Posts Tagged gender
With extraordinary timing, just after last night’s post on high-powered career women, The Atlantic‘s July issue was released with a cover story addressing exactly that issue. In her essay, former director of policy planning for the US State Department Anne-Marie Slaughter has given her treatise on why she left that dream job after just two years in order to be with her family and how society can change our expectations in order to better accommodate work-family balance.
I can’t do her argument justice, so please go and read the essay (it’s very important). There is, however, one point that I would like to focus on relating my post yesterday (my bold):
Still, the proposition that women can have high-powered careers as long as their husbands or partners are willing to share the parenting load equally (or disproportionately) assumes that most women will feel as comfortable as men do about being away from their children, as long as their partner is home with them. In my experience, that is simply not the case. …
This supposition is the issue. Slaughter does give evidence later that is closer to my perspective, however it does not seem to change her perception from what she has encountered in her “experience” (my bold):
To be sure, the women who do make it to the top are highly committed to their profession. On closer examination, however, it turns out that most of them have something else in common: they are genuine superwomen. …
Seeking out a more balanced life is not a women’s issue; balance would be better for us all. Bronnie Ware, an Australian blogger who worked for years in palliative care and is the author of the 2011 book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, writes that the regret she heard most often was “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” The second-most-common regret was “I wish I didn’t work so hard.” She writes: “This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship.” …
What I glean from this type of thing is the harm that is genuinely being done by gender-normative assumptions — not just to women, but to us men as well. The assumption here is that men won’t care about being away from their family and will naturally just spend more time working.
It seems that people have been extremely reluctant to acknowledge the sacrifices that men at the top actually make in order to be there. It could be that this phenomenon that we’re seeing is not a case of society having created top-jobs that women can’t do because women care about family too much. Maybe it’s a case of society having created top jobs that are extremely difficult, and the women who were born into the egalitarian era are just beginning to discover how true this is.
I am a little offended by this idea that it is something reasonable to expect of men, but unreasonable to expect of women. Even Slaughter here has made the assumption that the men around her were not hurting just as much about the fact that they weren’t spending time with their family.
Maybe the difference was not that she had some kind of inherent need that they didn’t feel — maybe it’s simply that it is more socially acceptable for her to make the decision to sacrifice career for family because, while she may be seen as “betraying her feminist principles”, she will not face the stigma that the men would of being “weak”, “not dedicated enough”, or — dare I say — “girly”.
Of course, evolutionary psychologists would disagree with this idealised view that human nature is so malleable and would argue that men and women really are wired that way. Even accepting this as true, the furthest that this argument can go is to say that most women on average will be inherently more likely to want to sacrifice their careers for their families than most men. There would still be countless men and women who do not fit this characterisation.
Men have, of course, become much more involved parents over the past couple of decades, and that, too, suggests broad support for big changes in the way we balance work and family. It is noteworthy that both James Steinberg, deputy secretary of state, and William Lynn, deputy secretary of defense, stepped down two years into the Obama administration so that they could spend more time with their children (for real).
Going forward, women would do well to frame work-family balance in terms of the broader social and economic issues that affect both women and men. After all, we have a new generation of young men who have been raised by full-time working mothers. Let us presume, as I do with my sons, that they will understand “supporting their families” to mean more than earning money.
I don’t see why this needs to be a “framing” issue. Why can’t we just accept that work-life balance is important for everyone? This idea that it’s a “feminist” fight immediately isolates anyone who does not define themselves that way. This is not about making work easier for women or men, it’s about strengthening families, improving peoples’ working lives and improving the wellbeing of parents and children.
And where are the Unions on this one? It seems a hell of a lot more important than keeping those damn foreigners from taking our jerbs.
That said, I will end with the point made here by Rod Dreher — who, as he describes in that post, is a man who sacrificed his career to spend more time with his family.
Slaughter is still hanging onto the 1960′s feminist dream that women can “have it all” and that is what her solutions are geared towards. Her solutions would definitely help with peoples’ work/family balance in general, however they would not allow women to “have it all”.
