<Long Backstory, feel free to skip>
Let me get this out of the way first: I did in fact send an idea into "The Magazine", and it was rejected. It was rejected for a reason I feel is stupid, petty, unprofessional, and completely with the rights of the staff and owners of "The Magazine": I'd said some really mean things about Marco Arment, both here, (no really, have some links: http://www.bynkii.com/archives/2011/03/useless_is_a_loaded_word_too_b.html, http://www.bynkii.com/archives/2011/10/marco_sez_da_interwebs_dont_ne.html, and a minor one here: http://www.bynkii.com/archives/2011/11/adobe_cs_installers_three_year.html. I was in fact, rather unkind to marco) and in Twitter, and because of that, he didn't feel I should be allowed to write for his publication. Let me also state that I was not surprised by that result. Contrary to what many people think, I am well aware, well aware of my tone, my presentation, my content. I am rarely safe for work, at least here, and on twitter. When someone pays me to write for them, I write in a way that is appropriate for their needs. Their money, their rules.
But yes, I have pissed off a lot of people, and am regularly combative, inappropriate, and occasionally mean. That makes me self-limiting, because it means I have a rep that can cause people problems. My normal choice of subject matter for freelancing, sysadmin and IT issues, with a focus on the Apple market, even were I the most inoffensive guy on the planet, is not a good fit for any paying publication in the market, other than maybe Ars, and Jacqui has an amazing stable of writers already. Which is why I've pulled back over the last year from submitting to pretty much anyone. I'm hardly the only person able to write well on things IT, but I really don't like the limitations placed on me by most publications. That's not a bad thing. They know their audience really well, and to be honest, I have never had a bad experience from anyone I've written for, be it Macworld, Macweek, Ars Technica, you name it. Those folks are awesome to work with, and I am still humbled they decided I was worth the trouble I bring. It means a lot to me. But, if I find I'm not a good fit for a given publication or publications, then I see no problem with not submitting ideas. Recognizing when one is not a good fit is an important skill in life. I certainly harbor no hard feelings for any of the folks I've written for.
And, when I got the email from the Magazine stating that I'd been rejected not because the idea was bad, but because I'm not a nice person, I did pretty much what anyone who knows me would expect: I bagged on that reasoning on twitter. I'm a dick that way, and when someone presenting themselves as some kind of professional is rejecting ideas over personal butthurtery, while that is in fact their right, that right does not carry along with it freedom from criticism or mocking. I'll say this now: had the rejection been because The Magazine staff felt the article itself was not a good fit in terms of content, I'd have had no reaction other than "Well, damn, that's too bad" to myself. Because not every submission is right for every magazine. But when the reason is, "you're mean"? Really? Okay, sure, but don't be surprised when the person you say that to doesn't react in a convenient manner.
So there is the 'backstory' such as it is. Disclosure and all. Feel free to decide for yourselves if that invalidates the actual post here. I probably won't be real concerned either way.
</Long Backstory, feel free to skip>
Glenn Fleishmann recently published an article for The Magazine, "Gender Binder" talking about why, out of 42 contributing authors for that publication, only six have been women. Glenn goes into no small detail about the problem as he sees it, and from what he writes, we can assume Marco Arment agrees, at least partially. However, there's some things that speak to a curious blind spot. First, for the most part, other than the first issue or so, Marco reached out to people he knew, and almost all of them were men:
A pattern emerged quite early among The Magazine’s contributors. Our fearless leader, Marco Arment, reached out to the professional writers and thoughtful developers he knew best to fill early issues before we accepted outside pitches. These were nearly all men.
In the first five issues, Gina Trapani was the sole woman with a byline. In the next five issues, including this one, only five more women appeared; we have included articles by Serenity Caldwell and Alison Hallett twice in that span. Overall, that is six women to 36 men, with some of the men appearing multiple times.
Marco, as an engineer and programmer, has worked more often with men than women, but I’ve worked in design and publishing, in which the ratio is far more equal. We both embrace the notion of equality in our personal and professional lives.
So what the hell is wrong with us?
