silent femmes

SILENT FEMMES….Two years ago, I had just started writing my blog when I noticed something odd: There didn’t seem to be any other women in the political blogosphere. Oh, I knew that there were female-authored blogs. But the big guys (who I defined as Josh Marshall, Eric Alterman, Tapped, the DNC, those high-profile blogs) bookmarked one woman out of thirty, if any at all. (In fact, one blogger who was linked used the name Emma Goldman but was actually a guy.) More than that, at least 95 percent of the messages I received were from male readers. Debates were swirling around the blogosphere but for the most part, women were not part of the ones that got picked up in Krugman columns or that influenced news coverage.

I looked at newspaper columns and noticed something similar, although to a less drastic degree. Ditto tv pundits and magazine columnists (the obvious exceptions here are conservatives–I’ll turn to that later this week). Although women were represented fairly equally in the ranks of newsroom reporters, it seemed there was an opinion barrier. Why?

I decided to find out, and I pitched the story to The New Republic. They were interested, but said they had recently run a piece on the same topic by Naomi Wolf. (Her essay ran in 1993.) When I came to the Monthly, I tried again. Interesting, I was told, but not really newsworthy.

Then Susan Estrich handed me a nice little gift. News hook firmly in hand, I took a new look at the question and wrote an essay for our upcoming April issue.

Are women discriminated against in opinion journalism? Not blantantly, not anymore. But women’s writing is not judged the same as men’s. Not all the time, at least. Some of the most fascinating stuff I found while researching this piece was evidence that while women tend to do well in areas where they are judged on objective standards, when the judgment is subjective, their work is discounted by both male and female evaluators. This happens in music and in art and, yes, in writing. When you add opinion onto that and consider that the type of written voice most people think of as authoritative is distinctively male, women suffer even more by comparison. And when it comes to the culture of political magazines, boys rules apply. Women may breathe a sigh of relief to have even made it through the door, but to succeed, they need to further adapt to male norms.

Even so, there’s no getting around the fact that most women don’t even get to the point where they’re applying to work at magazines like ours. They’re not writing letters to the editor, they’re not calling into NPR political talk shows, they’re not reading blogs, they’re not opinion columnists at college newspapers. At a very early age, women decide not to become–as my editor puts it–“opinion warriors.”

It’s the result of socialization that is so subtle and powerful that we barely notice it, and so we simply take for granted that women are less interested in the rough-and-tumble world of punditry.

That’s enough to start. Read the whole piece for yourself. But do me a favor–don’t send me hate mail until you’ve read beyond the first section. This is an incredibly sensitive subject that lends itself easily to defensive reactions by both men and women. And it’s just for that reason that we need to discuss it out in the open. Having some level of gender bias isn’t the problem; nearly all of us do. Ignoring the gender bias and refusing to do anything about it is a problem.