Culture, Domestic, Most Recent Column, Op-Ed — February 25, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Media, Gender Imbalances, and Opinion: A Woman’s Opinion

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The following is a letter from Columbia Political Review Senior Editor Shane Ferro to The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait. Mr. Chait recently weighed in on the issue of gender imbalances in magazines/journalism, arguing that women grow up less likely to pursue opinion writing, taking blame for the imbalance at least partially out of his magazine’s hands.
For more on Mr. Chait’s article and the controversy that inspired it,
click here. Ms. Ferro takes issue with this logic below:

Dear Mr. Chait,

I see what you did there.

Before you even started to make your argument, you tried to hedge and ultimately de-legitimize your opposition (women, in this case). I almost didn’t write this for fear of being classified as part of the “echo chamber quality of women agreeing that the issue is sexist editors.” The underlying point in that statement, whether you meant it that way or not, is that feminists are screechy flies on the wall. Well guess what? I am a female with enough confidence in my opinions to tell you that you are wrong anyway. Let it echo away.

I am openly a young feminist. That being said, I am not going to cry “sexism” in this case. The problem isn’t sexism per se, but rather a more indirect difference in the way that the genders interact. It isn’t that women aren’t predisposed towards having opinions or expressing them in print–I suggest that you observe a college seminar class sometime soon–but that getting our confidence going takes a bit more of a push. There is this unfortunately subversive tension in our society between what we tell our daughters (you can be whatever you want to be!) and how we talk about aggressive, stereotype-defying women (see: Clinton, Hillary and/or feminism as a movement). It’s not hard to see why young female writers need an extra word of encouragement to step into the fray.

Let’s take up your premise that The New Republic hires young female writers. That they generally veer towards feature writing, and then ultimately end up being hired away by stronger feature magazines like the New York Times Magazine and the New Yorker (where, in the spirit of full disclosure, I should note that I am an intern). It’s a good argument, except for the part where you say that it’s too late to get them interested in writing opinion pieces. If that is really the case then maybe you should start recruiting earlier. But I think that it is not.

By making that argument, you remove the staff of The New Republic from being active participants. Perhaps a female’s first inclination is towards features writing, or hard reporting, and that is what their background is in college. But who cares? These are young and impressionable journalists who don’t have a fully formed career path yet. Sure they may think so, but they are in their early twenties. It is your job to knock the wind out of them and show them how wrong they are. As one of those early-twenties, aspiring journalists, let me tell you, if life ends up turning out the way I think it is going to now, I am going to be very disappointed. These young journalists are exploring, looking for mentors, and trying to figure out what they are good at.

Despite the fact that you say you aren’t in a position to hire, edit, etc., you are a role model in a position to foster talent in newer writers. As a young writer I am looking for someone to take an interest in me, respect me, and sometimes just take two minutes to have a conversation with me that goes beyond, “Hey can you do some research for me?” Those people are few and far between as a fledgling journalist, and quite frankly those are the people I am going to want to follow, regardless of what section they write for. You may not have the hard power to hire more women with opinions at The New Republic, but you do have the soft power to keep them. Don’t ignore your power to change this by taking an interest; don’t hide behind the fact that you are “not an editor.”

Of course, I don’t know you. I don’t know the way things work at The New Republic. Maybe you do this and the women leave for feature writing anyway. Maybe I am the lone female swimming against the current here. But if that is the case, I’d love to hear from you Mr. Chait. (“Hello, over here! Graduating! Need journalism job! Will write opinions for food!”)

Sincerely,
Shane Ferro

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