August 1, 2013

The New York He-View of Books: Latest issue includes one woman


Only one woman has a piece in the most recent edition of The New York Review of Books.

The London Review of Books and The New York Review of Books must be holding a secret competition, like the “quiet game” my parents encouraged me to play as a kid when I stirred up a ruckus, a game based on absence. Who can be quieter, you or your sister? Who can include fewer female writers? Ready? Go! Looking at the latest issues, The New York Review of Books appears to be winning. Congratulations.

Yesterday VIDA circulated a photo of the Summer 2013 table of contents highlighting the extreme male-female contributor ratio—twenty-six to one. The latest ratio from London? Seventeen to three. “Wouldn’t you say it’s time to cancel your subscription or write to the editor or something?” VIDA suggested.

The London Review of Books has an established “woman problem.” When novelist Kathryn Heyman canceled her subscription after tiring of the consistent gender imbalance, an e-mail exchange with the Review made the rounds, inciting outrage. The publication wrote, hands-wringing, “There’s no question that despite the distress it causes us that the proportion of women in the paper remains so stubbornly low.”

And The New York Review of Books is no better. Maybe even worse. As Claire Potter wrote back in May:

The Nation is edited by a woman (as is The New York Times), and consistently features writers of color; The New Yorker was more or less saved from obscurity by a woman. But The New York Review of Books has managed to hold the line as a bastion of whiteness and maleness. A year or so I asked a successful (white, male) nonfiction writer whether he thought the NYRB had a woman problem. He rolled his eyes in that exaggerated way that means: “Oh my god yes.” Reminding me that Robert B. Silvers had co-founded it with Barbara Epstein in 1963, he also said that in his view the problem had gotten worse with Epstein’s departure from the NYRB (and this earth) in 2006.

Unlike The London Review of Books, The New York Review of Books appears to have no shame, not even pretend shame. Nor does the Review appear to be suffering from some JonathanFranzen-esque delusion that sexism in the literary world has been vanquished and why is everyone still talking about this. Potter continues:

It is hard to assume that the problem is not an ideological one, where existing networks [equals] excellence, and moving outside those networks would signify a disintegration of “standards.” How else can you explain the NYRB‘s obsession with Gordon Wood, a man from the history profession’s stone age who has simply refused the transformation of Early American history by gender, Native American and critical race studies?…I do call upon the editors at the NYRB to get a grip. How about celebrating a half century of literary excellence, not by trying to make us nostalgic for the white male values of the 1963 world.

The competition continues—and so does the sexism.


Abigail Grace Murdy is a former Melville House intern.