I don't think there's anything wrong with them. But it seems curious that Marco Arment didn't know any women who would be a good fit other than perhaps Gina Trapani. Marco seems a reasonably social dude, and he knows a lot of people who know people. Glenn was brought on board shortly before Issue 3 came out, and Glenn knows a TON of people. Yet, women in The Magazine were, while not rare, uncommon. Now, I'm not going to hop on the "population percentage is what your contributor percentage should be" boat. That's silly, and unrealistic to any specific market. For example, yes, men are half the population, I don't see a need to bag on Cosmo for having a writing staff that skews female. But still, it seems like with a bit more asking, Marco could have found more women to ask to submit. So it's...interesting that he didn't. But we all have blind spots, and I don't think Marco was doing anything deliberatly sexist. Sometimes, you just accidently stuff.
(sometimes you also try too hard. In the caption for the picture at the top of the article, Glenn says:
This cheesy stock photo depicting “diversity” still shows a pro-male bias: none of the womens’ hands are in focus. All of the in-focus hands are male.
Well, I could easily say it shows a pro-woman bias, as the only faces in focus are the women's. I could, using "focus" as a criteria, say it shows a pro-white person bias, as the only faces in focus are all honkies. Or I could realize that maybe you can overanalyze shit sometimes and stop looking for problems where none may exist, because all the in focus parts are on the same vertical plane, which explains the picture a bit better than bias. If you change the position of some of the women so their hands were in focus, you could then say there's bias because the women are out of focus. Deep, this rabbit hole is.)
Glenn then talks about selection bias, a valid point, but he says a few things that come across as accidentally patronizing:
Let us not pretend that racism and ethnic hatred don’t still exist, whether sub rosa or not. But what Jamelle explicated is that people tend to hire people they know. If you start with a group of white men, the odds are that they will hire other white men. It is not necessarily a conspiracy nor does it have to be an intentionally exclusionary effort.
Further, the tools that bring in people outside of circles of collegiality and friendship, like internships (unpaid or low-paying), lack appeal to minorities who may lack the funds to learn the ropes and get an in. Some families may heavily discourage (and thus not provide support and funds for) such internships in favor of a more aggressive pursuit of degrees or permanent employment.2
While it is true that by and large, non-honkies, (it's not "minorities". That term is silly because it's always used to mean "not white" and depending on where you are, honkies are a minority. Let's just be straight up here and not say "minorities" when we mean "non-honkies") get the short end of the stick in this country more than they deserve, I find the implication here that somehow, non-honkies aren't able to do things like internships because they don't have the money to afford the lack of pay or low pay mildly patronizing. The meme of "oh them poor brown people" should stop. The assumption that "minority" = "poor" is a bad one, an incorrect one, and we should stop using it. That is sometimes the case for non-honkies, and knowing Glenn, I think that's what he meant, but the way he wrote it is poor.
Glenn then talks about women in terms of internships and representation on tech publications:
But these particular issues apply only in part to women. As a whole, women eagerly participate in internships. A 2009 report found that in surveying about 28,000 college undergraduates, 70% of those who had taken internships were women. Some tech publications have a decent percentage of female staff and contributors, and several are led by women or have women in the most senior editor or publisher positions.
Even still, tech magazines and editorial sites significantly underrepresent women given the roughly 50-50 gender split in the United States. (The notable exception is Mashable, where female staffers outnumber men.)
Here he makes what I think is a major mistake. He takes the overall number of women who are interns, and then tries to draw a correlation from a rather large whole, (all women who are college undergrads taking advantage of internships) to a specific industry: tech magazines. I take some issue with his inclusion of Mashable in that category, as I think they are far more of an online culture publication than a tech pub. Admittedly, my definition of "tech publication" is a bit different than others might use, which tells me that perhaps Glenn should have defined this better. I'd barely call Macworld a "tech publication". They're really a general purpose computing pub with a focus on Apple.
