Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 20, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

WOMEN'S OPINIONS....Not to get too obsessed by the whole Estrich-Kinsley thing, but so far no one has attempted any kind of real answer to Estrich's question: why are op-ed pages so completely dominated by men?

I suppose the obvious response is that it's for the same reason that practically every other elite profession is dominated by men: we still live in a male-dominated society and probably will for at least another century. But that's a boring answer, and in any case op-ed pages seem to be worse offenders than even the celebrated areas of high-powered math and science. Can we say more?

For starters, it doesn't appear to be primarily the fault of journalistic gatekeepers, as it is in some other professions. The New York Times has a female editorial page editor, and so did the LA Times until Kinsely took over. That didn't stop their op-ed pages from being heavily male dominated. What's more, the news pages of major newspapers have plenty of female reporters.

The political blogosphere provides another clue. Although its geeky Usenet roots were (and are) testosterone laden affairs, there are still no formal barriers to entry here, no old boys club in the usual meaning of the word. Yet if you take a look at the Blogosphere Ecosystem, which for all its faults is probably the closest thing we have to a consensus measure of popularity for political blogs, you will find exactly three women in the top 30: Michelle Malkin, La Shawn Barber, and Michele Catalano. (There are a few group blogs in the top 30, but those are very heavily male dominated too.)

That's a grand total of 10% of the most popular political blogs. And to gaze even more deeply into our collective navel, that 10% is 100% conservative. On the liberal side, Wonkette weighs in at #33 and TalkLeft at #48 and that's it for liberal women in the top 100, unless I've missed someone.

So what's up? There aren't any institutional barriers in the traditional sense of the word, which means either (a) there are fewer female political bloggers and thus fewer in the top 30, or (b) there are plenty of women who blog about politics but they don't get a lot of traffic or links from high-traffic male bloggers.

My guess is that it's a bit of both, and the proximate reason is that men are more comfortable with the food fight nature of opinion writing both writing it and reading it. Since I don't wish to suffer the fate of Larry Summers I'll refrain from speculating on deep causes it might be social, cultural, genetic, or Martian mind rays for all I know but I imagine that the fundamental viciousness and self aggrandizement inherent in opinion writing turns off a lot of women.

Which begs another question: does this mean that women need to change if they want to enter the fray, or does it mean that the fray needs to change in order to attract more women? As usual, probably some of both. Unfortunately, the blogosphere, which ought to be an ideal training ground for finding new voices in nontraditional places, is far more vitriolic than any op-ed page in the country, even the Wall Street Journal's, and therefore probably turns off women far more than it attracts them.

I wish I had some answers for this, but nothing springs immediately to mind. So even though comment threads make blogs look like models of warmth and acceptance, I guess that's where the conversation will have to continue. Try to keep it civil, OK?

UPDATE: Links added. Click on La Shawn's link and see pictures of her with conservative stars of print and pixel!

UPDATE 2: Yep, I missed someone: Michele Catalano is also in the top 30. She's been added and percentages recalculated.

Kevin Drum 3:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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