Feminist activists have long known that when no one will take you seriously, hard stats raise your credibility. In the 1980s, activist collective Guerrilla Girls famously began shaming the art world with billboards, performances and posters sporting statistics on women’s underrepresentation. “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met Museum? Less than 3 percent of the artists in the Modern Art sections are women, but 83 percent of the nudes are female,” read one 1989 billboard.

Today, a new generation of feminist data-gatherers are doing their own revolutionary counting. When Glamour editor Ruth Davis Konigsberg noticed a gender imbalance among writers in “general-interest” magazines like The Atlantic Monthly, she created Womentk.com. From 2005 to 2006, she posted on her website the ratio of men’s to women’s bylines in each issue of five respected publications—The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair and Harper’s. The average ratio? 3-to-1.

Womentk’s findings made headlines, and the magazines’ editors in chief were subject to uncomfortable questioning. When quizzed for a piece in The New York Times about Womentk, Harper’s editor Lewis Lapham refused to comment, but Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter promised (perhaps sarcastically), “Henceforth all assignments will be equally balanced between the sexes.” He hasn’t achieved that yet, but the five magazines’ men-to-women contributor ratio has improved to about 2-to-1 as of March.

Feminist blogs are founts of damning data. Jezebel illustrated the outof- control consumerism of fashion magazines by summing up the cost of featured merchandise in September 2007 issues of Marie Claire ($515,292), Vogue ($1,183,357) and others. And after author A.S. Byatt opined that the all-women Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction was sexist and unnecessary, feminist literary bloggers rushed to publish the percentages of women winners of mixed-gender literature awards (Nobel, 10 percent; Pulitzer, 27 percent; Booker, 34 percent).

Feminist professors are also providing public data on gender disparities. San Diego State University communications professor Martha Lauzen’s annual “Celluloid Ceiling” and “Boxed In” studies document the underrepresentation of women in film and TV, respectively. Since 1977, Brooklyn College professors and Title IX watchdogs R. Vivian Acosta and Linda Jean Carpenter have crunched the men-towomen ratios among NCAA athletic teams, coaches and administrators.

And the Guerrilla Girls are still at it. Last April they ran a full-page ad in The Washington Post that read, “Horror on the National Mall! Thousands of women locked in the basements of D.C. museums!” It pointed out that the artists displayed in the National Gallery of Art were 99.9 percent white and 98 percent male.

The ad had an immediate impact: When the Post called the museums, the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden suddenly “found” works by women and artists of color and the National Gallery quickly installed a sculpture by an artist of color.