The unfortunate reality is that no one can ever have it all. It is impossible to do everything. There is no conceivable way that someone can work a 60-hour week and still have a huge amount of time with their families and there is no way that someone who works less than that can compare with someone who does work that much. At some point, everyone has to make a trade-off: some will choose their family, and some will choose their career. We can try to ease the conflicts as much as possible, but they will never go away completely.
This is the first of two posts on Gina Rinehart, resulting from a few debates that I have been having over the past few days, mostly on Facebook. The other one will consider her Fairfax bid and press freedom.
IN MY line of work, I get to spend quite a lot of time in high-level boardroom meetings with people who all sit on corporate boards. I also have a few relatives who have sat on various boards in their time and my extended networks include quite a number of others. This means that while am not on any corporate boards, I am not a stranger to them either.
I still remember the first time I was at one of said meetings and a female colleague muttered to me, “do you notice anything particularly… male about the room?” The truth was that I hadn’t. While I had definitely noticed that I was the youngest person in the room by at least a decade (two if you didn’t count her). Until she pointed it out to me, it did not occur to me that she was the only woman there.
That incident jolted me into awareness. Since then, I have been paying attention to the gender balance when I am in corporate settings and a lot of observations have struck me that anecdotally support the mountains of research showing that the boardroom is simply not a place for girls. Not once in the last couple of years have I ever seen anything that even comes close to gender balance. Several times, there have actually been no women present. I also find that the “higher-level” the meeting, the less women tend to be invited.
That said, there are other observations that I can make about people in boardrooms than merely their gender. They are generally very sure of themselves – often manifesting as arrogance, but always including a calm and confident demeanour. They are hard-working, ambitious and persistent to the point of obsession, they know what they want and they make it happen. They are uncompromising – they expect the best and will not accept anything less. They are often very blunt and straight-talking. They can be friendly and charming when they want to, but they can be aggressive and intimidating when they have to.
I note these things not as a criticism of the corporate world and certainly not as an affront to the people that I am writing about. I have a tremendous amount of respect for most of them, they work harder than anyone else I know and they do amazing and under-appreciated (if not under-paid) work, without which our society could not function.
I MENTIONED those character traits is because of a common thread running through them: they are generally “alpha male” traits, they are not things that women are “supposed” to be. Women are loving, conciliatory, family-oriented and selfless. Women are neurotic and emotional, they doubt themselves, they shut-down and cry when bad things happen and they panic when they are stressed. They are not confident, ambitious, persistent and aggressive. When shit hits the fan, they are the ones panicking and screaming, not the ones who take-charge – at least in most sitcoms. [UPDATE: as the comments show, apparently this paragraph was not interpreted correctly by everyone, so I need to give a disclaimer. The previous paragraph was not intended to be a true and accurate reflection of how all women behave, it was supposed to be illustrative of a stereotype.]
Again, I am not trying to say that it is a bad thing for someone to put others first, display their emotion and focus more on relationships than outcomes. I am trying to say that doing this is unlikely to get you ahead in the corporate world (or in other areas of public life). If you doubt yourself, the person who believes in themself will get the pay-rise or the promotion. If you shut-down and cry or panic, someone else will take charge. If you compromise, someone else won’t and they will have the better result in the end. Potential alone can only get you so far, there is not a lot of room at the top and to get there requires hard work, sacrifices and, above all, wanting to be there more than everyone else.
The public image of most successful women in Australia does not fit the stereotype of a high-powered Director. I say “public image” because, from my experience, the women who get to these positions do have most of these traits in private, but are able to create a persona that comes across as more “feminine” when they want to.
I refuse to believe that the corporate exec described above is actually gender-related. I know plenty of men who do not act like that. That character is simply how a person needs to act in order to reach the top of the corporate ladder – possibly the most competitive position anyone can aspire to reach (except maybe professional athlete). Other high-profile positions (rockstar, politician etc) require a huge amount of luck as well as hard work, becoming a CEO or company chair is about nothing except ability, attitude and work ethic.
THERE IS one very notable exception: Gina Rinehart. Here is a woman who is overweight and unattractive, but clearly not too concerned about her appearance and uninterested in the world of glamour and fashion. She is abrasive, intimidating and even a bully. She is willing to do whatever it takes to get what she wants, without regard to the way it makes her look or the people she is offending. She is ambitious, single-minded and dedicated to the point where she supposedly goes without any of the frills that other billionaires afford themselves so that she can re-invest all her money into her company.
