By Nadine Epstein
Hannah Brown of Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, loves Moment but has a complaint: Too few women are included in Moment symposiums such as the one in January/February that asked, “What Does It Mean to Be Pro-Israel Today?” Brown is absolutely right. After doing the math, we found that in 2011, only 27 percent of our symposium participants were women.
How’s that possible? You can’t chalk it up to the “old boys’ club.” After all, I am one of the few women editors of a thought-leader magazine, Jewish or not. There are a few others—including The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel and Tina Brown of Newsweek— but if you don’t believe me, check out the mastheads of The New Republic, The Weekly Standard, Commentary, Tikkun or The Atlantic. Yet despite Moment’s strong roster of female editors, we still include fewer women’s voices than we would like.
Why? Believe me, we try. To counter the fact that there are more men in nearly every discipline, we call up woman after woman with viewpoints that intrigue us, and lo and behold, too many of them say “no.” The most frequent refrain is “I don’t know enough about the topic” or “I am not enough of an expert.” Rest assured that very few men ever utter those words to us. Most find something to say even when they are not “experts.”
Forgive me for generalizing—there are many complex sociological and historical forces at work and, admittedly, I am only touching the surface with this unoriginal diagnosis—but women, ahem, are not trained to think of themselves as experts. Many are hesitant to give opinions outside traditional “women’s topics” or “service journalism.” This may well be changing, but if it is, it’s not yet noticeable.
A survey published in April by VIDA: Women in Literary Arts found that in 2011 men were published far more often than women in prominent national magazines. In overall representation—articles, book reviews and authors reviewed—91 women and 235 men appeared in The Atlantic; 42 women and 141 men in Harper’s; 232 women and 613 men in The New Yorker; and 166 women and 440 men in The Nation. The overall score of The New Republic, the magazine closest in size to Moment, was 78 women to 344 men. Examining the statistics more closely, women wrote 20 percent of articles, 14 percent of book reviews and 19 percent of the books reviewed. Compared to the above publications, Moment includes far more women’s voices: In 2011, women wrote 67 percent of features, 45 percent of book reviews and 36 percent of the books reviewed.
The VIDA study, however, didn’t go far enough. It would have helped to test for a correlation between the dearth of women’s bylines and the number of male editors and staff writers. A cursory look reveals that in addition to being led by a man, 81 percent of The Weekly Standard’s editorial staff is male, as is 50 percent atTikkun, 67 percent at The Atlantic, 68 percent at The New Republic and 64 percent at Commentary. On the other hand, Moment’s editorial staff during the same time period was composed of 92 percent women. One could surmise that more female staff equals more women’s voices.
The number of women writers is not the goal in itself. Quality is not gender-specific, but perspective certainly can be. That’s why this is an important topic and why it is also noteworthy that the 2011 finalists for the prestigious National Magazine Awards included no women in the reporting, features, profiles, essays or columns categories.
What can be done? Clearly, we need more women in meaningful editorial positions. And editors of both sexes need to redouble efforts to bring articles, opinions and books on a wide range of topics that are written by women into the public sphere. And please, women, when we call and ask you to participate in a symposium, or to write for us, say YES. We don’t want men to say YES less, we want women to say YES more.
To this issue of Moment: We are delighted to welcome our new fiction editor, Alan Cheuse (yes, a man!), who teaches creative writing at George Mason University, writes novels and reviews books for NPR. We will now occasionally publish commissioned fiction, in addition to winners of our Moment Magazine-Karma Foundation Fiction Contest. In this issue we are proud to pre-sent Shidach, by Racelle Rosett, the contest’s 2008 winner, whose first book, Moving Waters, will be released soon.
Our May/June symposium tackles a per-ennial question, “Is there such a thing as Jewish fiction? (FYI: We have ten male participants and seven females.) The discussion, introduced by Cheuse, is enlivened by strong opinions from inspired writers such as A.B. Yehoshua, Geraldine Brooks, Nathan Englander, Pearl Abraham and Etgar Keret. Our annual children’s fiction section features an interview with the venerable Norton Juster, author ofThe Phantom Tollbooth, and winning entries from our children’s book review contest. Plus there’s a literary “Talk of the Table:” Have you ever wondered what Leopold Bloom’s kidney stew tastes like?
In the continuation of our series on Israel’s Arab citizens, we explore the separate worlds of Arabic and Hebrew media in Israel. We showcase French graphic artist Joëlle Dautricourt’s The Book of Happy Writing, glimpsing her fascination with Hebrew letters and language. Dautricourt’s artwork will be shown for the first time in the U.S. in New York City this spring. Please join us for the opening reception on May 16 at Hebrew Union College art gallery. Details are on page 32. We are also proud to launch our partnership with Washington, DC’s Newseum, with a discussion about the severe restrictions on religious and press freedoms in Iran on May 30. More details on page 21.