The women's literary organisation, Vida, recently published statistics on the representation of women writers in a range of magazines. The results range from disappointing to appalling.
Literature, as with other creative endeavours - and humanities academia - has a severe bottle-neck of those wishing to pursue it and those succeeding in gaining entrance to the profession. If gender disparity is there at admission, it will only perpetuate the situation.
As with this assessment in the New Republic,
Of the new writing published in Tin House, Granta,and The Paris Review, around one-third of it was by women. For many fiction writers and poets, publishing in these journals is a first step to getting a book contract.
If you don't get your foot in the door, it's not as though the situation will be rectified some other way.
Jessa Crispin has followed the situation with a long discussion at Bookslut, which will continue in the days to come. I wrote her an email, some of which I'll quote here:
I have over the years submitted pieces and pitches (without success) to the Atlantic, The Nation, The New Yorker, and various others I can't recall.
...I have no reason to think anything I've written has been rejected for my gender. But I'd be curious how many "cold-call" submissions these magazines even take. How many articles per year do we see in the Atlantic by a new writer who just sent in a speculative proposal? (I'm going to guess it's pretty close to NONE). Which makes me wonder how much this is a chicken/egg situation. You described feeling more comfortable sending things to editors with whom you already have a relationship: editors also prefer commissioning pieces from writers they already know.
If the stable of writers for a publication is already gender-skewed (and most well-known magazines have both staff writers and freelancers they use on a regular basis) this isn't going to be rectified easily.
Interestingly, Peter Stothard (editor of the TLS) responsed to the Vida count - that women are represented in fluffy chick-lit, which wouldn't be reviewed in the TLS anyway. But when I've written to inquire about review books for journals like the TLS, I was interested in reviewing history books: so while I'm not saying that I deserved to be invited to write for them, I'm sure I'm not the only woman who has applied to review serious non-fiction (and not received a reply).
I wonder though how much (mis)perceptions about readership influence such editorial choices. The assumption that men are more interested in non-fiction reviews than women, is this true? The New Yorker has a higher female readership than male, and I'd be interested to know if this is true for other literary magazines. Is it a case of women not being pushy enough, sending out enough submissions to achieve representation? What is the answer?