Sen. Hillary Clinton’s primary campaign provided an interesting glimpse into the post-feminist debate and dialogue in American society. It seemed that television and print media were bewildered in their approach of analyzing what her historic candidacy meant for politics and the stagnant women’s movement.
Clinton’s campaign had sparked a myriad of discussions that played themselves out in the Op-Ed pages of newspapers across the country. Suddenly political television shows, such as ‘Meet the Press,’ had gone from featuring the lone token female guest to featuring (gasp!) two or three female guests.
Now, with Sen. John McCain’s selection of a female vice-president, Gov. Sarah Palin who is the polar opposite to Clinton, newspapers and other media outlets find themselves in much the same dilemma.
Carol Jenkins, president of the Women’s Media Center, wrote a piece for The Christian Science Monitor in July highlighting the gross absence of women’s voices in the Op-Ed pages of newspapers across the country.
Opinion pages are often considered the prime real estate of intellectual discussion, and often formation, in American society and politics. The utter lack of a gender balance in Op-Ed pages is endemic of a greater problem women face in the media. Jenkins’ focus on the under representation of women in Op-Ed pages leads her to ask whether it is a problem of ‘supply or demand.’
Many of the statistics Jenkins provides are shocking. While fewer than 14 percent of the Op-Eds that were published were by women. Jenkins also cites a Rutgers University study that focused on Op-Eds written by academics. Those numbers are even more disturbing.
The percentage of those Op-Eds written by men, for newspapers such as The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, were in the eighties and nineties.
To think that 90 percent of the time people are reading a male, and usually white, perspective on an issue is an insight into why the discourse is often so limited.
Specifically as it pertains to the conversation on various women’s issues or female candidates, it is so often told through such a narrow spectrum.
One of the most famous female Op-Ed columnists, The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd, is often the only female perspective citied in national political debates.
So who is to blame for this glaring disparity? The blame does not rest entirely on editors, although hiring practices and the selection process is part of the problem. Jenkins also references the low number of women making submissions into Op-Ed pages.
Women must learn to become comfortable in asserting their voices and expertise.
Furthermore, the number of women in powerful decision-making roles within the media industry needs to increase.
Newspapers should not hire women for Op-Ed pages on the basis of gender alone, nor should they exclude women on that dangerously narrow condition. This must be qualified by saying that women must be urged to produce quality work that earns a rightful place in the Op-Ed page discourse.
Organizations such as the Women’s Media Center provide resources and tools to help encourage women to participate in Op-Ed writing, as well as being vocal in reminding the newspaper industry of their inability thus far to provide women access to diverse perspectives that represent them.
Lately, as Op-Ed pages across the country try to provide pieces on Gov. Sarah Palin, they have turned to female contributors to help them stay relevant in the discourse. It has provided an opportunity for female contributors to add new perspectives to the debate.
Recently, Gloria Steinem’s Op-Ed for the Los Angeles Times was one of the most e-mailed articles of the week, which shows that the supply and demand for female voices is available.