I’m deeply involved in my own research (admittedly, non-gendered based) about prize anthologies, but I did pause after I read VIDA’s numbers and began to look at the number of times women were featured in the various prize anthologies. What I’ve found:
The 2011 Pushcart Prize offers nearly equal representation. This year’s issue had 14 fiction editors, 9 of which were women, and 32 out of the 67 pieces included in the anthology were authored by women.
Looking at the BASS anthology from 2000-2009 one finds a nearly one-to-one ratio of men to women included in each issue.
The 2010 O.Henry award published 7 female and 13 male authors. (It’s still arguably the most conservative of the bunch).
The 2010 New Stories from the South published 9 women and 16 men, (though if you examine the 2009 Best New Stories from the South you find 12 women and 9 men were selected for publication).
I agree that gender parity actively exists in small magazine publishing, but it is not as prominently displayed in literary award anthologies. I believe this has much more to do with the fact that the slushpile of nominations for each anthology is so vast. Yet, I don’t believe that a single series editor (or, honestly a single guest editor) reads based upon gender. I’m serving as a guest fiction editor for the 2012 Pushcart, and I have no time to consider gender when I’m reading through the 600+ nominations. I’m only looking for quality.
VIDA’s scope was broader than what I gauged, examining a much wider range of writing genres than what are presented in the handful of award anthologies I looked at, yet I present these findings in order to offer a separate solution to the issue. I don’t believe soliciting more women is the answer, nor do I believe challenging an editor to change their thought process while reading is even a remote possibility, because that is a challenge issued from the outside and not from within.
I do, however, believe that men have the responsibility to emotionally support and actively encourage their mothers, wives, sisters, daughters and lovers to actively send their creative work out into the world. This doesn’t simply involve a pat on the back and a short conversation about how good we feel their work is, how ready we think they are. It begins at the kernel of creation. It means doing the laundry, cooking dinner, or watching the children so that they can have that time to write, read and pursue their creative work. It means taking an interest in their ideas by sharing a passion for what they look for regarding inspiration, be it art, movies, books, etc.
One of the main reasons why feminism stalled in this country is because men did not accept and share the same emotional and domestic responsibilities as women. It also stalled because women stopped pushing men to change. They accepted that men had a set way of thinking, that they could not be challenged from their place. The war at home never saw equality as a victor. Now, many of my female freshmen students are enrolled in college not to learn skills to go into the job force, to pursue careers; instead, they are searching for a husband. Almost 65% of women in my four sections of comp listed “housewife” as the most desirable occupation. The percentage is absolutely galling.
As an editor, I sit atop a mountain. Telling me that I must change the way I think, or do more work soliciting female authors is a losing proposition because I have absolutely no reason to change. I am exhausted, overworked and hearing someone throwing pebbles against my window from outside does not grab my attention like a soft conversation about this issue from the woman I love. It must be personal, from within.
If we want this issue to change it is time for women to reignite the war at home, because if women cannot convince men how important it is to have the time to be writers, then there is no point in editors soliciting them for work that they have not even had the time or energy to create.