I’m weighing in late, I realize, on the brouhaha over this year’s ASME awards, but since the actual awards haven’t taken place yet, I figure there’s still time to say a thing or two. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read this; basically, the American Society of Magazine Editors awards are the Academy Awards of magazinedom, and this year all the finalists in all the long-form, narrative categories went to men.)
As Lucy Madison rightly pointed out on The Awl, the dearth of women among the nominees can perhaps be explained in part by the dearth of female bylines in the sort of magazines that publish long-form narrative journalism.
At the New Yorker, Harper’s, The New Republic and The Atlantic, for instance, less than thirty percent of the stories published in 2011 were written by women, according to this year’s VIDA Count, which did a gender breakdown of bylines in each magazine.
The VIDA Count is pretty fascinating; check out the interview with its cofounder at Mother Jones (which, by its own count, had equal numbers of male and female bylines last year.)
I’ve long bemoaned the fact that there are so few women represented among the contributing editors on many of these publications. (Contributing editors are the writers whose work you’re most likely to see in the mag; they either have contracts for a certain number of words a year or just enjoy a privileged relationship with the editors.) It’s also true that many of the magazines that publish narrative pieces are staffed largely by men. Part of the reason is that a lot of the narrative journalism is published in magazines targeted at men.
Take Esquire, for instance, which often scoops up ASME nominations and awards: On the masthead of the March issue, of the 33 editorial staffers listed –including the photo, art, and fashion people—only nine are women. And from what I can tell, only one or possibly two of those are in a position to assign stories.
I’m not necessarily faulting Esquire. The same is true in reverse at women’s magazines. The problem, though, is that women’s magazines don’t publish very much narrative journalism—the kind of stories that win ASME nominations and end up in the “Best American” collections. That same story from The Awl quoted two female editors of women’s magazines saying things I found seriously disturbing—and the fact that they said them so matter-of-factly only makes it worse.
Amy Astley, the editor in chief of Teen Vogue, said competing in the hard-hitting writing long-form categories would almost directly conflict with what the magazine aims to do.
“We don’t do long-form journalism,” said Astley. “We know that our girls want to read and they like our features, but stories can’t be thousands of words long, and they have to be written to them. Which makes the tenor of the whole thing very different.”
The same rule applies to service magazines like SELF— which also do win National Magazine Awards for their often shorter personal service pieces.
“Women’s service journalism is very respectful of the fact that our readers have very little time,” Danziger said. “By nature, it’s supposed to impart a lot of information in sort of a packaged way, so that you can dive in, get it quickly and go back to your life.”
I’m sorry, what? So American women can’t cope with anything longer than a recipe or five top make-up tips? And men have all this leisure time to sit around reading magazines, perhaps also drinking a manly cocktail while the Mrs cooks dinner and tends to the kids?
Guess what, women’s mags: I’m a woman, and I have a really busy life, and I read magazine stories longer than 1000 words. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. Does anyone else find this attitude incredibly offensive toward women?
Alas. None of this is likely to change soon.
As far as the ASME awards go, women are unlikely to see a huge jump in nominations unless editors either start changing the process through which they assign out pieces, or more outlets exist for general interest long-form journalism targeted at women.
Or perhaps all the attention will provoke a period of affirmative action among the editors who assign lengthy stories. As my friend Paige Williams put it on her blog, “don’t assume female long-formers can’t hang or that there just aren’t that many of us out there. We’re out here.” Amen, sister.
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