He then brings up the numbers of women in CompSci and Engineering. I'm unsure as to what the significance of that is with respect to women writing for The Magazine. I know more than a few women who are remarkably technical. One of my best friends, Nadyne Richmond, holds multiple technical degrees, and is a researcher for a highly technical company, VMware. But outside of a really small number of outlets, including her personal blog, she doesn't do a lot of non-work writing that I'm aware of. Since you cannot actually convince me that any earthly force can intimidate Nadyne from doing anything she wants to do, we should consider the other option: maybe she, and other women, don't want to write for publications like The Magazine. I'm sure you could try to spin that as Glenn's fault, but it would seem stupid to do so.
That's not a pejorative statement mind you. I'm not saying, at least not now, that The Magazine is not inviting to women, nor do I think it ever was. I wouldn't really know to begin with, and from what I've seen, that simply isn't the case. But just because you are a woman in a technical field, that doesn't mean you have to, or even want to do freelance writing.
I also have some issues with this paragraph:
Technology writers often lack any computer-science degree or formal background, of course, but this broader context is useful, as it’s an objective measure of the failures of providing women the right opportunities in technical studies, and this relates to the industry that we cover.
First, Glenn makes some claims without backing data, not even on the backgrounds of the people who have already written for The Magazine. I don't consider contextless population growth numbers as proper data, whether they show good or ill. Telling me that fewer women got CS degrees in one year vs. the next tells me not much of use. Give me some data showing WHY, and then we have something of use to discuss. I think that in this paragraph, Glenn is drawing conclusions that he has not really supported. When you're using those conclusions to make a point, or decide policy, that's not a good idea. There are some good sources of information for that kind of thing that do give you context, but Glenn's use of the numbers here seems orthogonal to the point of the article.
However, it's a little further down that Glenn starts to say some things that border on outright offensive.
What does this have to do with The Magazine’s selection bias toward men? Perhaps I want to distract you by suggesting that degrees in subjects related to technology prove that there’s a smaller pool of women technology writers. Perhaps I’m trying to highlight a greater disparity and a worrying shift in careers open to women that the degree figures represent.
But I don’t think that applies to us. We’ve shifted The Magazine’s focus from its launch as a publication for “geeks like us” — which could imply “geeks like white males Glenn and Marco, and like our predominantly white male geek contributors” — to “a variety magazine for geeks and curious people.” It’s more inclusive and broader, but there could be some lag time as that change catches up to awareness. The term geek often implies man by the reverse-exclusive principle that only men would self-identify as geeks. But that seems to be eroding, especially among younger people.
Glenn is coming dangerously close here to saying that overly technical issues are of little interest to women. That is of course, ridiculous. No, it is not just ridiculous, it is stupid. First, at no point in its history has The Magazine ever been what anyone could seriously call "overly technical". It's a magazine written by people who can, and often do talk about technical issues, and some of the articles deal with tech, but it is a stretch, a monstrous stretch to call The Magazine, at any point in its short life a "technical". Secondly, I take real issue with his not-quite-direct implication that a magazine aimed at "geeks" is somehow not going to be of interest to women, especially given that The Magazine isn't particularly geeky. In fact, if I didn't know many of the authors of the articles in The Magazine, I'd never call it technical or geeky. Instead, I'd call it yet another publication catering to hipsters who can't get through the day without multipage odes to how much they can overcomplicate simple daily routines and move on. Even if it were really a "geeky" magazine, the idea that somehow "geek" still means "male" is an idea that I'd have hoped someone like Glenn wouldn't fall for.
It doesn't get better anytime soon:
We started out more technical and computer-oriented than we have become. We have shifted from including technology in every story to the looser notion of stories that have a thread that connects them to tech or that have the right resonance for our readers, who we believe (and feedback indicates) tend to be a sophisticated bunch.
In order, the subjects of the first three issues of The Magazine:
The differences between geeks who like baseball, and geeks who don't
Technology, people, and the mistakes both can make
How people who are "volatiles" can disrupt a workplace and why this is good.
How a video game applies to human behavior
What it's really like to be a gay couple trying to have a child
Why wet shaving is awesome
How Felix Baumgartner actually broke the speed of sound just by falling.