She is also not a “loving mother” figure by any stretch of the imagination. She is reportedly quiet and reserved in person and she keeps her personal affairs completely private. What did leak last year was that, having judged her children as inept for running her company, she offered them each $300mln a year in return for signing-away their shares. When they refused, she fought them all the way to the High Court – becoming estranged in the process.
Meanwhile, her achievements are incredible. She inherited a floundering, debt-ridden mining company that was making its money from a lucky break and transformed it into a hugely profitable, gigantic operation – becoming the world’s wealthiest woman in the process. She is now in the process of planning the biggest Australian-owned mining development in history and is funding it entirely on her own. Yes, she was born into some wealth due to a lucky find by her father, but many people born into wealth spend their lives turning a large fortune into a small one. She turned a small fortune into a gargantuan one.
And yet she is being punished for this – not by the Andrew Bolts and Alan Jones’ of this world, but by the very people that would generally be the first to jump to her defence if she hadn’t made the unfortunate mistake of being a Conservative and one of the mining magnates vilified by Wayne Swan. Oh, as well as committing the awful sin of giving jobs to people who weren’t lucky enough to be born in Australia.
The best (but not the only) example was the abuse she received from David Marr and Miriam Margolyes on Q and A last month:
Note: I did not criticise the others as Barry Humphries was playing a character, Tony Jones was trying to defend her while still maintaining his “distance” as chair, Jacki Weaver seemed a little stunned and John Hewson later said he regretted not arguing but felt overwhelmed. Also, Marr and Margolyes were the two noted “feminists” on the panel.
THAT INCIDENT did receive fairly wide coverage – in News Ltd papers. It was all but ignored in the ABC, Fairfax (well, aside from the SMH’s balance columnist), New Matilda etc. Some good responses were written that I could find in more minor leftist publications, however it was generally her political allies that were jumping to her defence. More anecdotally, the people on my social networks who would normally be concerned about this kind of thing have been completely silent.
Why is this such a problem? Because it shows that this kind of abuse is acceptable for women that the left don’t like. It sends the message that the only reason anyone complains about comments aimed at Julia Gillard or Christine Milne is that they are on the left and not because this kind of discourse should be unacceptable. It reaffirms the idea that women shouldn’t act like CEOs, which discourages women from acting like CEOs, which in turn means women won’t become CEOs.
To some degree I think that it may be that people who hold corporate leaders in contempt yet think they want to see more women being corporate leaders were somehow expecting female corporate leaders to be more like “women” and less like “businessmen”. The issues inherent in that assumption should speak for themselves.
It’s all well and good to conduct research and then complain about the lack of women at the top, but unless there are a lot of ambitious and competitive young women willing to fight to get there, nothing will ever change.
Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy has a piece in this month’s Foreign Policy on the problems faced by women in the Arab world. This is a very important article and I would encourage you all to read it, but I want to highlight the central point in her thesis — which has been proven overwhelmingly by the response that has exploded literally hours since her article went online (the print edition is not even out yet).
Eltahawy begins her essay with the point that when anyone normally brings up the issue of Arab women, they are shouted-down with problems women face in the West. As if this is a reason not to speak about something far, far worse.
This is the third-worldist cultural relativism that I have highlighted a few times. It is the insipid prejudice of low expectations — using “cultural differences” to justify holding others to a lower standard. It’s hard to even imagine the outcry that would follow a white, American pastor coming out in support of female genital mutilation — yet one of the leading clerical celebrities in the Arab world does so unashamedly and no one blinks. He even gets invited to hang out with London Mayoral candidate and career antisemite Ken Livingstone.
If no one says anything, nothing will ever get done about this. Good on Eltahawy for standing up to the cultural pressures trying to crush her into silence. Elections in Egypt will not bring democracy so long as female candidates cannot even have their faces on electoral material.
So: Yes, women all over the world have problems; yes, the United States has yet to elect a female president; and yes, women continue to be objectified in many “Western” countries (I live in one of them). That’s where the conversation usually ends when you try to discuss why Arab societies hate women.
