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February 18, 2005

On Women, Bias, Discrimination, Yada, Yada, Yada...

Here we go again... Susan Estrich writes to Michael Kinsley of the LA Times:

It is with great regret that I send you this message, asking you to help me in fighting blatant sex discrimination at The Los Angeles Times. What could be more important - or easier for that matter - than ensuring that women's voices are heard in public discourse in our community? For the last three years, my students and I have been counting the number of women whose opinion pieces appear in The Los Angeles Times, and the record is worse than dismal, worse than The New York Times (which has a woman editorial page editor), worse than The Washington Post, even worse than the Orange County Register (which has a woman editor).

There are more wonderful women writers in LA than anywhere in the country; none of them are asked to write for the opinion section; Ms. Magazine is based here, Elaine Lafferty finds phenomenal writers, neither she nor they are in the Times. Instead of calling Elaine for ideas, the new editors called the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol, who recommended Max Boot ... Max Boot? The old boys' network at work.

And the paper, far from improving, keeps getting worse. A few weeks ago, I pointed out to Michael that they went looking for people to ask about their opinions on the war in Iraq: and found THIRTEEN MEN AND NO WOMEN.

Then there was two weeks ago, when I did a spot check of a Monday-Wednesday and counted TWENTY FOUR MEN AND ONE WOMAN IN A THREE DAY PERIOD.

Before responding, I should first note that I am a conservative female which (depending on who you talk to) makes me an imaginary beast like the Unicorn or the fabled Thinking Black Republican of Myth and Legend. Or simply a phony. There is a third possibility, as The BarbEhrian notes, observing that today's right-wing women,

...the spiritual descendants of the Women’s KKK, are far more overtly hostile to feminists than to any racial or ethnic 'others'...

So though, as a conservative and one who works with statistics I instinctively oppose outcome-based allegations of discrimination, I have to hand it to Ms. Estrich: she's got Mr. Kinsley dead-to-rights. Because liberals are always making that argument.

If there aren't enough blacks in your graduate chemical engineering class, that's de facto evidence of discrimination in admissions (never mind looking at how many applied to get into the program, nor their qualifications). If enough high school girls don't take Differential Equations, someone must be oppressing them (never mind the body of evidence that shows they're simply not interested, or that there may be [shudder] gender differences in the way we think. That kind of talk can get you fired). If there aren't enough dwarfs in pro sumo wrestling... doh!

In today's society certain things are simply Unmentionable.

One of them seems to be that for some reason, women (in general) don't seem to write about the same topics, in the same numbers, that male columnists do. Could this possibly be one reason for the disparity in gender representation Ms. Estrich decries on the pages of the LA Times?

There has been an ongoing controversy in the Blogosphere over male vs. female bloggers and whether women are "ignored" as serious writers. Last year when I was still at Jet Noise, John Hawkins touched off a minor firestorm and a lot of good discussion on the subject.

Do I think there's a perception out there that female bloggers aren't as "serious" as men? You bet.

Do I think that some male bloggers (including one or two big-name bloggers) don't particularly welcome female bloggers into the club, or link to their posts? Perhaps. It's hard to say.

I've honestly been mystified in a few instances where I (or other women) have consistently written better or more substantive posts on a subject than a popular male blogger, but everyone links to him. I think this happens to men, too though. And as a woman, I have to admit a few things:

1. I don't promote my work. At all. And this may be a defining difference between male and female bloggers - many successful men are very aggressive about networking and emailing their posts around, and it works. So in the blogosphere (as in the real world with salary and compensation packages) they are seeing the result of their hard work. If a perfect world, maybe merit alone would determine who gets linked, but let's face it - effort counts too. And chutzpah. You can't sit in a corner and pout and hope the world notices you.

2. They may just not like my writing. Or me, for that matter. The blogosphere is a community - people link to people they know and like. Why assume gender discrimination when the real answer may simply be that they find you annoying, or simply prefer to link to someone they know?

3. I should have posted a picture of my boobs. OK, this one's not serious...

4. Although I do write a goodly amount of serious, substantive material, I also include a lot of snarky material to lighten things up, and this may offend or annoy some people. I write to please myself - if this were a magazine, obviously the standard would be far different. But it's a personal blog.

I have observed that, so far as I can tell from the mail and comments I receive, my readership is almost overwhelmingly male.

That alone says something. I'm not sure what. Possibly that not all that many women are all that interested in things I write about. I find this thought distressing, but not really surprising: in everyday life I find it difficult to find other women who want to talk about politics or national security or the war on terror or economic issues.

Following that thought up: if not all that many women are interested in reading about these topics, is it not possible that not all that many women are writing about them, day in and day out? I'm certainly not making the case that women aren't interested in these things: there are too many excellent refutations to that premise out there.

But it's a numbers game.

