Are Opinions Male?


Thursday, Julian linked to one of the better columns (it was by Anne Applebaum) to emerge from the long-running Susan Estrich-Michael Kinsley argument about op-eds and women. But nobody has topped the contribution of former reason editor Virginia Postrel, who has actually operated in an Estrich-like op-ed universe.

That universe was literally pink and blue. "I remember visiting Bob Berger," Virginia writes, "the [Los Angeles Times] op-ed editor, back in the early '90s. An old-style newspaperman, Bob didn't like the paper's demands that he demonstrate 'diversity' on the op-ed pages. I especially remember his complaint that he not only had to find gay writers but gay writers who would mention that they were gay."

Turns out that the irritated editor "posted a chart on his door to prove what a good job he was doing. It showed each day's op-ed page as a line of five boxes, one for each article slot. The boxes were colored either blue or pink."

Actually, opinion journalism has been lost on this very same exit to nowhere before. In 1993, author Naomi Wolf published an essay in The New Republic that addressed the issue in truly grand terms. "[A]re opinions themselves somehow gendered male," Wolf asked, or "does female socialization conspire against many women's ability or desire to generate a strong public voice?" Wolf, who famously was to disguise Al Gore as an earth-toned Alpha Male in the 2000 election, decided that, among other things, there was "institutionalized discrimination" against women's opinions. In 1992, only "13 percent of the op-ed pieces published in The Washington Post were written by women," she'd noted in setting up her argument; a particularly low percentage of the pages she reviewed. Wolf even quoted Jodie Allen, whom she ID'ed as "an editor at The Washington Post," on the issue of women and opinion writing.

That was a little coy. Jodie Allen, as Wolf knew very well, was the Post's Sunday opinion editor. Furthermore, every WaPo opinion piece not edited by Allen was edited by then-Editorial Page Editor Meg Greenfield, who went unmentioned. (Among those who noted the omission in letters to TNR: Virginia Postrel and [I think] reason's Cathy Young.)

I've been an opinion editor for a long time. The situation in 2005 is the same as it was in 1993: The overwhelming majority of submissions for these pages come from men (as NYT opinion editor Gail Collins has pointed out), and the make-up of the pages reflect that. There's no point in blaming Michael Kinsley for it (or in hiding Jodie Allen's title). On the other hand, women now have a statistically better chance of having a given piece published, because many editors want women's bylines in the mix.

Dept of Pointless Disclosure: Three of the people mentioned here have been bosses of mine: Michael Kinsley (to whom I answered as a weekly TNR contributor), Jodie Allen, and (obviously) Virginia Postrel.