THAT GEM WAS one of the many wonderful little nuggets in Stacy Schiff's Pulitzer Prize winning tome, Cleopatra: A Life, which I just finished reading. Schiff was referring to female-hating gossip Cicero who eviscerated the fabulously rich, intelligent, and independent Queen of Egypt any chance he got. Cicero's rants were so witty and masterful they made him a quotable pundit during his time and beyond. He got quoted a lot and poor Cleopatra, her story was written by those nasty but eloquent female hating males who not surprisingly, stuck to the whore-archetype. It took a female writer several thousand years layer, Schiff, to have the world, or at least those who read the book, reconsider Cleopatra's story.
Schiff's stellar book was fresh on my mind when I read VIDA's study on the dismal number of female writers in magazines (New Yorker, The Atlantic, the New York Review of Books, Harper's Magazine, and The New Republic among many others) and Elissa Strauss' Jewish Sisterhood blog. Strauss actually got several magazine editors to respond to her query basically asking editors to explain themselves. Like Shakira's hips, numbers do not lie. And then of course, I thought, well let's take it a step further and ask, beyond the girl byline gap, what about Black writers, Hispanic writers, Asian writers on staff at these magazines?
What do those numbers look like? And, what does it mean for news, culture, history, when a newsroom is full of white men who distill the world for us? Will we fall into the historical archetypes that have befallen women through the ages, as certainly happened to Cleopatra?
I have worked in journalism all of my professional life and I have never, with the exception of Latina magazine and the morning show, Good Day New York, worked in newsroom where there was a semblance of a balance of female to male staffers, or for that matter, a people of color to white people balance. The newsrooms I have experienced have been mostly all male, even in Spanish language press. And I have seen up close and personal what a mostly white male newsroom results in. The current state of journalism may be a direct result.
Strauss blogged that she didn't want to seem whiny, but the issue of a girl byline divide kept bugging her, and so she followed up with the editors, curious to hear what they had to say, these were after all magazines that she admired. My lesson, from reading her blog from looking at the great VISA study, is to be fearless about the ask and get everyone on the inside thinking about these issues.
A magazine, or rather any entity for that matter, that is diverse in gender, race, religion, class, life experience, sexual orientation and opinion, will produce a delicious result worth reading.