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.
A thought game, if you will: If the Tuscon United School District ‘bans’ The Tempest, Like Water For Chocolate, Drown, Savage Inequalities… from the classroom, because the teaching of these books “promotes divisiveness and hostility between races/groups,” what books would be the antithesis? If you held the worldview that these titles somehow do harm, what would the exact opposite look like?
In 2010, the Arizona State Legislature passed a law prohibiting ethnic studies programs in Arizona Public Schools. Late last December, an Administrative Court Judge upheld the new law, stating the ethnic studies program in the public schools “promote resentment toward a race or class of people.” ruling continual administration of the program unlawful. Earlier this month, State Superintendent John Huppenthal issued an order stating that 10% of the TUSD funds—a total of about $5 million—would be withdrawn retroactively. On January 12th, officials confiscated books from classrooms featuring the works of Latino authors, effectively dissolving the Mexican American Studies program. Some works that will no longer be part of the curriculum include Paolo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Junot Diaz’s Drown, Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate, Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities and William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. (The Tempest? Seriously? This is why we can’t have nice things.)
These books supposedly promote divisiveness and breed racial resentment—a curious proposition in denying a narrative, or relate an experience that differs from that of white European descendants in the Americas. The books are purported to be available within the school’s public library system—meaning the books aren’t exactly banned—they’re just made available in way that is not quite as accessible to students as they were when they were physically in the classroom. In the classroom, these titles are introduced by instructors informed enough to guide a conversation that would promote discovery and growth that a student wouldn’t otherwise necessarily experience with independent study or research. Doesn’t removing these titles from the classroom do more harm than good?
Alternatively, I’m not sure what one could teach in the classroom that would be in compliance with the new law. The inherent racism of the law notwithstanding, it’s a far more insidious law if you dig deeper. Well perhaps, better stated, the enforcement of the law is far more insidious and truly hits to the heart: censorship. In a Huffington Post interview, TUSD teacher tells writer Jeff Biggers:
‘Due to the madness of this situation and our fragile positions as instructors who will be frequently observed for compliance, and be asked to produce examples of student work as proof of our compliance, I cannot disagree with their advice. Now we are in the position of having to rule out The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby, etc. for the exact same reason.’