Women’s Work: How We Published an All-Woman Issue Without Planning It

Hi newcomers! We’ve been getting a bit of traffic today after The Millions mentioned on Twitter that all the stories and poems in our latest issue are by women*.

Though the all-female-writers issue was a complete surprise to us, we’re pretty delighted about it and thought we should tell you a little bit about how it came about.Issue 3 cover - fiction & poetry authors

Armchair/Shotgun has an anonymous submissions process. When a piece of work arrives in our inbox, we strip the author’s name and biography off of it and assign it a number. This number identifies the story or poem throughout the editorial process–from assembling the packet, to assigning volunteer readers to help identify outstanding pieces, to the final editors’ meeting at which we choose the works that will make up the issue. We don’t know who wrote a piece until after the final vote, when we go back to our database and match up numbers and names.

For our first two issues, this process resulted in issues that were made up roughly 50/50 of men and women. When we de-anonymized the pieces we’d accepted for Issue 3, we saw that it had resulted in a set of stories and poems that were all by women. Fifteen pieces by eleven women.

Why is this noteworthy?

Because as the VIDA count demonstrates each year, many more men than women get published in literary journals, reviews of books, and other lit-type magazines. More short stories by men, more reviews by men, and more male-authored books that get reviewed. The only category in which women tend to have the edge is poetry.

There are a lot of discussions about why this might be. One theory says that a lot more men than women submit their work–either because there are more male writers or because they are more aggressive at self-promotion. That’s certainly plausible. Could our all-female issue just have been a fluke of submitter demographics?–did vastly more women than men submit their work to us this time? Nope. When we looked back at all the submissions, we saw a lot more traditionally-male names there than female.

The women’s work was just better this time.

We think there may be unconscious bias at work. Perhaps seeing a male name attached to a story makes editors assume the author is more accomplished. Perhaps editors have some cultural baggage that leads them to believe that men write one kind of literature and women another, and that the sort men write is more “literary.” More serious.

The stories and poems in Issue 3 of Armchair/Shotgun, however, cover everything from weapons of war and terrorism to faking deafness at the local pool. From childhood imagination, to pickup trucks, to the accumulated weight of the small and large evils of history. The light and the serious, politics and relationships. We think it’s an extraordinary, and extraordinarily varied, collection of work. And it’s by a fantastic group of eleven women. Enjoy.

*Observant readers will note that there are men who appear in Issue 3. The mag features an interview with Reif Larsen, the photography of Andrew Wertz, and paintings by Steve Chellis. Interviews and artists are chosen through a different process than poetry and fiction; all the pieces that were chosen via the anonymous process are by women.

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