But let’s put aside what the United States does or doesn’t do to women. Name me an Arab country, and I’ll recite a litany of abuses fueled by a toxic mix of culture and religion that few seem willing or able to disentangle lest they blaspheme or offend. When more than 90 percent of ever-married women in Egypt — including my mother and all but one of her six sisters — have had their genitals cut in the name of modesty, then surely we must all blaspheme. When Egyptian women are subjected to humiliating “virginity tests” merely for speaking out, it’s no time for silence. When an article in the Egyptian criminal code says that if a woman has been beaten by her husband “with good intentions” no punitive damages can be obtained, then to hell with political correctness. And what, pray tell, are “good intentions”? They are legally deemed to include any beating that is “not severe” or “directed at the face.” What all this means is that when it comes to the status of women in the Middle East, it’s not better than you think. It’s much, much worse. Even after these “revolutions,” all is more or less considered well with the world as long as women are covered up, anchored to the home, denied the simple mobility of getting into their own cars, forced to get permission from men to travel, and unable to marry without a male guardian’s blessing — or divorce either. …
First we stop pretending. Call out the hate for what it is. Resist cultural relativism and know that even in countries undergoing revolutions and uprisings, women will remain the cheapest bargaining chips. You — the outside world — will be told that it’s our “culture” and “religion” to do X, Y, or Z to women.
Understand that whoever deemed it as such was never a woman. The Arab uprisings may have been sparked by an Arab man — Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in desperation — but they will be finished by Arab women.
There has been a lot of fascinating coverage in the Atlantic over the past couple of years regarding the impacts that the GFC have had on men in the workforce — most famously, Hannah Rosin’s 2010 cover story ‘The End of Men‘.
Today, Jordan Weissmann is arguing that the neologism coined in response — “mancession” — is misplaced, since men are always the gender to be more adversely affected by a recession.
Perhaps it’s finally time to retire the phrase “mancession.”
During the past few years, that grisly portmanteau has become a popular shorthand for the way men seemed to suffer a special degree of misfortune during the Great Recession. Male-dominated industries, particularly construction, had been at the heart of the housing bust and the ensuing downturn, and their job prospects diminished more as a result. Hence, a new turn of phrase was born.
And it is accurate. Men’s employment did indeed crash further than women’s. But here’s why we might want to consider putting “mancession” on ice: It turns out men have gotten the brunt of every economic downturn for the past thirty years. In other words, every recession has been a “mancession.”
On the other hand, Tanya Gold in The Guardian argues that the current recession (and the Tory Government) is affecting women far more.
I will type until my fingers bleed; these are the worst of times for women, and the best of times for inequality, which is not a buzzword to be mocked but a phenomenon that is paid for in human tears. At a TUC event last month we lamented: we are going backwards. Women are leaving the workforce in ever greater numbers, to meet the usual fate of women who don’t work in a shrinking state divesting itself even of free access to the Child Support Agency and legal aid – poverty, and indifference to poverty. When the current vogue for retro style rolled in – cupcakes and Mad Men and Julian Fellowes’s reactionary fantasies – I thought it was a trend. I didn’t realise it was a prophecy, hung with other assaults on women’s needs, such as protesters standing like righteous zombies outside British abortion clinics. (Be pregnant, is their message. Be grateful).
I do want to note that while Gold offers some compelling figures, she also said this:
the long-hours macho working culture that thrills business because it enables men’s psychological dominance
Right. That sounds like the reason businesses would want people to work more. I think you nailed it there Ms Gold…
There are some interesting questions being raised though: why is the recession affecting men more in the US and women more in the UK? Is that, in fact, the truth? Was the GFC sexist? Does Gold refuse to work long hours because it is “macho” or because she is lazy?
Our friend Joseph Kony totally overshadowed International Women’s Day yesterday — which is a horrible thing to do, add that one to the list. Also, a lot of people criticised me for being too negative about Kony because I was “trying to stop people to take action”. But more on that later. Anyway, I thought I would post a few items that would have been relevant yesterday while also making a few positive suggestions of campaigns that would help Africans more than wearing a Kony armband.
