Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Pink Opinions. That's Me.

An interesting article about women as opinion writers:

From Sept. 15 to Dec. 7, 2011, the OpEd Project — which is designed to enrich public conversation by expanding the range of voices we hear — looked at more than 7,000 articles from The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal (categorized by the research as legacy media), The Huffington Post and Salon (new media) and Harvard, Columbia, Yale and Princeton (college media).
The third annual survey found that women wrote 38 percent of the op-eds that appeared in the college publications surveyed, 33 percent of those at new media outlets and 20 percent at legacy outlets.
While past Byline Surveys have found that legacy news outlets tend to feature the fewest female voices in op-eds (usually around 15 to 20 percent), the newest survey says there’s been an increase in the number of op-eds written by women in The New York Times (22 percent now compared to 17 percent in 2005), The Washington Post (19 percent now compared to 10 percent) and The Los Angeles Times (24 percent compared to 20 percent).

In both legacy and new media, women tended to write a lot of stories on “pink topics” — food, fashion, family and furniture. Among the new media organizations surveyed, 34 percent of the stories women wrote were on pink topics. In legacy media, pink stories accounted for 12.4 percent of female writers’ overall output, compared to 3 percent of male writer’s overall output. “Put another way,” the survey says, “out of 1,410 general interest articles (politics, economy, health, education, etc.) women wrote only 261.”

The good news is that the percentage of op-eds written by women has increased, though it's nowhere near the percentage of women in the population or the percentage of women in those professions where opinion writers are most likely to be found.

The reference to economics writing is of obvious interest to me, an economist goddess:
“Just 11% of economics articles in legacy media were written, or co-written, by a woman. In new media, that number was less grim, but still sad, 19%. It’s true that this number is, at least in part, a result of a higher number of men in economics. In fact, only 9% of economics doctorates were awarded to women in 1974, but the number has been steadily on the rise, reaching 27% by 2000. Not only is this 10% figure not representative of women in general, but it is not representative of women in the field of economics.”
Yves at Naked Capitalism is a woman and writes extensively on economic topics.  Though under a male handle.

It's hard to know what is going on, to be honest.  Part of the problem is that the New York Times or the Washington Post will not publish an opinion piece by a minor blogger goddess, or by a woman who just happens to have a PhD in economics.  Those who get to opinionate on the most august pages are on the top of their profession.  To get there takes time, even if the glass ceiling has holes in it.

I love the idea of food, fashion, family and furniture called "the pink topics!"  Why not the f-words?  And would feminism qualify?

What if we call these topics nutrition, protection against the weather, procreation/survival and tools for daily living?  The obvious point is that the very topics themselves have been steeped in pinkness and that pinkness itself is a made-up societal marker of gender.  Thus, it's just one merry-go-round!  With pink horses, of course.

As you can tell, my thought process here resembles a carousel:
The Byline Survey renews attention to an argument that women have been making for years: there aren’t enough female voices in opinion pages. In an interview last year, OpEd Project Founder Catherine Orenstein told me the problem isn’t so much that news organizations aren’t featuring female contributors; it’s that women aren’t contributing in the first place.
“A lot of [women] will in some way discount themselves and their knowledge,” she said. “If you think about it, what it means is that there’s a disconnect between what we know and our sense that it actually matters.”
The OpEd Project’s Katherine Lanpher said in an interview today that she thinks editors want to feature more op-eds from women. “Women and others who aren’t out there need to submit their ideas more,” she said via email. “To this day, many women and other minorities need to be reminded that they’re sitting on powerful solutions to big problems and if they don’t share their knowledge the world is a poorer place. … Op-eds aren’t about writing. They’re about power. And it’s just time for more of it be shared.”

Orenstein is correct in stating that women submit fewer pieces than men do.  The reasons for that can be complicated, however.  The slush pile might not be the way to get one's piece looked at, for example, and fewer women are linked to the networks which actually lead to someone having a look at your work.  Some of those networks might still be run by the old boyz, too.

My personal hunch is that women are sterner critics of their own work, on average.  Why that is the case is another  complicated question.  But when I feel hesitant about writing on a particular topic I remind myself about idiots like Zeus and Ares and then I press the Publish-button.

At the same time, I'm also aware of the fact that if I write something even slightly feminist outside this blog I get a lot of very nasty comments and e-mails.  Not all pieces written by women face that particular type of response.  Still, it's worth remembering that there might be all sorts of gender-specific reasons why some female writers choose to use a male handle or why women might hesitate to write about a feminist issue outside feminist blogs.