VIDA: Making Space for Women in the Arts

It has become more and more important to me over the years to seek out and encourage the development of artistic and intellectual spaces for women, POC, LGBTQ peoples, people with disabilities, and other people whose contributions are overlooked by the mainstream art/literary establishment. It is disappointing (to say the least) to look out into the contemporary artistic landscape and see a lot of straight white men. I think that my approach so far has been to become involved in indie/alternative arts communities and eschew the mainstream all together, but many of the alternative arts communities also have sexist or outright misogynistic tendencies. Just look at Alt Lit.

Anyway, I'm always looking for strong women in the arts to inspire me, and today I found a really cool organization, VIDA: Women in the Literary Arts. VIDA is a pretty brainy organization, in that what they do involves a lot of numbers. They do kind of like a literary census to get real data on the who is being published. Here's a bit from their About section:

"Each year The VIDA Count compiles over 1000 data points from the top tier, or 'Tier 1' journals, publications, and press outlets by which the literary community defines and rewards its most valued arts workers, the 'feeders' for grants, teaching positions, residencies, fellowships, further publication, and ultimately, propagation of artists’ work within the literary community.
...The VIDA Count reveals major imbalances at premiere publications both in the US and abroad. For example: The New York Review of Books covered 306 titles by men in 2010 and only 59 by women; The New York Times Book Review covered 524 books by men compared to 283 books written by women (VIDA Count 2010)."

What a cool idea--to collect this information! It makes me wonder how many of those published women were POC or queer, etc. I'd love to see them expand and to also collect data on queer, POC, disabled, other women. I bet the results would be even more shocking.

You might wonder: what's the point in collecting all this data? What does it do? Well, I think that it could increase accountability by making editors and other decision makers more aware of their biases. According to the VIDA website, it already has helped make some editors more mindful when reviewing submissions.

VIDA started with a question that Cate Marvin emailed to a few female artists. You can find it on the website, but I will share it here because when I read it, it gave me goosebumps. In the email, Cate asked:

"Where has the feminist conversation regarding contemporary literature gone? Am I the only one who feels isolated in our writing community? Has anyone else noticed all these incredibly accomplished women writers whose work seems to go consistently unnoticed and unrewarded by the American literary establishment? Why is it that most of the notable reviews being published about contemporary books in every genre are written by men about other men’s books? What will this mean for our daughters, to look at this landscape and find so few women’s voices succeeding in a meaningful way? What are we telling them about their hopes and ambitions? And why is it that the vast majority of the major editors, publishers, the literary taste makers at large, seem to be of the male persuasion?"

All this is to say: I think it's important to keep asking these questions, and to be mindful of the social dynamics at play all around us. And to keep fighting! Heh. I'll leave you with that for now. Oh, wait, and check out VIDA, too, if you want. xo!