1. The “Girl Affect”
The crux of this is described in the following moving infographic:
Or much more eloquently by Nicholas Kristof in a recent New York Times Magazine article:
if the injustices that women in poor countries suffer are of paramount importance, in an economic and geopolitical sense the opportunity they represent is even greater. “Women hold up half the sky,” in the words of a Chinese saying, yet that’s mostly an aspiration: in a large slice of the world, girls are uneducated and women marginalized, and it’s not an accident that those same countries are disproportionately mired in poverty and riven by fundamentalism and chaos. There’s a growing recognition among everyone from the World Bank to the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff to aid organizations like CARE that focusing on women and girls is the most effective way to fight global poverty and extremism. That’s why foreign aid is increasingly directed to women. The world is awakening to a powerful truth: Women and girls aren’t the problem; they’re the solution.
And it can be found on Facebook.
2. Holding Islamists to account
The downside to that Kristof piece was this:
Yet another reason to educate and empower women is that greater female involvement in society and the economy appears to undermine extremism and terrorism. It has long been known that a risk factor for turbulence and violence is the share of a country’s population made up of young people. Now it is emerging that male domination of society is also a risk factor; the reasons aren’t fully understood, but it may be that when women are marginalized the nation takes on the testosterone-laden culture of a military camp or a high-school boys’ locker room. That’s in part why the Joint Chiefs of Staff and international security specialists are puzzling over how to increase girls’ education in countries like Afghanistan — and why generals have gotten briefings from Greg Mortenson, who wrote about building girls’ schools in his best seller, “Three Cups of Tea.” Indeed, some scholars say they believe the reason Muslim countries have been disproportionately afflicted by terrorism is not Islamic teachings about infidels or violence but rather the low levels of female education and participation in the labor force.
This almost certainly confuses cause and effect. The “Islamic teachings about infidels or violence” are, by and large, the reason behind the low levels of female education and participation in the labor force. I particularly dislike calling these teachings “Islamic”; they are not Islamic, they are Islamist. I have spoken to plenty of Muslims who have explained to me in detail why there is nothing Islamic whatsoever about not educating women and slaying the infidels.
Moreover, the denial of Islamist discrimination is an example of a third-worldist well-meaning condescension. This leads to the kind of situation described yesterday by Isobel Coleman, Director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program at Council on Foreign Relations:
One theme is that women played an essential role in the Arab world’s uprisings, only to be marginalized once transitions began. Moushira Khattab, a former Egyptian ambassador to South Africa and minister of family and population, writes that women joined men in calling for freedom in Tahrir Square. Since then, though, “the train of change has not only left them behind, but has in fact turned against them…
Dormant conservative value systems are being manipulated by a religious discourse that denies women their rights.” Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner and human rights activist, says flatly that “the ‘Arab Spring’ is not an accurate description” of what has occurred. She notes that after Iran’s revolution, “a dictator fell from power, but a religious tyranny took the place of democracy.” The uprisings will only be fulfilled, she argues, “when women achieve their rights.” For many, the rise of traditional and religious-based politics is deeply harmful to women. Rola Dashti, a former member of the Kuwaiti parliament who lost her seat in the election last month (in which Islamists surged and no women were elected), says that “women’s presence and participation in public life–specifically in politics, decision-making positions, and state affairs–moved from marginalization during repressive regimes to rejection with Islamist regimes.” She pulls no punches when it comes to moderate Islamists: “the promotion of moderate Islamism by Islamists in power is nothing more than a hidden agenda of radical and extremist ideologies when it comes to social issues and citizens’ rights, especially as it concerns women.” Rend Al-Rahim, who served as the first ambassador to the United States in Iraq’s post-Saddam government and now runs the Iraq Foundation, says that “the retreat in women’s rights has more to do with the resurgence of patriarchal, narrowly conservative social mores embedded in ancient tribal customs than with religion. Sharia is only a convenient peg for the deeper instinct of male dominance.”
I’ll also throw these two videos in while we’re at it:
A little less international relations focussed for a second (well not really, but anyway), some interesting ideas came to light in this post on the Council on Foreign Relations site:
There’s a gap in the types of tasks women and men are assigned early in their careers. Intentionally or not, women tend to given more administrative or support work rather than policy or research work; path dependence takes over from there. I recall a prominent scholar regularly asking his female research assistant (RA) to pick up his dry cleaning and take his car to the shop—things he didn’t ask of male RAs.
