There comes a time when one gets sick of listicles and memes. When this time comes, where do you turn? The Internet lacks prominent, publicized spaces where readers can find quality nonfiction stories and writers can have a platform to share their personal work and build up a network of followers. There is even less space for female writers to be published, which showcases yet another gender divide in the professional world.
Since 2011, the online magazine Vela has been striving to fix these discrepancies in online publishing. Although Vela is quick to say it is not a women’s magazine, it aims to “help close the byline gender gap by publishing exceptional nonfiction written” and highlighting women’s work at other online publications and publishing houses. The site’s banner proudly states “Written by Women,” but founding editor Sarah Menkedick clarifies her mission in the magazine’s manifesto as a “space… without having to either set one’s work apart as distinctly female or suck it up trying to prove that women can do what men do.”
Motivated by the disappointing amount of works written by women in various fields, Menkedick began the magazine despite statistics hinting her goal could be impossible. On the subject of the talented women who submit to the magazine, she says, “Hopefully, you’ll enjoy and appreciate them for their talent, and if you feel an extra gratification to know that they are women, all the better.”
Since Vela’s launch, its stories have been highlighted by publications such as The Best American Essays, The Best Women’s Travel Writing, and The New Yorker. Frequent essay subjects include women’s travel stories, as seen in Molly Beer’s “That Spanish September,” which depicts her experience in an ESL teacher-training program in Spain during 9/11. Also portrayed are writers’ relationships with family members, which appear in Sophia Pfaff Shalmiyev’s piece “Lilac Stitches,” in which she discusses her motherless childhood. Other prominent topics include addiction, pregnancy, and new careers.
The Vela team also aims to serve as a networking community for female writers. Every week, the site publishes the “Women We Read This Week” feature, gathering nonfiction from other online sources that the editors believe deserves better recognition. The “Bookmarked” feature is run with a similar idea in mind, highlighting a list of women who share a common writing theme or storytelling method. In a 2014 interview with Longreads, Menkedick spoke about the impact both these networking features and the Vela content have on all those involved. “I am of the persuasion that the… Internet is a fantastic thing for young writers, women writers, writers who’ve historically been excluded from the conversation,” she says. “We want to be part of a new and upcoming group of publications that is making the commitment to more sustainable digital publishing.”
Strong communities of women that attempt to add a new dimension to online writing are growing now more than ever, and Vela is one of many organizations that seek to promote both their own content and works by women found elsewhere. With this team’s efforts, the gender gap in published content is inching nearer to a close.
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