Speaking of the VIDA Numbers

Steve Haruch looked at the Scene‘s numbers, after thinking that they were doing pretty good. What he found shocked him.

I think the thing is that no one thinks this is happening out of actual malice against women. Or at least, not in general (there may be specific assholes). But I do think that one of the reasons looking at the actual numbers is important is that 35 stories by women can seem like a lot, like you’re doing a great job, until you realize that the number by men is 145. When your default is men, they just become background noise. Easy to ignore the amount of opportunities going to them.

I also think that it does take some kind of outreach. I would never have come to write for Pith if Pete Kotz hadn’t searched me out and asked me. It wouldn’t have even occurred to me that the Scene might want some loudmouth woman to blog for them, or an additional loudmouth woman, since they had Tracy Moore. And then, he made a real effort to meet regularly with me and tell me when I was doing a good job and when he thought I was wrong and so on. A lot of hand-holding. For a blog.

And I love when I get a chance to write for the Scene but I have to tell you, I have no idea how to make that happen more regularly. I wrote the Ben Allen piece because I heard they were working on a Halloween Issue and I was like “Fuck no, they will not do that without me” and told them so. And the other piece, which may appear shortly, just happened because I stopped by the office to pick up a back issue and just happened to run into Jim Ridley, told him about this cool thing, and he was like “you should write that up for us.” And I was like “Hell, yes.”

My deciding to write for the Scene involves a lot of cussing, obviously.

But I’ve never had a class or a mentor or anyone to tell me how to pitch to an editor. I have no idea how to do it. Shoot, I didn’t even publish my first short story until last year and that only happened because Elizabeth McClellan was like “You will send this out and I will show you how and I will ask you a hundred times if you’ve done it because you’re not going to chicken out, missy!” (not her exact words). And thank the gods, you know?

But every time I query an editor or an agent, I swear, I feel like my letter reads, “Hi, I’m a huge dorky dumbass who doesn’t know what she’s doing. Please overlook that and judge me by my writing, which I’m pretty okay at. Love, Betsy.”

I feel like there are obviously rules and procedures. I just don’t know them.

So, I do think that the problem probably goes in both directions–editors do need to reach out to more women and encourage them. But we also need to share knowledge about how to do these things and encourage each other.

11 thoughts on “Speaking of the VIDA Numbers

  1. Every time I do most things I don’t do every day (and somethings I do!) I feel kinda like I’m a huge dorky dumbass who doesn’t know what I’m doing, but I’m increasingly learning that so does everyone else.

  2. As dolphin there was just saying–nobody knows these things till they get to know them in practice. And I say this as someone who at one time had a job with a New York literary agency working with literally thousands of people who didn’t know. And I once didn’t either.

    You use the resources you’ve got, which are more in your case than in most. You can ask the editors you just mentioned, for instance, what they want to see pitched and how–because there are more specific rules that are useful to know than general ones. Absolutely no need to Pith in your Pants, tornado potential aside….

  3. Oh, yeah, I mean, I get that. But I also think that I’m not alone. I think, speaking generally, men are socialized to go ahead and try for something, even if they’re not quite sure about the protocol. And I think women are more likely to be “Well, if someone thinks I’m good enough, they’ll come find me.” or “Ugh, I would like to do that, but I don’t know how, so I won’t.”

    So, my point is that, if we want to encourage better numbers, we have to be aware of the kinds of things keeping women from being better represented.

    Do we feel confident that, even if we don’t totally know what we’re doing, we still have important things to offer?

    And if not, why not?

    I guess what I was trying to get at at the end of this post is that I am someone who looks pretty keyed into “how to get paid to write” and there’s still a lot of stuff I’m clueless about.

    How much more are women who aren’t yet keyed in needing folks to say “Here’s what you do” or “Hey, I read this thing you did and think you could do x,y, or z.”?

  4. Well, I think you’re essentially right about this..and likely about how they apply especially to women. But, in my experience working with various writers (and for that matter–songwriters, actors, painters, etc), some of this is a matter of individual temperament. That “if someone thinks I’m good enough, they’ll come find ME” mood is, seems to me, anyway, one of those things that applies to lots of potential artists–who feel that way.. In any case, there are so many people who may be good at creating, but not at selling themselves or their ideas, or the reverse; they just don’t go hand and hand automatically–and why would they!

  5. That’s why the community of women writers is so important — I cannot tell you the number of times that I have hollered up someone I know who has Done It Before, so I can do it right.

    (and my last name is McClellan, like the Senator) :p

  6. Was just talking to a 20-something woman this week about your 30s being better, and explained it like this: “You know when you’re in your 20s and you realize how stupid you were in your teens? Well, in your 30s you realize how stupid you still were in your 20s, and you accept that your whole life is going to be like that. When you’re in your 60s, you’re going to realize how stupid you were in your 50s.” Which is to say, what dolphin said, and welcome to the dorky dumbass club. :)

  7. Hey Betsy, if you hear about something cool and want to write about it, just let us know! I can’t guarantee we’ll have space for it, but I can guarantee we’ll consider your pitch.

    I saw a tweet exchange where someone said that women don’t pitch as much as men, and that women might pitch more if they thought they had half a chance. All I can say is, Please pitch, you have as much chance as anyone, our freelance budget being what it is.

    And then, of course, there’s this:
    http://www.altweeklies.com/aan/how-diverse-are-alt-weekly-feature-writers/Article?oid=5958528

    I don’t even want to think about *that* chart.

  8. Ha, no kidding! In a town that’s 25% black and with a sizable Hispanic population, our local media doesn’t really reflect that.

    I think it’s a similar problem, though–editors don’t really think about there being a problem and so don’t go out of their ways to rectify it and women and minority writers don’t always feel confident floundering around until they figure out how to navigate the system.

    I know, for me, part of it is being told I have to be twice as good to be taken as seriously as a man. And then also, obviously, having to be willing to not know how to do something and flounder at it. Those are two things that don’t really go together. You can’t be uber-competent at the same time you’re completely incompetent.

    I suspect that applies to other folks as well.

    Also, thanks for the reassurance. I don’t often have things i think would work, but I promise to be less shy about offering them up when I do stumble across them.

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