Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 23, 2005
By: Katha Pollitt

Too Feminist for the Times?....Amy, I think you are right that at present the female pool of opinion writers is smaller than the male pool for all the reasons you suggest. But I would like to hear your thoughts on why it is that the women who are in the pool like the women I've mentioned are not being employed by the very people who claim to be looking for women! A top place like the New York Times or the Washington Post or the big newsweeklies can hire anyone it wants. The editors don't hire by waiting for the phone to ring, and I'm sure the names I've mentioned and dozens of others are familiar to them. Just because blatant and subtle sex discrimination is an old and longstanding issue, about which perhaps little that is original can be said and which puts men on the defensive, doesn't mean it's not a big part of the answer.

Another piece of the answer, I think, is that these women are too feminist and too liberal for today's increasingly conservative press. Conservative women may have a better shot the Minneapolis Star Tribune just hired very conservative Katherine Kersten as a metro columnist and pretty much admits it's to counter charges of liberal bias. (Funny, conservative papers like the Wall Street Journal and New York Post don't seem to feel they need to counter charges of conservative bias by having a liberal columnist or two.)

As for book reviewing, I have to say I know too many women who have gotten the runaround from editors to see the lack of women as a problem of supply. True, book reviewing is a form of opinion a very mild form, most of the time: there are plenty of reviewers of both sexes who mostly praise or evaluate in a neutral way. It is hardly a food fight, despite a few writers like Dale Peck who love to hate everything. The way you describe women, they sound pathologically paralyzed with fear of even the wimpiest forms of self-assertion. Yet, there are fields of criticism where women are well-represented, like restaurant and other consumer reviewing, and in which they even predominate, like dance criticism and of course the endless bashing of feminism and all its works. I think the key is that these are "female" fields and men are not so interested in them. But certainly they show that when the opening is there, women can express their opinions without getting sweaty palms. It's just that they mostly get the chance at subjects men scorn.

Speaking of dance, here is another way of explaining why the talent pool is not the key issue: Few boys study ballet or modern dance, and most American men have zero interest in and even contempt for these arts, which are not only stereotyped as feminine, but as gay. However, ballet and modern dance require male dancers, and voila, out of the very small pool of available candidates, approximately as many male as female dancers are found and hired men who range from adequate to fantastic and certainly do not drag down the level of the company that hires them. Famous male dancers have started out as athletes, started training late, or come to dance through unconventional channels. My point is, when you want (need) people, you find them, you make them.

The smaller talent pool is not an insuperable problem. With women, we are hardly talking tiny, minuscule, infinitesimal. Enough smart women with opinions exist so that magazines could be filling their pages with women.

So let's talk about what editors and others can do to bring this happy state about!

Katha Pollitt 12:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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