It's Time to Go Deeper than the VIDA Count

Holly Harrison 

Each year . . . we manually, painstakingly tally the gender disparity in major literary publications and book reviews. We do this to ignite and fan the flames of necessary discourse. We do this each year because our literary community can only benefit from a range of voices. —VIDA

The 2013 VIDA Count came out today and we saw more of the same: national publications dominated by male writers. It’s a trend that stretches across all American media, low brow and high. It’s the kind of thing that, once seen, cannot be unseen. At first it just infuses a little guilt into your enjoyment of a magazine or a TV show or a video game. Eventually, it fucking consumes you.

Literary magazines like those examined by VIDA have the power to cause change at publishing houses, where the male writers greatly outnumber female writers—and it’s practically required. By featuring more original work by female writers, by reviewing more books by female writers, these magazines could even the scales and alter the literary landscape for the better. But no. Of course not.

[Stabilizing breath.]

We counted, and in 2013 Paper Darts published 55 female writers and 43 male writers. This doesn’t include repeats (as VIDA does in its tally). If it did, the female-to-male ratio would be even more steeply female, as most of our staffers and repeat blog contributors are women.

We passed the test, and we’re glad we did. Here’s the thing, though: we didn’t have to try.

The vast majority of what we publish came from our unsolicited submissions in our slush pile. We accept what we like, and about 50 percent of the time, what we like comes from female writers. That’s not to say we’re unaware or uncommitted to equal representation—we notice when the table of contents in our print mag is dominated by men’s names or when three of the four readers we’ve lined up for an event are men. It makes us squirm. We try to correct it. We often succeed.

But achieving representative numbers when it comes to gender doesn’t mean it’s time to chill. There’s so much more to diversity than that, and where Paper Darts succeeds in one challenge, we fail in so many others. Where does race fit into the conversation? Sexuality? Not to mention that there are more than two genders. And this does not even speak to the content of stories spun by these writers or the perspectives represented in those stories.

In 2014 and beyond, we want to give a shit. And we want you to give a shit. We want to work for it. We want to be held accountable for who we publish, who we partner with, who we highlight. It’s time to better ourselves. Are you along for the ride?

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