‘Why Are There No Women Writers in Vogue’s Edith Wharton Spread?”

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That is the title of this Slate article, which notes:

… Several hundred writers and fans had descended upon The Mount, Edith Wharton’s country house in Lenox, Mass., to celebrate the author’s 150th birthday with three days of panels and readings. The weather was crisp and clear, and everyone milled about the house and grounds uninhibitedly, as if Wharton herself had issued the invitations. Stacked here and there like so many party favors were glossy, staple-bound excerpts from Vogue’s September issue: a lavish, 18-page photo feature depicting a handful of actors, artists, models, and writers posing as Wharton and her circle lounging, couture-clad, in the very same rooms we wandered through. Shot by Annie Leibovitz and produced by Vogue Creative Director Grace Coddington, with an essay by Irish novelist Colm Tóibín, the feature is a gorgeous, evocative homage to the estate Wharton designed herself. It even shares the title of Wharton’s most undeservedly under-read novel, The Custom of the Country. Devotees, not to mention The Mount’s representatives, are rightly thrilled with the fantasia—but the reaction among many of the women writers in attendance was…complicated.

“Can you believe it?” novelist Roxana Robinson asked me. She had spied me in the foyer and introduced herself, and in no time at all we were on to the topic very few of us there could stop whispering about: the fact that of the three writers serving as models in the Vogue photo feature all of them are men.

There is Jeffrey Eugenides in a bowler hat doing his best Henry James. There is a bow-tied Junot Diaz as Wharton’s (unrequited) love interest, diplomat Walter Berry. There is Jonathan Safran Foer, hair severely parted down the middle, posing as Wharton’s collaborator, the architect Ogden Codman, Jr.

The grande dame herself is played by 30-year-old Russian supermodel Natalia Vodianova.

Robinson and I shook our heads in that incredulous way one does when confronted with something so obviously wrong (as if women writers aren’t underrepresented enough as is!) and yet so seemingly inconsequential (oh who cares—it’s just a photo shoot) and yet so obviously wrong (as if women writers aren’t underrepresented enough as is!)…that…well, what to do? As Robinson put it, “The message of the shoot seems to be that a man can become an appropriate subject for the camera by being a professional writer. But a woman can only be an appropriate subject for the camera if she is a professional beauty. Yet any complaint sounds like whining, so it’s hard to know how to frame the discussion.” …

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