Speak Up, Woman
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
What does it take to get gender equality in opinions?
By TRACY EVERBACH
So, does anyone care what women have to say? Reading most daily newspapers’ opinion pages you’d think either that only men have opinions or that women don’t care to share theirs in print.
Journalists began debating the lack of women’s voices on op-ed pages a couple of months ago after a nasty attack that law professor and feminist Susan Estrich launched on Michael Kinsley, the editorial and opinions editor of the Los Angeles Times. Estrich, a former Bill Clinton adviser, bashed Kinsley for not running more pieces by women and crassly insinuated his judgment might be clouded by illness. (Kinsley has Parkinson’s disease.)
Then, prominent female columnists including Maureen Dowd of The New York Times and Anne Applebaum of The Washington Post, the only women who regularly write for their newspapers’ op-ed pages, took on the issue. Dowd complained that opinionated women often are seen as “castrating” while men are perceived as “authoritative,” and Applebaum seemed outraged at being considered a “token.”
The Times editorial page editor Gail Collins cited “two millennia of prejudice against women having strong public opinions” but wrote that she thinks the situation is changing. And Katha Pollitt, writing for The Nation, wondered whether op-ed editors “just don’t see women, even when the women are right in front of them.” With all those powerful women weighing in, what, you ask, is the problem?
Well, statistics show that things aren’t pretty for women wordsmiths. According to Women’s Enews, a nonprofit news service, and other sources, during the first three months of 2005 women wrote only 10.4 percent of Washington Post op-ed columns. Women wrote 16.9 percent of op-ed pieces in The New York Times; on Kinsley’s Los Angeles Times op-ed pages, women wrote 19.5 percent of the columns.
This made me wonder about local newspapers — so I counted.
Happily, the local results were better than the other big-city newspapers. At The Dallas Morning News, for the month beginning March 17, 39 of 108 total op-ed pieces were written by women — or 36 percent. At the Fort Worth Star-Telegram 39 of 128 pieces were written by women — 30 percent. (I used the Fort Worth paper’s Northeast Tarrant edition because it comes to my home.)
Star-Telegram op-ed editor Sarah Pederson said she has tried to make the opinions page more diverse since taking over her job in February 2004. Even so, “If we had 30 percent women’s bylines, we know our readership isn’t 30 percent women.”
She said she receives about 100 solicitations a week for columns, the majority of them from men. However, the paper has two women opinion columnists on staff, J.R. Labbe and Linda Campbell, and regularly runs columns by nationally known writers including Molly Ivins, Trudy Rubin, and Kathleen Parker.
Over at the News, editorial page editor Keven Ann Willey wasn’t surprised at her paper’s results. She said she keeps count of male and female writers and that in 2004 women wrote 41 percent of the paper’s op-ed columns.
“Since about last summer, we have been much more assertive in reaching out to men and women who aren’t routinely on our pages,” Willey said, adding that the paper also has tried to diversify its opinion pages by recruiting more people of color and younger people.
“It does take a concerted effort to do this,” she said. “You have to do some heavy lifting to get it accomplished.”
Studies about op-ed pieces have shown that men are more likely to submit opinion pieces to newspapers than women, but if they are asked, women will write, too. So listen up, New York Times, Washington Post, and LA Times: Editors like Pederson and Willey who actually expend energy can create opinion pages more reflective of the community. It’s interesting that both editors are women.
The latest statistics from the American Society of Newspaper Editors, which does an annual newsroom census, show that women compose 36 percent of newspaper staffs. That’s right in line with the representation of women on the local op-ed pages, but certainly not in line with the population of the United States, which is 52 percent female.
Recruiting and retaining women writers should be a big concern in the newspaper industry. There’s still a big void when it comes to women’s voices, even though many more women have entered powerful positions in the political and corporate worlds during the past two decades. Come on, newspaper publishers — the United States has had two women secretaries of state in the past five years, but the percentage of women in newsrooms hasn’t changed since the 1980s.
Both women and men should be able to hear what women have to say. We don’t necessarily see all issues the same as men, and our perspectives can make a difference.
Even in this esteemed publication, which has a Pulitzer Prize-winning female editor, I am the only woman I know of who regularly writes opinion columns. Let’s hear from more of you.
Tracy Everbach is a journalism professor at The University of North Texas. She can be reached at TracyEverbach@hotmail.com.
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