The New Yorker and Jessica Esch: Counting on Change
The funny thing about counting something is that it keeps adding up.
I started The New Yorker Gender Tally in 2013 when I tracked two things: the gender of who was featured in the magazine’s The Mail section (reader letters) and who illustrated each cover. The reality that women drew only nine of the 47 covers in 2013 prompted my deeper look at the overall magazine which I wrote about last year here on GenderAvenger.
My reading routine is now a deep groove that begins with figuring out who did what. Cover. Cartoons. Spots. I might not read the new issue for a few days but these three favored sections are always my first look. I don’t even peek online when the electronic version drops.
On paper, the number of 2015 covers by women (4 of 55) was essentially the same as 2014 (3 of 47). However, 2015 marked the magazine’s 90th anniversary and its anniversary issue (February 23 & March 2) featured nine different covers. Two of the nine were drawn by women (Roz Chast and Anita Kunz). My copy had three covers: Kadir Nelson, Barry Blitt and Peter Mendelsund.
Birgit Schössow’s “Flatiron Icebreaker” claimed the next cover on March 9 then men grabbed the year’s remaining 37. Women illustrated only four covers in 2015. This is even more galling when four men had four or more covers each: Barry Blitt (6), Mark Ulriksen (5), Bruce McCall (4) and Christoph Niemann (4).
Cartoons are the least funny thing about The New Yorker Gender Tally. Of the 744 cartoons published in The New Yorker in 2015, 108 were by women. (One was a shared effort.) Four women drew 71% of all cartoons by women: Roz Chast (24), Liana Finck (23), Emily Flake (16) and Barbara Smaller (14).
I ache every issue when I add up women’s abysmally small numbers. Mid-year, I noticed that the number of cartoons drawn by women had not exceeded three per issue for a while. I dove into my archives and found that “a while” was actually all the way back to the October 27, 2014 issue. On Twitter, I referred to this as #CartoonCap. It lasted until the October 12, 2015 issue when women drew six of the 19 total cartoons.
The percentage of cartoons by women in 2015 (15%) was pretty much the same as 2014 (14%). Remember that 90th anniversary issue mentioned above? All 19 of the cartoons included in that issue were drawn by men. Talk about funny business.
Spots are the series of illustrations that are spread throughout the magazine to accommodate page layout. They, too, are the domain of male illustrators. The good news here is that women illustrated twice as many in 2015 as they did in 2014. The bad news is that women illustrated only three in 2014.
In 2015, The New Yorker included 86 more illustrations than 2014 and women were solely responsible for 81 out of 444 (vs. 49 of 358 in 2014). There was also an increase in illustrations attributed to design houses or teams (12 in 2015 vs. 5 in 2014).
The Shouts and Murmurs humor section wrapped with the closest gender split in 2015. Twenty-one of the 45 Shouts and Murmurs were written by women, and an additional piece was written by Mike Albo and Amanda Duarte. This was a big improvement over 2014 when women penned only 12 of 44. I’m cautiously hopeful The New Yorker has joined many other media outlets that have jumped on the Women in Comedy bus. Only 2016 will tell if this was a fluke or the new normal.
Last year I also started tracking three new sections: Fiction, Poetry, and the full-page illustrative features that the magazine calls either Sketchbook, Comic Strip or Showcase. The results of the latter didn’t bolster my spirits much (5-11-1); however, I happily tracked the curation of Fiction Editor Deborah Treisman and Poetry Editor Paul Muldoon who kept their tallies close (44% and 43% by women). I’d love to see women crack 50% in one of these sections in 2016.
Any section actually.
The Limits of my Optimism
When I started paying attention to the numbers, I hoped that my closer look would highlight something that was, perhaps, merely overlooked. The 2015 The New Yorker Gender Tally tested the limits of this optimism. I even started to think that the gender gaps were intentional since the numbers clung so closely to previous years. But, I don’t really believe that.
I don’t believe it because I used to be gender blind too.
I used to read a magazine without thought of who did what. The same was true for conference speakers and panelists. I once ate what was put on my plate without questioning the kitchen.
Not any more.
Heightened scrutiny in one area sparks interest in something else, and sometimes it becomes a filter for everything near and far. So it has been for me with The New Yorker.
May it be so for others.