There’s also a mentorship gap. Young women have trouble finding men willing to act in that capacity because there are few mechanisms to develop the rapport that underlies a good, productive mentoring relationship. Conversely, men may be concerned about how a mentoring relationship will be perceived and shy away as a result. But mentors are vital for opening doors and offering suggestions and feedback about career choices—efforts that are particularly valuable in the foreign policy world.
A post in the Jewish Daily Forward by Sarah Seltzer led me to this study done by VIDA – an organisation aimed at increasing female representation in literary arts – of bylines in major literary-focussed magazines and book review sections that were written by men and women. The results, shown in a series of piecharts, make for quite bleak viewing:
Before I discuss the results, I have to be annoying and discuss the study methods. As regular readers will know, I generally follow the Tuftian theory on data presentation, meaning that I absolutely hate pie charts and anything else that you can make with Microsoft Office. This is a very ineffective way of showing data, what I want is a nice spreadsheet and maybe a scatterplot – that would mean that I could find trends, averages, standard errors and all of the other things that nerds like me like to look at.
I’ll also note that bylines are just a small part of the picture, the study did not include important factors like the breakdowns by gender of: the number of submissions received; the editorial board members; the pool of potential writers; and — especially important — the readership.
Note: gender scholar Danielle Pafunda has written a relatively compelling argument for other factors being less important than they would seem, noting that much of the result still comes down to editorial policy and that the selection process is far from passive (i.e. editors actively source their writers). I am not entirely convinced by this (especially where she claims that the superior quality of women’s submissions counterbalances the lower volume), but there is something to it.
Looking at the wrong magazines?
This point was raised in one of the comments on the VIDA site:
Many of the largest-circulation magazines in English are primarily written by and read by women. What you’re saying is that if you ignore magazines aimed at women and focus on much smaller magazines that don’t tend to be written by and read by women, there are more men. OK.
My question: why are magazines that focus on women uninteresting, unprestigious, and ignored?
What would happen if you analyzed these magazines, instead of the smaller ones you picked?
This is a valid point, what is also not explained by VIDA is what led to the choice of these particular magazines and the list feels quite arbitrary.
Some of the magazines are dedicated book review journals, some are academic literary journals and some are just highbrow magazines with book review sections, including feature-based magazines (The New Yorker, The Atlantic) and political commentary (The New Republic); all of these are left-leaning, all but one are published in the UK or the USA and some that to me would be quite obvious choices have been left out (e.g. Vanity Fair, The New Statesman, The Spectator).
Also, none are web-based magazines, ignoring important publications like Slate and The Daily Beast, and it has included the literary supplement from The London Times, but not from other similarly regarded/circulated newspapers, such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian etc; all of which have literary supplements. This is not to say that these publications would necessarily be any different (although some probably would — Vanity Fair comes to mind in particular), but it would be good to rule that out, or at least to explain the reason some were chosen but not others.
Maybe the topics are the problem?
Some interesting thoughts on this issue come from another Forward blogger, Elissa Strauss (my bold):
I never bothered to pitch any of the magazines on the VIDA count last year. This wasn’t because I didn’t think they would pay attention to me because of my gender, but rather because they don’t seem to be much interested in covering the things I like to write about. I am talking about topics like gender, sexuality, culture and the intersection of the three.
In the world of the “thought leaders,” these “lady issues” are all still largely niche topics. We get an occasional bone thrown at us, like Kate Bolick’s piece on single ladies in The Atlantic, but these stories always seem to require a strong first-person angle in order to make them newsworthy. Overall, however, women’s issues and gender equity, are just not important or interesting enough to the editors.
There are those that argue that in order for more women to appear on these mastheads, we must leave our comfort zones and take on the “big” stuff like politics and money. I agree, but I also think that it has to go both ways. Sure, more women should, and do, try to inch their way into these beats. But we should also stay determined about the fact that the things we like to read and write about are important, too, and that they don’t deserve to always be relegated to an occasional feature or culture piece.
