Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum is seriously pissed at Susan Estrich’s campaign to boost the number of op-ed columns by women.
In a ranting, raving series of e-mails last month, all of which were leaked, naturally, Estrich accused (LA Times editorial page editor Michael) Kinsley of failing to print enough articles by women, most notably herself, and of resorting instead to the use of articles by men, as well as by women who don’t count as women because they don’t write with “women’s voices.”
This conversation is “seriously bad” for female columnists and writers, Applebaum writes.
None of the ones I know — and, yes, I conducted an informal survey — want to think of themselves as beans to be counted, or as “female journalists” with a special obligation to write about “women’s issues.” Most of them got where they are by having clear views, knowing their subjects, writing well and learning to ignore the ad hominem attacks that go with the job. But now, thanks to Estrich, every woman who gets her article accepted will have to wonder whether it was her knowledge of Irish politics, her willingness to court controversy or just her gender that won the editor over.
This is a storm in the media teacup, but it has echoes in universities, corporations and beyond. I am told, for example, that there is pressure at Harvard Law School, and at other law schools, to ensure that at least half the students chosen for the law review are women. Quite frankly, it’s hard to think of anything that would do more damage to aspiring female lawyers. Neither they nor their prospective employers will ever know whether they got there as part of a quota or on their own merits.
As if Susan Estrich hadn’t done enough to set back the cause of women journalists, now Maureen Dowd has weighed in with a column about the dearth of female pundits that will keep closet sexists thinking “I knew it!” until at least the next millennium. Cutely titled “Dish it Out, Ladies,” the column is an illuminating window into the Dowdian confusion between genuine insight and clever sarcasm, between tough criticism and Mean Girl attitude.
After mustering up her courage to write such a hard-hitting column — “I try to think of myself as Emma Peel in a black leather catsuit, giving a kung fu kick to any diabolical mastermind who merits it” — Dowd tries to explain why there are so few female columnists. Her reasoning is characteristically befuddled. Reason one: girls aren’t comfortable voicing strong opinions because it makes people mad at them. Why, she’s felt this discomfort herself. In 1996, six months into writing her column, Dowd tells us, she went to then-Times editor Howell Raines to try to beg off. “I was a bundle of frayed nerves…. As a woman, I told Howell, I wanted to be liked — not attacked.” Reason two: “Guys don’t appreciate being lectured by a woman.” It makes them nervous. It makes their testosterone boil. In sum, there aren’t more female columnists because women don’t like being columnists. Or because men don’t like women being columnists. Or both. Or neither. Whatever.
Confused yes, but Dowd wasn’t hired to think. She was hired to snark.
I was the first woman on the San Jose Mercury News editorial board back in 1978; I was an op-ed columnist for the Merc and Knight Ridder for more than 16 years. I always tried to avoid being stereotyped as a female columnist; I wanted to be able to write about a wide range of issues. And I sure didn’t want a self-styled feminist or anyone else telling me how to be an authentic woman. I have to say I never trembled about expressing my opinion. It was obvious when I started that I couldn’t please everyone, so I just concentrated on writing clearly and honestly about significant issues.
Update: Cathy Seipp wants to see op-ed pages reflect more diversity in life experience.