AMITY IN THE U.K….My friend Alex Massie of The Scotsman writes in to say that the Op-Ed pages in the U.K. are rather more open to women than their U.S. counterparts, but for structural as well as cultural reasons:

British papers seem to have far more female columnists than their American counterparts. Upon some reflection it occurred to me that this could be explained in a couple of ways:

1. British papers are far more in love with anything new than their American counterparts. So editors are quite happy to sack columnists to bring in their own favoured voices (something which, I suspect, would be considered the height of bad manners at the NYT or WaPo). In addition, papers lure columnists away form their rivals (on the usually erroneous assumption they’ll bring readers with them. This rarely happens. But the columnist still gets a hefty pay rise.) Anyway, this all means that there’s a greater turnover of columnists than here, hence freeing up space and opportunity for new voices.

2. This does vary from paper to paper. William Rees Mogg and Simon Jenkins have been writing columns for The Times (frequently so dull they could have been ripped from the NYT) since the ’70s at least. But The Times also has two serious female political/cultural commentators. Ditto the Daily Telegraph, Guardian, Independent, Evening Standard, Scotsman, Daily Mail etc etc.

Perhaps the biggest reason for the number of serious women commentators in Britain is the competitive nature of the UK press. Papers have to watch what their rivals are doing and respond quickly if they are not to risk losing sales. With a dozen or more papers to choose from each day, you can’t let your rivals get ahead. So, once one paper widens the range of voices on its op-ed pages by including women, everyone else scurries along to catch up. You can never risk being left behind, never take your eye off what the opposition is up to.

That’s not the case here. There’s no peer pressure to have more women’s
voices heard. A properly competitive newspaper industry might change that.

3. When I ran Scotland on Sunday‘s op-ed pages for a while, I was acutely conscious that we did not always have enough female writers on board (although one of our four weekly op-ed columns was written, very well, by a woman). “Remember the women” was the mantra. A useful rule of thumb for life too, of course….

Indeed. Lucy Kellaway of the UK-based The Financial Times has some rather choice things to say about Maureen Dowd on this topic, as well (subscribers only).