Essentially, she is suggesting that these magazines need to make an effort to have more “female-focussed” content (i,e, publish more stuff that she writes about). As a subscriber to several of these magazines (though admittedly not a woman), I find this a little absurd. As the comment above pointed out, there are already many magazines aimed at women which speak about these kinds of issues – presumably, these are the ones Strauss pitches to – so why change the subject matter of the ones that have other foci? There is a reason that I subscribe to The New Yorker and not Cosmopolitan (or GQ, for that matter).
These are magazines that publish articles on what Strauss refers to as “the ‘big’ stuff”. They are not the most highly-circulated magazines, but they are the most highly regarded magazines amongst left-leaning, English-speaking “intellectuals”, which seems to be the market that everyone mentioned in this post is going for. It’s not that issues related to gender or sexuality are overlooked in these magazines; they get the occasional feature, but they are not the general focus and nor should they be.
I also don’t understand why women can’t write on the issues that these magazines do cover: politics, science, culture, the arts and assorted human interest stories; in fact, many women do – maybe not most women, but then neither do most men; again, these are niche publications.
That said, I would really have no idea about this, not being a woman and all. So I would like to pose the question to anyone who made it this far: are the issues that I care about (i.e. the ones I read/write about) really not things that women are interested in? Thinking about it, this does seem true to me anecdotally; I find that I have more male friends with whom I can engage with on these kinds of issues than female friends. What I do not understand is why.
On a similar note, the other common explanation that I found was the theory that women are somehow conditioned in ways that make them less apt for this type of writing. The best example came from the New Republic‘s Jonathan Chait, responding to Elissa Strauss’ article on last year’s near-identical list (my bold):
My explanation, which I can’t prove, is socialization predisposes boys to be more interested both in producing and consuming opinion journalism. Confidence in one’s opinions and a willingness to engage in intellectual combat are disproportionately (though not, of course, exclusively) male traits. I’ve come across several writers in my career who are good at writing in the argumentative style but lack confidence in their ability. They are all female.
Now, a magazine can try to encourage women to have more confidence in their opinions and their right to engage in debate and challenge others. I like to think I’ve done my part here. But overwhelmingly, by the time they reach this stage in their career, the battle has already been lost.
I also have trouble dealing with this argument for the simple reason that most of Chait’s response was describing the soft affirmative action at the New Republic and how many women seem to be around the office, if not writing the bylines. I feel like there must be something else going on.
This post is getting much too long, so here are some more responses that are worth reading for anyone still interested: Roxane Gay wants affirmative action; Robin Romm notes the cycle of literary awards and accolades; Ruth Franklin shows that the problem may not be the magazines, but the publishing houses.
And for the record, my favourite female writers:
- Alana Newhouse: editor-in-cheif, Tablet
- Jennifer Rubin: columnist, Washington Post
- Maureen Dowd: columnist, New York Times
- Dina Rickman: assistant politics editor, Huffington Post UK
- Diaa Hadid: Mid-East based Associated Press reporter
- Sally Neighbour: prolific Australian freelance reporter
- Latika Bourke: ABC (Aust) political reporter
Again, I am quite puzzled by the issue and would appreciate any thoughts on it. You can reply in the comments section, by email or on Twitter (see the “About” section on the right of the page).
As I have covered before, the Arab world has recently been going through a cultural gender-identity crisis as the backwards and oppressive thinking that pervades the region is taking a growing economic toll. The principal opposition to modernising Arab culture in general comes from political Islamists who genuinely idealise a 7th Century way of living, although they do allow special dispensation for some of the 21st Century’s developments (mostly its weaponry). Sadly, unlike most other unsavoury trends in the region, this wave of intolerance that is sweeping the Middle East is not passing over the doors of the Children of Israel.
Following on from this story about the High Court ruling against the forced separation of men and women in public streets, it seems that the Haredi community are continuing to champion the “Apartheid Israel” label and fiercely battling to keep the fairer sex off the airwaves and at the back of buses. I kid you not.
Religious IDF soldiers also refused to listen to women singing at an army event because of a prohibition within Jewish law of listening to women sing in person.
