September
30th 2009
In other diversity news: The New Yorker still safe for pale males

Posted under: American history, art, Gender, publication, unhappy endings, wankers, women's history

newyorkercoverNancy Franklin, in her review of Jay Leno’s new TV show in the current issue of The New Yorker, writes:

In other diversity news, Leno’s and the rest of the nighttime comedy shows are bizarrely lacking in women writers.  Did a bomb go off and kill all the women comedy writers and leave the men standing?  The other night on the Emmy Awards broadcast, the names of the nominees for best writing on a comedy or variety series were read, and, out of eighty-one people, only seven were women.  Leno has no women writers on his show.  Neither does David Letterman, and neither does Conan O’Brien.  Come on.

Come on yourself, girl:  of all of the other prose writers in the October 5 New Yorker, you’re the only woman yourself!  Did a bomb go off in Times Square and leave only male writers standing?  The authors of the other featured articles and reviews, whose names appear to the left of the article on the p. 2 table of contents, are named John, Zev, Jon, Robert, Anthony, George, James, Alex, Hilton, and David.  (Oh, OK:  one of two poets is a woman.  But who reads those, anyway?)  If only 7 of 81 nominated comedy writers at the Emmys were women, the New Yorker’s numbers this week are just as craptastic, with only 1 women author out of 11 articles!  These numbers are so pathetic that it’s pointless to run them, but let’s run them anyway:  7/81 = 8.6%, and 1/11 = 9%.  Awesome!  The Supreme Court of the United States has both of you beat by a country mile, with 2 out of 9 women (22.2%!)  As the kids say these days:  lolsob!

So, yeah:  come on.  David Remnick has been running this rag like a game of beer pong in the basement of a frat house in Hanover, New Hampshire (and at about the same level of sophistication, IMHO, but maybe that’s just me.  I didn’t grow up in a pre-war six on the West Side between 77th and 115th streets, so what do I know, anyway?)  This week’s numbers are pretty much in line with what I’ve observed over the last several years:  women writers are relegated to the lower-status “separate spheres” of TV and dance reviews, with an occasional short story or feature article.  (But only very occasionally!)  They let a few more women write for the “fashion” issues, but not as many as you’d think even then. 

We’re glad you’re there, Nancy, and we’re right with you on the absence of women writers for television.  But–doesn’t it get lonely where you work, too?

(For more on this issue, see “And speaking of sausage parties,” a post from last March.)

20 Comments »

20 Responses to “In other diversity news: The New Yorker still safe for pale males”

  1. LadyProf on 01 Oct 2009 at 1:21 am #

    Not sure about these HTML tags:

    In other diversity news, Leno’s and the rest of the nighttime comedy shows are bizarrely lacking in women writers. Did a bomb go off and kill all the women comedy writers and leave the men standing?

    Oh, but Historiann, don’t you know that women aren’t funny?

  2. Historiann on 01 Oct 2009 at 7:12 am #

    Well done on the tags, LadyProf! You’re right: what was I thinking? Women’s designated role in showbiz–and at the New Yorker too, I guess–is of two implants on a stick!

  3. Widgeon on 01 Oct 2009 at 7:26 am #

    I completely agree with you. But a quick shout out to Jill Lepore, staff writer for the “New Yorker.” Also a full professor of History at Harvard in her spare time. She’s smart, funny, and a great historian. But there are more like her out there…

  4. PorJ on 01 Oct 2009 at 7:32 am #

    Why would you expect better from The New Yorker? Seriously – women have always been horrible treated at that magazine (William Shawn?Harold Ross? Look what they did to Tina Brown. Being the most elitist rag on the newsstand, why should it be any surprise? I can’t get outraged, when you realize they gave this guy a lifetime contract and office and he produced almost nothing of quality in 30 years (then quit to protest the infamous 1994 issue on women). But he did go to Exeter and Harvard, which is what counts. Right?

  5. PorJ on 01 Oct 2009 at 8:27 am #

    Can I put a shout-out for Jennifer Scanlon’s Bad Girls Go Everywhere: The Life of Helen Gurley Brown? The magazine business is probably the most shuttered and sexist mass media industry because, from its modern inception about 130 years ago, it was demographically-driven (Lady Godoy’s Reader, etc.). Even today, a star editor like Janice Min at US Weekly can be literally the most valuable magazine editor on the planet – but can’t earn any “respect” from the people who count. Scanlon goes into much of this…

  6. Historiann on 01 Oct 2009 at 8:27 am #

    PorJ–I agree with you completely. I just think it’s HI-larious that Nancy Franklin complained about the lack of opportunities for women writers anywhere else! But, call me crazy, I DO expect better of them. I’m not optimistic, but I expect better.

