Does The New Yorker Have Girl Problems? Reader Demands Gender Balance or a Refund

Anne Hays is not happy with her subscription to The New Yorker. Hays, a Brooklyn resident, Sarah Lawrence MFA graduate and the founding editor of Storyscape Journal, posted yesterday, as a Facebook note, a letter she sent to the magazine's editors at 4 Times Square, complaining of a gender imbalance in recent issues and demanding a refund or replacement. "You may either extend our subscription by one month, or you can replace this issue with a back issue containing a more equitable ratio of male to female voices," she wrote. "I plan to return every issue that contains fewer than five women writers." Check out the full text after the jump. (Plus an update from Hays below.)

The New Yorker 4 Times Square, 20th Floor New York, NY 10036

Dear Editors of the New Yorker,

I am writing to express my alarm that this is now the second issue of the NYer in a row where only two (tiny) pieces out of your 76 page magazine are written by women. The January 3rd, 2011 issue features only a Shouts & Murmurs (Patricia Marx) and a poem (Kimberly Johnson); every other major piece: the fiction, the profile, and all the main nonfiction pieces, are written by men. Every single critic is a male writer.

We were already alarmed when we flipped through the Dec 20th & 27th double-issue to find that only one piece (Nancy Franklin) and one poem (Alicia Ostriker) were written by women. A friend pointed out that Jane Kramer wrote one of the short Talk of the Town segments as well, though it barely placated our sense of outrage that one extra page, totaling three, out of the 148 pages in the magazine, were penned by women. Again, every critic is a man. To make matters more depressing, 22 out of the 23 illustrators for the magazine are men. Seriously!

Women are not actually a minority group, nor is there a shortage, in the world, of female writers. The publishing industry is dominated by female editors, and it would be too obvious for me to point out to you that the New Yorker masthead has a fair number of female editors in its ranks. And so we are baffled, outraged, saddened, and a bit depressed that, though some would claim our country's sexism problem ended in the late 60's, the most prominent and respected literary magazine in the country can't find space in its pages for women's voices in the year 2011.

I have enclosed the January issue and expect a refund. You may either extend our subscription by one month, or you can replace this issue with a back issue containing a more equitable ratio of male to female voices. I plan to return every issue that contains fewer than five women writers. You tend to publish 13 to 15 writers in each issue; 5 women shouldn't be that hard.

A dismayed reader,

Anne Hays

Hays, it seems, will not be returning the January 10th issue. According to the Table of Contents, the new issue contains exactly five pieces by women: a television review by staff writer Lizzie Widdicombe, a politics story by Rebecca Mead, fiction by Louise Erdrich, a restaurant review by art editor in Goings On About Town Andrea K. Scott and a Stieg Larsson story by "critic at large" Joan Acocella.

(UPDATE: There's one female illustrator listed in the January 11th rag, as well, with the lone name sitting among a sea of men: Sam Gross, Paul Noth, Zachary Kanin, Bruce Eric Kaplan, Mick Stevens, Kim Warp, Drew Dernavich, Robert Mankoff, William Haefeli, Edward Koren, Gahan Wilson, Matthew Diffee, Michael Maslin, Lee Lorenz, Jack Ziegler, Arnie Levin, Joe Dator.)

As for Hays' larger message, it's gaining traction, with re-postings of her letter picking up across blogging platforms, with links on Twitter and beyond. But as far as going viral, the post is still in its infancy (with 18 "likes" and 16 comments on Facebook, though most promise to share the text) and that's where the New Yorker must be tactful: any response will reverberate, whereas ignoring Hays risks uproar. We've reached out to Hays to see if she's received word from anyone at the magazine either in the form of a retort or about her request for a refund, but we've yet to hear back. Updates as they come.

UPDATE 2: "The poor New Yorker doesn't even know," Hays told Runnin' Scared on Monday afternoon. "I just put it in the mail an hour ago."

Hays said the gender imbalance is a problem she's noticed for a while and across magazine titles, even canceling her subscription to Harper's. "The New Yorker is the best magazine there is," she said. "I just want to see women in it."

And so she won't be canceling her subscription, no matter the response: "I deserve a right to read the top magazine just like everyone else. I'm just going to return every issue," she said of editions that do not feature her benchmark of five females, a number she admitted is both arbitrary and low, to give the magazine a chance and save her the work of returning issues.

And for the inevitable claims of jealousy or self-interest? "I've never submitted there. I don't really intend to."

Dear Editors of the New Yorker [Facebook]

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