Recently [March 2011, –ed.], the literary cultural organization VIDA: Women in Literary Arts released a report on women in magazine publishing, focusing particularly on book reviews. The results of their investigation were, to say the very least, disappointing. The numbers have spurred a broader discussion regarding the role of women writers in American culture, and we hope that this will lead to real and effective improvements.
As the editor of a book review journal, however minor, it seemed important to acknowledge and participate in this important discussion.
First, and the organizers of VIDA would probably agree, this disparity between women and men in the bylines of American magazines is itself only one symptom of a larger, deeper cultural illness. Women are evaluated with significant bias in our culture, in ways that have been widely and often reported. This is so well-known that it is almost, dangerously, taken to be immutable. We cannot, all at once or by force of will alone, make the world better than it is. But this fact is not any kind of pardon. The world certainly does not improve when we refuse to affect changes within our power.
Many in the literary community are reluctant to consider any standard besides quality. I’m not of that mind, nor do I feel that a conflict between inclusion and standards exists; but, the feeling should not be belittled either.* Ideas of aesthetic judgment and quality are not meaningless: but they are communal projects. All of us in the literary community make evaluations together, through open debate. One critic or publication does not set the standard for excellence alone. When a group is excluded, as women are today, as many groups are today, by whatever systemic apparatus, the power of our shared values erodes.
The Critical Flame, like other magazines, does not achieve a balance of gender. In fact, it is not close. I consider this to be my own flaw: narrowness of vision, exclusion of community, or failure to make contact. Perhaps something else, unconsidered yet. Regardless, we will improve—we will do whatever we can to attain high quality and gender equity. It will be difficult, no doubt. But this is the least we can actually do. We all will, in the end, be judged by our actions, not by our good intentions.
Please spread the word. Be in touch with suggestions. Contact us with essay ideas and reviews. Just as we rely on the generous and spontaneous energies of so many critics to make this journal possible, we will need help to be better in this regard.
As always, thank you for reading.
Daniel E. Pritchard
Editor in Chief
Daniel Evans Pritchard is the founding editor of The Critical Flame. His poetry, translations, and criticism can also be found at Harvard Review online, Slush Pile Magazine, Drunken Boat, Prodigal, Little Star, Rain Taxi, The Battersea Review, The Quarterly Conversation, The Buenos Aires Review, and elsewhere.