    I became a subscriber when Tina B. was the editor. I thought she made it a fun, funny, and compulsively readable magazine. She got it that it was a magazine people read for entertainment–not an “institution.” (At least, that’s why I read magazines; if I want to learn something or engage my mind on a higher level, I read BOOKS.)

    Thanks for reminding us about George W. S. Trow. Awesome career, dude!

  7. squadratomagico on 01 Oct 2009 at 8:45 am #

    Yeah, I liked the Tina B. NYer, too.
    Whatever happened to the idea of Ariel Levy as a staff writer there? Or was she never formally on staff?

  8. truffula on 01 Oct 2009 at 8:50 am #

    8.6% and 9%. Awesome!

    Heh. Calculating the % of women at meetings I attend in my discipline has become a bit of a hobby, a depressing hobby. In fact, I’m at one now, 13%.

  9. Historiann on 01 Oct 2009 at 9:02 am #

    trufflua: Heh. I feel your pain!

    Widgeon, I think the example of Jill Lepore is a good one to highlight the sex bias. Her career is nothing short of extraordinary, both inside and outside the academy, and NONE of the male non-fiction writers have anything close to her credentials or day-job experience. So, the bar for women non-fiction writers is that you have to be a full prof. at Harvard by age 35 in order to get your foot in the door, but male non-fiction writers just have to be pals with David Remnick.

    And still, her work lays mostly at the back of the magazine, in the guise of a book review.

  10. Fratguy on 01 Oct 2009 at 9:23 am #

    “And Remnick truned out to be the kind of editor you’d expect from a guy named Remnick.” Apologies to Jeff Daniels. I remember the derision that Spy Magazine heaped on Tina Brown when she was hired by the New Yorker. But then again that kind of Fratguy behavior is to be expected from the Lampoon and Hasty Pudding club.

  11. Comrade PhysioProf on 01 Oct 2009 at 9:40 am #

    The sad thing is that women are objectively funnier than men. The best humor is always generated by the less-privileged: women, blacks, latinos, jews, etc.

    White d00d humor just isn’t very funny: “Whoah! I’d prong that bitch! Heh, heh.” Not funny except to little-dick losers trying to prop up their withered masculinity.

  12. Historiann on 01 Oct 2009 at 10:27 am #

    All of these issues–”women aren’t funny,” and the scarcity of women writers in prestigious venues like the New Yorker, the Atlantic, Harper’s, etc.–seem connected to the “Girls Have Cooties” problem. That is, when more women join a masthead or write for a TV show (or teach History or English or Physiology in an academic department), their work comes to be seen as “women’s programming,” or a “woman’s magazine,” or a “woman’s subject,” and therefore is seen as lower-status and occupying a niche, rather than something aimed broadly at all viewers/readers/students.

    When I teach my survey class, I’m always amazed at how little women’s history it takes to get the comment, “this class was basically a women’s history class!” Yeah, 2 weeks out of fifteen means that it was ALL about women’s and gender history–hey, wait a minute: that’s about 13.3%! Pretty close to the numbers we’ve been talking about here, so no wonder the New Yorker thinks that 9% is perfectly sufficient token representation.

  13. Matt L on 01 Oct 2009 at 1:42 pm #

    The point about the sexism in the New Yorker and the publishing industry in general is well taken. Its downright depressing. I wonder if the ration at the New York Review of Books is any better?

    But, I like the Jill Lepore book reviews. I save them and make copies for my upper division classes so that students know what a joy a truly learned book review can be.

  14. Historiann on 01 Oct 2009 at 1:48 pm #

    Matt L–see the analysis run in the comments thread of the “sausage party” post, linked above. Scroll down and keep reading–commenter Marcia ran some of those numbers for us.

  15. Emily on 01 Oct 2009 at 2:02 pm #

    The sexism in journalism and other writerly pursuits (which dovetails with the sexism in academia) is quite the mess. There’s no questioning that the New Yorker can at times seem like a total frat house–but at least for the sake of playing devil’s advocate, I think that is something of a reductive view of the magazine’s culture. The William Shawn era produced some beautiful writing, even if it was essentially elitist and sexist writing, and I’m not sure that Tina Brown’s era was better in terms of what actually came out of the magazine. I have mixed feelings about Remnick, but I certainly don’t think his magazine is any more of an old boys’ club than, say, DC journalism culture is. I’m optimistic, too, that things will change: the new managing editor of the New Yorker is a 26-year-old woman. As a 19-year-old woman that at least gives me some hope that it’s not utterly pointless to be interested in magazine writing.

