Niina Pollari – 2011 VIDA Statistics: The Picture is Bigger

Editor’s Note: After VIDA 2011 statistics were released a couple weeks ago, the Moonshot staff was inspired to reflect on the work we published last year and were pleased to find that we lived up to our mission of publishing work representative of a global community of writers. In order to stay transparent with our publishing, we’ve created a pie chart based on both issues we produced in 2011. Moonshot contributor Niina Pollari talks about these numbers and proposes the problem may be larger than the gender binary.

It’s been a week since VIDA published the second year’s results of their now-infamous count. The statistics are deplorably unbalanced, as everyone with half a blog has already noted. There is no argument there.

Women are still not being published as much as men. But what does this indicate? The writer Emily Gould offered a positive, agency-reaffirming response at The Awl: What if women are choosing to not submit to these “print dinosaurs”? What if, in the eyes of women writers, these dubiously venerable magazines, reviews, and journals are rapidly fading into obscurity? We choose our peers; we should choose peers who are writing what we want to write, and who are writing it well, and we should publish in their company.

But the picture is even bigger. The dichotomy of men vs. women is deeply reductive and, as such, fails to account for writers of color, queer writers, and innumerable other marginalized groups. In other words: if you are going to make it an issue, shouldn’t you make it one for all of us? If we are going to be a band of outsiders, let’s not bother banging on the door, fussing like house cats to be let in. Let’s open up a beer right here on the lawn and start asking each other the right questions.

We live in an era where we can generate cultural conversation with relative ease. A plump, privileged, and vitriolic radio pundit said a profoundly misguided, misogynist thing this week; it elicited an uproar of conversation, and so we happily found out that most of the country is not as insane as we thought. And during the last months of Occupy Wall Street, some idealistic chatter rapidly grew to a nationwide roar; as a result, the average American is more aware of economic disparity—regardless of the movement’s success or failure. Similarly, VIDA’s statistics are not, themselves, the point – the point is the discussion.

I don’t read most of the publications on this list. Why would I want to write for them? I skim the New Yorker for their poetry contributions, and sometimes I read back issues. Examine your ideal readership. Is your reader white, affluent, aging? Is your reader predominantly male? A publication reflects the wants of its readership; everyone wants to read things in which they recognize themselves. Draw your own conclusions.

The VIDA statistics are also very good for checking up on how slowly these old timer magazines are actually lumbering along. Some magazines that seem to be applying effort into bettering their numbers, and we can applaud the publications that did this. (OK, “some” is generous. It was mostly Granta. Thanks, Granta.) And comparing the years, you can easily see that many of the highlighted publications stayed stubbornly static. Many even got worse.

Do you know what this means? It means the editorial boards at these publications believe they are justifiable and right in their approaches, and that there is nothing wrong. No person wants to be pointed out as a heinous villain, and no magazine editor wants to hear that their editorial approach — their career — is a lousy one. But our responsibility, as readers, writers, consumers, and, above all, dissenters, is to not support them. Don’t buy a publication that doesn’t reflect you and the kind of writing you are interested in.

Or are you afraid of being dropped out of the conversation? Listen, that conversation doesn’t want you, and would not even notice. Start a new one.