Kate Bolick’s Atlantic cover story “All the Single Ladies,” an essay about the growing number of proud, never-married women, is getting tons of (well-deserved) attention: Bolick was on the Today Show on Monday, her story has 9,000 likes on Facebook and the blogs (including this one) are all over it. Bolick appears on the cover of The Atlantic to illustrate her story—it’s a rarity for the magazine to put its writers on the cover, FishbowlNY points out—and Atlantic deputy editor Scott Stossel explains the decision thusly: Bolick “is very much a protagonist in the story; the narrative of her romantic life is the thread that ties the piece together.”
The more I thought about it, the more this bothered me.
Yes, the cover is lovely, and yes, it’s an adequate representation of the story within. But when The Atlantic gives a woman writer a cover story, she’s almost always writing about topics that are considered female ones: marriage, romance, feminism, and babies.
I took a look back through the covers of the Atlantic since July, 1998, which is the oldest cover I could find on their website. I’m leaving out the fiction issue, because those covers usually refer to several different writers, and the fictional topics are impossible to discern from the cover art. I also left out covers where there wasn’t a clear writer for the cover story (for example, this cover from May 2011). This leaves about 130 covers. Of those 130 covers, by my unscientific count (which may be off by one or two), 12 of the cover stories were written by women, which is not a great statistic in and of itself. Of those 12 covers, six of them were about “women problems”—Bolick’s “All the Single Ladies,” Lori Gottlieb’s piece on finding love on the Internet, “How Do I Love Thee?” our own Hanna Rosin’s “The End of Men,” Caitlin Flanagan’s “How Serfdom Saved the Women’s Movement” (about the nanny wars), Christina Hoff Sommers’ “The War Against Boys.” I could only find one cover story written by a man about topics that could be considered “women’s” topics, one from 1998 about rape laws.
The quest for byline equality has been much covered, by DoubleX and others—check out the VIDA project’s tallies of female bylines in major magazines. I don’t know how to fix this problem, considering I’m a big part of it—I run a women’s section; the articles I write and assign are about stereotypically female topics, and those also happen to be the articles I want to write and the articles I most like to read. Slate’s byline ratio isn’t nearly where it should be. I suppose I feel like the only way to address it is to keep talking about it, and to keep trying to work out where the problem lies.