The early days of twitter and app.net
An update on The Magazine
Life without power after a hurricane
No one can make good tea and why that sucks
How technology affects parenting
The problems with self-publishing
Now this is a wide range of subjects, and there's something that will be interesting to almost everyone. Two of the articles are even technical without stretching that word. But the idea that somehow, the "early days" of The Magazine were about computers and technology in any way other than peripherally is silly. It's unsupported by the articles themselves. It's not barely unsupported either, and so I wonder why Glenn is trying to make the (poor) point that somehow The Magazine was "too geeky" to get a proper number of women to contribute.
Not only is it not true, but the concept itself is somewhat offensive. How are you "too geeky" for women? Now, the more geeky you are, the harder it can be to find anyone to contribute, men or women. I help put together a conference that is actually technical in nature, I'm well aware of how interesting the acquisition of good content can be, regardless of gender. We fail far more often than we'd like. But even if The Magazine were some techno-geek-freak zone, it is not impossible to get in contact with women who are able to write in such an environment. It can be harder, but it's not impossible. Had anyone asked me, I do in fact have a decent list of women who are highly technical and quite able to write well that I would have put them in touch with. I still will, all they have to do is ask.
But again, The Magazine is neither overly geeky nor overly technical. The most technical article of the first three was about Felix Baumgartner, the other one was about the intersection of technology and parenting when you have a kid with serious medical issues. That's two articles out of fourteen. To put in perspective, in that same number of articles is one on tea, and one on shaving. Scientific American, this is not. So why push this idea so hard? I don't know. Glenn suddenly tries to show how non-geeky things have gotten, but honestly, I don't see the difference.
It is almost as if The Magazine is trying to create a meme to explain their "failure" to have more women writers. I don't know why, I'm unsure there was a huge "failure" in the first place. Could they have done better? Probably, but i don't think it's because they didn't try. I am not involved in any way with The Magazine, so I don't know what efforts were made, but I know and respect Glenn as a fair person, and while I have my disagreements with Marco, you'd have to work really hard to convince me he's some kind of secret sexist. Starting a magazine is hard, they made some mistakes. As long as they try to fix those mistakes, I don't see a real problem, nor a need to retcon things.
Glenn hits on a few actual issues, like the simple truth that it can be materially more difficult to get women to contribute to things like conferences and magazines. Glenn comes from a design/advertising background, I come from an IT/Sysadmin background, but my experience parallels his. I find getting a woman to speak the first time can be more difficult. The second time, it's much easier, but the first time can be maddeningly difficult. That doesn't mean you stop trying or give up, but that you acknowledge the reality that simply putting out a Call for Papers may not be enough. The fairness of this, or lack thereof is immaterial. It is the current reality, so you must deal with it as it is.
In the end, I think Glenn was far too quick to blame bias for this. It wasn't that at all. It was some early mistakes made before he came onboard, and the reality I just talked about. He even points out that having made a more concerted effort at outreach, things are improving. That's all anyone can ask. You recognize a problem, and get to work solving it.
I just wish he hadn't spent so much time trying to explain it away the way he had. There was no need to retcon the "early" days of The Magazine. (Christ, it hasn't even been publishing for a half a friggin year yet. Just how much "early" days does it even fucking have. Sounds like a toddler talking about "back when i was just a baby". ) There was no need to bring in what end up being meaningless numbers. There was no need to try to explain that they were "de-geeking things" to make it more attractive to women, because that's almost offensive. As many other people have shown, like George Lucas, trying to over-explain things can cause you more problems than you started with.
Marco made some understandable mistakes, especially when you consider his background. By bringing in Glenn he showed that he realized his limits, and brought in someone who by all accounts is fixing things. I think the larger problem is the time it's taking to see the results. When you talk about a publication run by two people who live their lives in microseconds or smaller, the idea that an implemented solution may take months to show results can be frustrating.
If there is an update to this, and I'd hope so, I'd ask that Glenn, or whomever writes it spends less time explaining the problem and more time showing the solution.
CommentsWarning for Notes users: The commenting system uses HTML.
I know this will be scary for some of you, especially Notes fans. However, open standards, rah-rah.
If you want to use less-than or greater-than signs, or other similar characters that HTML reserves,
you'll simply have to learn to do it the HTML way. Luckily, HTML is kind of popular, no matter what
your re-educators have told you, and you can easily find help on the intertubes.