  16. Janice on 01 Oct 2009 at 7:42 pm #

    Apparently, women also don’t write horror and will give the boys who read SF&F literature a bad case of the cooties if they write too much in that genre.

    But don’t despair! There are always the women’s magazines, the women’s TV shows and the women’s section, I mean, the lifestyle section of your major urban newspaper — so what if these venues only constitute a tenth of the venues in their media types (at best). Why, I mean, at least women have a corner on the romance genre? What, you say that’s not the case? Well, don’t you worry, when guys write romance it’s serious literature, not that drugstore paperback schlock that women get to dish out.

    /end bitter and satirical rant

  17. Historiann on 01 Oct 2009 at 8:25 pm #

    Janice, I’ve just been thinking: maybe serious writers should ghostwrite under male pseudonyms, and see if their acceptance rate goes up? The problem with the boys at the Atlantic, the New Yorker, and the like is that they’re all part of a very small New York arts & letters circle, so while a big part of the problem is gender, it’s also insiderism. So, pseudonymous writers don’t stand a chance.

    I think it would also be difficult to pull off, too, because of the ways in which writers are expected to be part of celebrity culture and to market themselves and promote themselves as such. (Then again, technology may go some way towards bridging that gap. If a pseudonymous writer had a really great blog, the blog could serve to self-promote. Still, at some point an adoring public would demand photos and biographical details, right? And lots of really specific details about the family life too, right?)

    Emily, welcome and thanks for stopping by to comment. We’ll see if anything changes. Believe me, a lot of us thought we’d see a LOT more change accomplished and institutionalized by now.

  18. Janice on 01 Oct 2009 at 8:40 pm #

    Oh, and this just in: Extortion attempt against Letterman over ‘relationships’ with female staffers. Note the plural. Even if that is over time, it suggests something about the culture, doesn’t it?

    My immediate reaction was a thought of “Ew, I wouldn’t want to be working in that environment.”

  19. Historiann on 01 Oct 2009 at 8:55 pm #

    Janice–EEeewwww, indeed! We’ll see how this story unfolds. I haven’t watched him since–the late 80s, when I was in college? I’m kind of amazed that anyone does! He hasn’t been cool for at least that long, and probably longer. (Well, and I should admit: I can’t stay up much past 9 myself, which I confess is extremely uncool too…)

    I do remember some of the magical weirdness of his show in the early days, when I’d sneak downstairs to watch the show when I was in high school. You never know who you might see (Pee Wee Herman?) or what a guest might do (Crispin Glover–the time he almost kicked Letterman in the head!) But–that was 25 years ago!

  20. John S. on 01 Oct 2009 at 10:01 pm #

    I am not a reader of the New Yorker, but am a regular fan of late night tv, which happens if 1) you own a TiVo and 2) have problems sleeping anyway. I find the presence or absence of female writers–especially in positions of authority–is palpable. Saturday Night Live was a *very* different show, for instance, when Tina Fey was head writer. On just a very a basic level, there were more sketches for the female cast members; on a more general level, the tone just seemed different. (And I am not sure if Lorne Michaels would have been as willing to fire a female regular for being too heavy, as he allegedly did this year, if Fey were still there.) As one critic has pointed out, the number of sketches that rely on male homophobia (even when being mocked) has gone up noticeably with Seth Meyers as head writer. Does that qualify as d00d humor?

    I am very worried about my current favorite, the Colbert Report. It was the only one of the late night shows that had a woman at or near the top–Allison Silverman was co-creator and exec produced of the show. But Silverman has just left the Report; I hope this won’t change the show’s overall tone and quality, but I fear it will.

    Nothing can be as bad as the original Daily Show, however. Craig Kilbourn’s version was *just* a little more fratguy than Jon Stewart’s, and Kilbourn got booted after making jokes in print about his boss Lizz Winstead sexually servicing him behind the scenes. Surprisingly, she did not take that well and Comedy Central axed him. TV being what it is, however, he managed to parlay that “disgrace” into a gig on CBS. Oh, rewarding sexism!