New York Review of Books: A shocking shame?

So the New York Review of Books sent its e-subscribers a cheery note:

Below you will find links to the first forty-nine posts published on the NYRblog since its inception last month. If you haven’t been following the blog, we invite you to visit, participate in the comments, and send us your thoughts. You can also follow the Review online via Facebook and Twitter , or through our RSS feed.

Sounds jolly, until you scroll down and notice that among those 49 bloggers are two, and only two, women writers.  The percentage isn’t immediately obvious because two articles are co-authored, but I make the percentage of women authors 4%.

That is remarkable.  That’s what the percentage of full professors in physics used to look like before NSF and others got going on correcting the situation.  Now women show up in all sorts of fields.  For goodness sakes, what is going on with the NYRB? 

Is there a kind of male intellectual approach that shows up across many disciplines and that the NYR particularly values?  It would be interesting to figure out if that is so and why.  For example, why would they ask John Searle to write on Boghossian’s Fear of Knowledge, rather than some feminist philosopher who might have been more balanced?  Did they think of the topic as sort of a guys’  thing?  Or perhaps they don’t know any women working in the field, much like our colleagues?

There’s a lot of regret that there aren’t more public intellectuals that gets expressed when we profess woe at the state of public discourse.  Perhaps if women have more venues, the dearth would seem less.

In all fairness:  I haven’t counted up the occurrences of women authors in the published journal.  In addition, the NYRB responded to an earlier complaint of ours, so I assume such issues matter to them at least a bit.

8 thoughts on “New York Review of Books: A shocking shame?

  1. > For example, why would they ask John Searle
    > to write on Boghossian’s Fear of Knowledge,
    > rather than some feminist philosopher who
    > might have been more balanced?

    Because Searle’s written for them in the past. I’m willing to bet that’s the reason: they have a ‘pre-existing relationship’ with him. This does *nothing* to counter your observation, though: the imbalance is shocking.

    But then, NYRB seems to have gone downhill quite a bit since Barbara Epstein fell ill. Her loss is still keenly felt chez Jender.

  2. Mr J, I think that mechanism is actually an important one in perpetuating all male invitations of all kinds– people go with what’s worked before. And that’s a sure recipe for perpetuating the status quo– quite broadly, actually. (Not to suggest you’d disagree with this.)

  3. My comment might be a little out of scope for this post. But I can’t wait to ask. After going to a couple of feminist groups, I found a disconnect between groups and feminism. But they are not interested in listing.

    Is feminism nothing else bullying?

    Check out my blog at and feel free to leave a comment.

  4. Alex, one of the most important benefits of a really good education is to make one self-critical. My sense is that you are not very self-critical, and that you could use more education. As it is, your descriptions of the groups you visited are loaded with interpretations, but you present them as if they were mere observations. Because of this, it is impossible to get much sense of what was really going on, and how you arrived at the conclusions you did.

    Do also think of using a spell-check.

  5. There’s an old joke that the NYRB should really have, between the ‘R’ and the ‘B’, the phrase, “each others”. I think that’s a bit unfair, but only a bit, and the charge that it’s a very connections-based and inward looking group is not new nor unreasonable. There are a few women I recall being fairly regular contributors back when I used to read it regularly- Elaine Scarry, Joyce Carol Oates, and some others, but not, I think, a huge number among the regular reviewers. (The current volume has 6 women contributors at least- one name I can’t tell.) Martha Nussbaum used to contribute regularly (her reviews there of Allan Bloom’s _The Closing of the American Mind_ and of MacIntyre’s _After Virtue_ are really wonderful demolitions) but said that she no longer contributes to them because she found the editing process too drawn out and annoying, so her more “popular” reviews now go to places like the New Republic.

  6. Thanks to everyone for the comments. It does seem that the NYRB is digging itself into a hole.

    Matt’s comment about the number of women in the current issue is important; the overall picture is not the same as that in the blog list.

  7. I’m pretty sure they used Searle because he has written extensively on the topic of the social construction of reality. So much so that that’s the name of one of his books (The Construction of Social Reality (1995)).

    I’m not sure exactly what kind of balance you’re looking for, and I further don’t see why you’re assuming that a female philosopher would automatically provide more balance than a male philosopher; you also seem to have conflated feminist and female philosopher. Maybe I’m lacking some context but those presuppositions seem a bit sexist to me.

    In any case picking out any one article and asking “why not a woman?” seems kind of silly. The real question seems to be: are female philosophers and intellectuals disproportionately represented in the NYRB relative to their presence and publication rate in their fields, which you can’t answer based on one issue, let alone one article. Unless of course it’s an article of faith, which yours seemed to be (oh snap).

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