OMG, This Blog Post Is WAAAY 2 Long 4 My Girl Brain 2 Follow

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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9 Responses to OMG, This Blog Post Is WAAAY 2 Long 4 My Girl Brain 2 Follow

  1. Jenny Reiswig says:

    UGH. The Twilight saaaaaga alone is over 1700 pages. I think women will read some fricking words.

  2. Gillian B says:

    So what you’re really saying is that there need to be more serious magazines for women where the women write serious long-form stories.


    *starts plotting*

  3. Hillary Rosner says:

    Excellent point!

  4. Interesting that this handful of applauded men is writing for magazines ‘targeted’ at men. Unless it’s Men’s Health, that seems to mean ‘targeted at the general public which is presumed to be men’ (because we of course only read shopping tips and gossip). I remember something in the VIDA count about women actually being the greater readership for magazines that do long-form pieces. Am I wrong?

  5. Hillary Rosner says:

    Plot away, and please assign me some juicy stories when you find a wealthy patron and start this fab new magazine!

  6. Hillary Rosner says:

    I don’t recall reading that, but would be interested to see it. There are obviously far more women who read men’s magazines (Esquire, GQ, Men’s Journal, and the outdoorsy mags like Outside that are targeted at men if not officially in the category) than vice versa–I mean, have you ever seen a man read a women’s mag anywhere other than the waiting room of the ob/gyn office while waiting for his partner?
    But this is exactly the problem: the men’s mags are really, for the most part, more like general interest mags–except they do a lot of testosterone-heavy content and are edited largely by men. But they’re an important outlet for serious journalism, which gives that journalism an automatic, if unintentional, bias.

  7. Janis says:

    Why the hell should I have to “hang?” What the hell does that mean anyway? Drinking and going to strip joints with the guys from the office to prove something to them that I’m a good sport or whatever? You know what “hanging” means when done by one woman in a huge group of men — being degraded or watching while they degrade others of your kind and pretending that you find it empowerfulating and are “tough” and “can take it” and think it’s fun. Hanging means following the rules of a frat-boy culture that has already round-filed you and anyone like you as non-human. Fuck “hanging.”

    Whoopsie! Funny how an opinion like that would fail to endear me to a mostly-male magazine of long-form political journalism because it’s too “political.” You know what part of the problem is? Most women with the intellect and strong opinions needed to engage in penetrating, hard-hitting long-form journalism are incapable of playacting at “hanging.” The same women who don’t want to write trashy pap like “What Your Lip Gloss Says About You” also can’t pretend they don’t mind listening to the guys in the office rate the secretaries’ tits, either.

    (If you think the mostly-male journalism world isn’t like that, you’re in dreamland. It is.)

    It’s a serious catch-22, and saying it won’t make me the most popular person here — the only women who are capable of going along to get along and swallowing their self-respect to the extent needed to tolerate working in a frat-boy culture are the sort of women who have been rendered too timid to write seriously hard-hitting stuff that will call the powers that be on the carpet. Let’s face it, if you’ve been socialized into never speaking truth to power in your own industry, you won’t speak truth to power anywhere else.

  8. Hillary Rosner says:

    Jessica, you are right about women being the majority audience for many of the mags that publish long-form journalism (though not, unsurprisingly, the men’s magazines). I addressed this in a new post.

  9. Mitch says:

    Women are of course able to establish and publish magazines that focus on serious long-form journalism.

    And yet…