Gallery of art and thoughts

The cartoons and contemplations of a twentysomething copy editor.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Women on the editorial page

It's been a while since I've read the New York Times editorial page, but has mentioned (negatively, natch) an interesting Maureen Dowd column. Dowd is writing about the dearth of women on editorial pages across the nation. She notes that she is the only female columnist out of a staff of eight, and adds that the Washington Post also has just one female columnist.

Why the imbalance? Dowd quotes her boss, Gail Collins (who I once got to hear speak at Harvard's Institute of Politics): "There are probably fewer women, in the great cosmic scheme of things, who feel comfortable writing very straight opinion stuff, and they're less comfortable hearing something on the news and batting something out." Incidentally, Dowd observes that "Male bloggers predominate, as do male TV shouters."

I once heard a graduate student (male) describe grading his students' papers. Out of curiosity, he separated the papers according to gender to see if the responses matched any trend. He found that men tended to be more direct in their essays, while women qualified their statements with such phrases as "It seems that..." This is, of course, just one student at one institution of higher learning. But in light of what Collins and Dowd say, it is interesting.

Is Western society still a doll's house, stifling present-day Nora Helmers from voicing their opinions? Do male responses to female criticism -- Dowd notes that she was described as castrating President Clinton during the impeachment hearings -- inhibit women from being more daring?

Let's start with the stereotype that men are direct, while women are subtle. We have seen that there are many types of men and women, and that thanks to political correctness, the world has become a more accomodating place for sensitive souls like yours truly. Though people on the left (Camille Paglia) and right (Tom Wolfe, Harvey Mansfield) may bemoan the decline of "manly" men, I feel there is room for both action and contemplation in society, politics, culture and life in general.

As for the "subtlety" of women: Perhaps some people in this country are still turned off by the idea of an authoritative woman. For instance, when Mitt Romney successfully ran against Shannon O'Brien for governor of Massachusetts in 2002, it was said that O'Brien's aggressive conduct during televised debates helped swing voters Romney's way. (The article cited above also says it may have been party affiliation, rather than gender, that doomed O'Brien, which sounds legitimate from a national perspective but ridiculous in Massachusetts.) There are women who enjoy dishing it out, especially in comedy: Roseanne Barr, Sandra Bernhard.

However, is there a difference between being authoritative and being too relentless? There were people on both sides who wouldn't let up on President Clinton -- from Dowd to Henry Hyde -- and regardless of what gender one is, it's not a positive trait. Dowd seems to regret that more women aren't TV talking heads, but why would anyone want to aspire to become the next Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity? OpinionJournal cites "plenty of female columnists who have seldom if ever faced the charge of meanness," including Collins and Anne Applebaum, who I referred to in a previous posting about the Larry Summers controversy. I stopped reading Dowd because her columns started sounding alike: too much vituperation. Granted, most of her subjects deserve this vituperation, but sometimes it would help to ease up on the pedal.

Dowd comes out of this column with two points, one valid, the other less so. The valid one: Newspapers should hire more female columnists. The less-valid one: Newspapers should hire more female columnists who write like Maureen Dowd.


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