Halfheartedly trying to create new trending topics on Twitter!
Mia: Hello dear readers! Lindsay and I have come together today because we’re sick – sick and tired, that is, of the under-representation of female writers in, well, a lot of places. (Oh and we’re both legitimately sick. So we’re cranky! Cranky and fed up!) Lindsay, will you please explain to our readership the latest news to break our bookish feminist hearts?
Lindsay: Gladly, Mia. On Monday Jezebel posted a story that was discussed in some other outlets as well: a New Yorker subscriber named Anne Hayes wrote an open letter to the magazine demanding a refund for the January 3 issue because it contained only two (“tiny”) pieces by women in all of its 76 pages. And in her later perusal through the previous issue, she found the proportions to be about the same.
Mia: And then Jezebel writer Jenna Saunders tallied up lady authorship in the recent issues of other political and cultural magazines. And most of them had the same dismal results as the New Yorker. To which I ask, are we surprised?
Lindsay: As an authority on the magazine trade (someone who is looking at her nightstand on which sit the three most recent copies of the New Yorker, unread) I have to say, “No, not really.” But perhaps that’s why I found Hayes’ letter – though admirable – kind of unexpected. Her attack is certainly focused at the New Yorker in particular, but is it futile to attack one publication when a lot of others have track records that are just as bad?
Mia: Yeah, that’s an interesting question. I mean, the New Yorker is definitely a very high-profile, high-brow publication. And I think that’s important. I mean, Internet feminist critique magazines like Cosmo and Maxim all the time – which I support! – but I think their posts are often ineffectual because no one who’s reading feminist-oriented stuff online really expects to get anything out of those magazines to begin with. This is sort of akin to how Jezebel went after The Daily Show for having so few visible women on their team – people paid attention because they never considered that this beloved source of progressiveness might not be progressive in all regards. The New Yorker is something of a witty urbanite sacred cow, so I think this letter will get on people’s radars too.
Lindsay: Yeah, true. Gotta hold those progressives accountable too. But your comparison to the Daily Show protest brings up an interesting point: Jezebel received a lot of criticism for that piece, and much of it from the women who did work there – who were, certainly, a smaller percentage, but still making valuable contributions to the show. Hayes says she will continue to send back each issue if it doesn’t feature more than five female writers. In both cases, are we focusing too heavily on numbers? Are we weighing an ideal of quantitative equality over the quality of the work that women on staff are already producing?
Mia: I don’t think so. I mean, the issue in question had TWO female writers. To me, that’s completely unacceptable. I know the New Yorker is no one’s primary news source, but could you imagine a newspaper with only two female writers? (Ugh, and I’m sure some small papers like that do exist.) I’m not sure how effective the boycott will be. But the conversation around the boycott could be. What do you say, Lindsay, are you going to cancel your subscription?
Lindsay: Well, no, but it doesn’t mean I don’t respect Hayes’ move to do so. At the end of the day boycotts are personal decisions that you’ve got to weigh out on your own. I’m certainly not pleased by the New Yorker‘s number of female writers, and Hayes’ boycott might make me think more critically about the magazine in the future. But, just as the Jezebel piece didn’t stop me from watching the Daily Show, this isn’t going to keep me from enjoying the pieces by male or female New Yorker writers that I like. Just to prove that I sometimes read things that don’t have to do with feminism, let me just say that I am still reeling from how much James Wood’s recent New Yorker essay about Keith Moon ruled. What say you, Mia? To boycott or not to boycott?
Mia: I generally don’t seek out The New Yorker – like, I read it in waiting rooms and when people forgot their copy on the bus – mostly because I’m trying to read So Many Books and therefore have neither the time nor the mental energy to read magazines with 12-page articles and a layout that upsets my AESTHETIC SENSIBILITIES. Like, I’m sticking to Harper’s Bazaar, thank you, which I think has about one article per issue. But I digress, and I agree with you: it’s a personal decision, and it’s the kind of personal decision where I think you know your comfort level right away. This question of “Do I give them my money?” is something that comes up all the time for feminists. You and I have talked about this before, and I think we came to the consensus that it’s actually not hard to give up gross patriarchal stuff you used to enjoy, once you realize that it’s gross and patriarchal. I’m not saying the New Yorker‘s on that level for me, but maybe it is for Hayes.
Lindsay: Fair enough. And one thing I think we can all agree on is that whether or not you want to follow in Hayes’ footsteps and demand your $5.99 back, it’s pretty awesome that one reader posting a strongly worded letter on Facebook can make so many people think critically about gender in a context they probably took for granted. I think I like this even more than that time Jodi Picoult tweeted about Franzenfreude.
Mia: But what Twitter hashtag will we get out of this?
Mia: We’ll put that on our “ideas” bulletin board, next to the post-it that says “Maybe create a feminist utopia?”
But yeah, Facebook, man. The Internet’s really making things happen, isn’t it? Per usual, that’s just so awesome to me, and I hope this inspires other people to write strongly-worded Facebook notes about things they’re passionate about. (Though let’s be real: Hayes’ Facebook note is an example of the 4 percent of Facebook notes that I’ve actually enjoyed reading – the other 96 percent being about Ikea bookcases that people are giving away and, like, 45 albums that changed their lives forever.) But, like you said, it’s bringing a conversation about gender to the general public. Which I support. We try to be feminists of the people around here.
Lindsay: Yes! To 2011. The year of the meaningful Facebook note! And, perhaps, the year of the New Yorker hiring more female writers! Or, perhaps more realistically, the year of people having conversations about how they should. You know what, I’ll take it.
Mia: Listen, I’ll say to you what I inexplicably said to a coworker on my way to the bathroom yesterday: In 2011, we deserve to have it all.
Lindsay: Indeed we do, Mia. Indeed we do.