And what, after all, is so wrong with admitting that perhaps, just perhaps, men and women are different? Is this truly such a scary thought that even in academic circles we are still crying heretic at the mere suggestion? Look at the ridiculous ankle-biting that continues to dog Larry Summers, even after he fatuously apologized for daring to mention academic research into gender differences at [gasp!] an academic conference, causing scientists to go into convulsions and suffer permanent emotional trauma:

President Lawrence H. Summers of Harvard was confronted at a meeting of his own faculty on Tuesday by some of the university's most influential professors, who expressed strong dissatisfaction with his leadership and charged that he was damaging the institution.
Dr. Kleinman said: "He heard a lot of hard things and he seemed to listen. At the end he apologized for giving the sense that he was governing by fear and intimidation."

The 90-minute meeting ended with a unanimous vote to hold an emergency meeting of the faculty next Tuesday so professors could continue to discuss their lack of confidence in Dr. Summers's leadership.

Attendance yesterday was about twice the usual number, with more than 250 professors crowding into the meeting room at University Hall.

Several, including Barbara J. Grosz, chairwoman of a new task force on women in science and engineering, called on Dr. Summers to release a transcript of his remarks about science and women. Theda Skocpol, a professor of government and sociology, said, "President Summers appears to be apologizing profusely, yet he refuses to release for honest discussion his actual remarks." The result was that commentators have cast his critics as "unreasonable opponents of academic inquiry and openness," with Harvard "ridiculed as a center of close-minded political correctness."

Well if the shoe fits...

The irony here is almost unbearable. The media pilloried bloggers for asking Eason Jordan to release a transcript of his remarks.

Not (mind you) that they covered the story until Jordan's resignation forced their hand.

Now the NY Times, which found it un-newsworthy when the head of one of the largest news networks in the free world accused the US military of murdering 63 journalists, is still covering a minor brouhaha over a remark that was unquestionably true and the resulting demand that he release the transcript of his remarks .

Maybe someone can explain to me why the mere suggestion that women may have different interests and abilities is more shocking and newsworthy than the accusation that our military killed 63 journalists?

It's time to kill this sacred cow.

Thanks to spd rdr for the NYT link.

Posted by Cassandra at February 18, 2005 07:03 AM

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I am starting to detect some bias here against liberal women and their causes.

Posted by: Pile On® at February 18, 2005 09:20 AM

That's because I'm a spiritual descendent of the women's KKK.

Posted by: Cassandra at February 18, 2005 09:23 AM

Actually I kind of like Estrich.

Posted by: Cassandra at February 18, 2005 09:23 AM

I think #3 would work.

Posted by: KJ at February 18, 2005 09:32 AM


Wow. I'll have to give that one some serious thought then. Lord knows they're worth seeing.

Posted by: Cassandra at February 18, 2005 09:34 AM

If you lost the photo (can't imagine how, though), I can dig it out--ummmmm--I mean, run a search for it [g:\\cassinthekitchen#35.jpg]...

[cue music, lilting: "DUCK--and cov-verrrr"]

Posted by: cw4billt at February 18, 2005 11:01 AM

You dirty dog... :)

Posted by: Cassandra at February 18, 2005 11:25 AM

Found in the comments over at Dean's:

"The demonstrators are following a truly vicious principle in playing the 'numbers game.' A demand that 25 per cent (or any other percentage) of jobs be given to Negroes (or any other group) is wrong for one basic reason: it calls for a 'quota system,' which is itself discriminatory....This newspaper has long fought a religious in respect to judgeships; we equally oppose a racial quota in respect to jobs from the most elevated to the most menial." -The New York Times, July 23, 1963

"But the question must not be whether a group recognizable in color, feature, or culture has its rights as a group. No, the question is whether any American individual, regardless of color, features, or culture, is deprived of his rights as an American. If the individual has all the rights and privileges due him under the laws and the Constitution, we need not worry about groups and masses -- these do not, in fact, exist, except as firgures of speech."
-The New York Times, August 4, 1963


(bold/italics are mine)

Posted by: Masked Menace© at February 18, 2005 11:38 AM

Well, I for one am glad that we're at least discussing the issue like the adults we pretend to be. Certain subjects are just too important to be kept hidden. Oh sure, when these things are new, they don't appear such large issues, and no support is necessary. But as time goes on, their importance grows and grows until one day you find you're noticing them everywhere. So its good to have this all upfront and out in the open. I look forward to reading more about these topics here.

Posted by: spd rdr at February 18, 2005 11:43 AM

Poor Susie. What with all those years of phallus-counting, it's no wonder she's in a snit.

Posted by: George at February 18, 2005 11:52 AM

George, you've got to keep an eye on the dicks of this world :)

They're everywhere, and they're out to get you!

Just ask Susan...

Posted by: Cassandra at February 18, 2005 11:56 AM

Tell me about it. There out to get me every day.

Posted by: J-Lo's Butt at February 18, 2005 12:00 PM

I look forward to reading more about these topics here.

Funny you should mention that spd... Our next topic of discussion is going to be "Those Insensitive Male Bloggers and Their Constant Use of Male Genital Imagery: Does It Create A Hostile Climate In The Blogosphere???"

Posted by: Cassandra at February 18, 2005 12:00 PM

Are you implying you are IN FAVOR of CLIMATE CHANGE in the atmosphere?
Or was that blogosphere?
Does that change the meaning of what you said?

Never mind.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at February 18, 2005 03:28 PM

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