Literary magazines and women writers

Kerryn Goldsworthy makes an interesting observation about the role of gender in the recent Quadrant hoaxing kerfuffle.  The representation of women in literary journals, and how to increase the number of women writing for the magazine, especially writing on politics, has been a subject we’ve returned to year-in, year-out. Women are over-represented in creative writing courses yet often literary magazines end up with an atrocious balance (we’re not exempt). Curiously, I have heard that when pieces, articles, stories or poems are assessed blindly (without any names or information about gender), women tend to do much better at being selected, although I haven’t seen the studies. What about editorship of literary magazines? Sophie Cunningham leads Meanjin at the moment but the general trend, Overland included, is not pretty.

Kalinda Ashton

Kalinda Ashton is the author of The Danger Game (Sleepers, 2009).

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  1. Five of Meanjin’s eight editors have been women – though, because Clem edited the journal for more than 30 years men have run the magazine for a greater number of years.

  2. Publishing as a whole is pretty terrible in terms of gender. The CEOs are male and the staff are female. Except when it comes to the actual printing side, which is still seen as more blokey.
    To be honest, the what the whole industry needs is a good dose of unionism. The prevalence of traditional gender roles is not unrelated to the very low pay that most editors receive.

  3. Jeff, I remember the late and much-lamented John Iremonger coming in as a guest to one of my Creative Writing classes at Melb U to talk to the students about publishing and saying that exact same thing about male CEOs and female staff, offering himself as Exhibit A … in 1995.

    Actually the gender/editorship stakes are pretty even at the moment — of the mags I listed, Island, Griffith Review, The Monthly and half of Southerly, as well as Meanjin, are currently edited by women. But that statistical thing is the least of it — I’ve heard at least one Australian female magazine editor say ‘But the men are the best writers’ — with a straight face. It’s a deeply ingrained set of complex cultural attitudes, as that anecdote about blind submissions suggests.

  4. It’s weird, isn’t it? Most of the people who work in publishing are personally very progressive. But it would be hard to think of an industry where the stereotypes were more glaring. I mean, you almost never find a male publicist …
    As for the ‘males are the best writers’ thing, the way it presents itself for us is in terms of public events. When you are looking for someone to give an Overland lecture, you need someone with a public profile. And, by and large, they’re mostly men. Which, of course, is how such things get perpetuated.

  5. This issue tends to be oversimplified

    1. We need to look at the male/female ratio of submissions for an issue of the literary mag versus the male/female ratio of publications for that same issue to get a more accurate picture.

    2. If the submission percentage of females is generally always above the publications percentage for each issue, why is this?

    3. If it’s because the quality of work submitted by females is considered ‘poorer’, WHY is it considered poorer (Thematic considerations? Quality of research? Strength of arguments? Structural? Because of the male/ male-schooled editor’s bias? All of the above and more?).

    4. Even then, there are major external factors the industry can to little about…not least of which is that a fair number of the brilliantly talented women writers now write Tillie Olsen style, snatching time between littlies naps, with babe (or babes) on hip or at heel, reliant largely on the practical assistance of partners and others to assist creative output…(yes, I know we like to think we’ve moved on, but sadly this is the case with many women writers I studied with…)

    ….I could go on.

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