A complaint was submitted to the broadcasting authority about the exclusion of women on the haredi radio station Kol Berama, and the issue of gender-segregated buses in haredi neighborhoods has also not been resolved.
[MK Tzipi] Hotovely made her comments during the first-ever hearing of the Knesset Committee for the Advancement of the Status of Women into the issue, initiated by MK Einat Wilf (Independence).
“The committee… sees the exclusion of women as apartheid which contradicts the values of the state of Israel and Jewish law,” Hotovely said. “We have to fight this phenomenon of radicalization that is being expressed through the exclusion of women [in public life], because it seriously injures [the rights] of women and society as a whole.”
… The committee said that it would be asking that Egged and the Transportation Ministry provide within three months a document detailing any occurrences in which the ruling of the Supreme Court outlawing gender segregation on buses is infringed.
MK Orit Zuaretz (Kadima) was also present at the hearing and further proposed that Egged demand that its drivers complete a form whenever any incident of segregation occurs.
Oh, and I’ll add to that: off billboards.
Jerusalem’s secular mayor, Nir Barkat, has pitted himself against the city’s swelling ranks of ultra-orthodox extremists by demanding that local police enable women to reclaim their position in the public domain.
Over recent months, women’s faces have disappeared from billboards across the city amid mounting pressure applied by the powerful ultra-orthodox lobby, who find the female image offensive.
Several advertisers have erased female models from their posters in Jerusalem. Elsewhere in Israel, the winter campaign of Israeli clothing brand Honigman features a model cosily dressed in winter knits. In the capital, the woman’s head has been removed from the image, leaving just her arm and a handbag.
This kind of thing has no place in Israel. It’s backwards, it’s harmful to society as a whole and, most of all, it’s un-Jewish. This stems from an insular and extreme community that is more than happy to piggyback off the rest of society when they receive their welfare cheques, but otherwise do everything that they possibly can to isolate themselves (many of them are not even Zionists). Fortunately, some are speaking out. Here’s haredi Rabbi Chaim Amsalem explaining why the encroaching gender Apartheid is un-Jewish.
Let me begin by making a clear and loud declaration for all to hear: There is absolutely no basis in Jewish law for the separation of men and women on buses or public streets.
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the greatest Orthodox halachic authority of the 20th century, made this very clear in his responsa, where he ruled that there was no problem with riding the New York subway, where men and women are often pressed together in very tight quarters. This applies all the more so when simply sitting in close proximity on a bus.
Aside from the fact that Jewish law certainly allows men and women to sit together on the bus or walk on the same side of the street, there is actually a specific halachic transgression that occurs when such extreme actions are taken … even according to the warped understanding that Jewish law does mandate the separation of men and women in these circumstances, there would certainly be no justification for demeaning a woman by forcing her to move to the back of the bus.
Granted, Jewish law does mandate the separation of men and women during prayer and specific other times, but nothing beyond that. The Torah opens society to women and cautions that it is the man’s responsibility not to “stray after your eyes.”
But this isn’t just about buses. This is about growing extremism in the haredi world, part of which includes the demonization of women.That is the reason in certain neighborhoods the Clalit healthcare fund has stopped giving children stickers with pictures of little girls on them, and the reason some haredi newspapers will not print pictures of women. Some go as far as doctoring photos in order to remove women in adherence of this policy.
… Right at the beginning of Creation, the Torah says God created one being in the following way: “Male and female He created them.”
If there was only one being, why does the Torah say “them” and describe it as both “male and female”?
The Talmud explains that God fashioned an original being which embodied both male and female characteristics and then separated that one being into two. Why? Why didn’t He make them into separate male and female beings from the start?
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, one of the most prominent Orthodox rabbis of the 19th century, explained as follows: “So that what was previously one creature was not two, and thereby the complete equality of women forever attested [to].”
… But our tradition goes even beyond demanding equality.The Talmud teaches that the Jews were redeemed from slavery in Egypt due to the merit of Jewish women, and that the women did not worship the golden calf or believe the negative report of the spies about Israel. Our salvation in the Hanukka and Purim stories came because our women rose to the occasion. According to our tradition, women have binah yeteira – an increased ability to understand and comprehend. That quality has saved the Jewish people throughout history.