summer 2005
table of contents
Articles Online

Social InSecurity
Bad and Good News for Title IX
Female Pundits Missing
Radical Muslim Prayer
Hip Hop and Feminism


Rwandan Women Lead Rebirth
Saudi Feminist Princess
French Women Do Get Fat
Networking Corner

Cover Story
Urgent Report: What’s at Stake if We Lose the Supreme Court

Public Triumphs, Private Rights
| Ellen Chesler
The Polls Speak: Americans Support Abortion | Celinda Lake
Talking Points: Judges and Filibusters | Kathy Bonk
Five Rights Women Could Lose | National Partnership for Women and Families
An Unlikely Feminist Icon | Review by Ann Blackman of Becoming Justice Blackmun: Harry Blackmun's Supreme Court Journey

More Features

The Green Motel | Rebecca Clarren
The Dialectic of Fat | Catherine Orenstein
Hanan Ashrawi: Creating a Common Language | Rebecca Ponton
Still Carrying the Torch | Emily Dietrich


Summersgate | Lisa Wogan

Power Plays | Martha Burk

A Shot Against Cervical Cancer
| Mary Jane Horton

Portfolio: Zana Briski | John Anderson

She Who Once Was | Rebecca McClanahan

Hollywood Producer Orders Up a Sunset | Aleida Rodríguez
| Eloise Klein Healy

Deja New | Lee Martin

Andrea Dworkin | In her own words

Book Reviews
Celeste Fremon on Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas’ Promises I Can Keep
Michele Kort on Johnette Howard’s The Rivals: Chris Evert vs. Martina Navratilova
Susan Straight on Alia Mamdouh’s Naphtalene: A Novel of Baghdad
Sarah Gonzales on Isabel Allende’s Zorro
Samantha Dunn on Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation

Plus: Great Reads for Summer

Run, Sisters, Run! | Donna Brazile

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  NATIONAL | summer 2005

A Matter of Opinion
Female pundits are still missing from the media

Believe it or not, women are still fighting to get their opinions in print and on the air—and editors are still making lame excuses.

In March, FOX News’ Susan Estrich scolded the Los Angeles Times, where less than 20 percent of opinion-editorial columns in a nine-week period were written by women, by firing off a series of emails to op-ed page editor Michael Kinsley. He responded by saying that “pressure for more women” writers could drive blacks and Latinos off the page.

“There may even be a wonderfully articulate disabled Latina lesbian conservative who is undiscovered because she is outside the comfortable old-boy network. But there probably aren’t two,” Kinsley quipped in his column. Few women laughed.

Then Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) jumped into the fray, with data from a study of Jan. and Feb. 2005 showing the Times wasn’t alone in its dearth of women pundits: Women constitute only 17 percent of opinion writers at The New York Times, 10 percent at The Washington Post, 28 percent at U.S. News & World Report, 23 percent at Newsweek and 13 percent at Time. Overall, only 24 percent of nationally syndicated columnists are women, FAIR’s Janine Jackson told a Women and the Media conference in Cambridge in March, and they tend to be white and right-wing. A notable exception is United Features newspaper syndicate, half of whose columnists are women.

Update: More Women’s Opinion Missing in the News

Recently published studies reveal a problem even bigger in scope than a shortage of women newspaper columnists and television pundits. The dearth of women’s opinion in the news extends to print bylines, journalists’ sources across a broad range of media, and women’s under-representation in American newsrooms.

In some of the most influential political magazines in the country, headline stories written by men outnumber those written women by as much as 13 to 1, according to the Columbia Journalism Review. Among the worst offenders were The National Review, Foreign Affairs, New Republic, Harper’s Magazine, and The Weekly Standard, with seven times or more male bylines than female bylines. The National Journal and The Nation fared the best at the still staggering rate of three to one, along with the Columbia Journalism Review at two to one. Considering that most of the journals surveyed are known for more liberal reporting, what’s at work here is clearly more than a conservative bias against women. Women’s opinion is missing from the media – period.

More men than women are being sought as sources for journalists’ stories. In fact, journalists cite men twice as often as women, according to a recent study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism. Only in “lifestyle” pieces are women quoted as often as men, with women least quoted in stories about foreign affairs.

Not only do we face a lack of women pundits on the national stage, but there’s also an overall under-representation of women journalists in newsrooms across the country. Women make-up roughly 37 percent of newspaper staff and 39 percent of television staff. Among those at the decision making table the disparity is even greater, with women comprising only 33 percent of newspaper supervisors and 25 percent of television directors.

- Heather Holliger, Feminist Majority Foundation

Editor Gail Collins of The New York Times op-ed section offered a shocking rationale for her paper’s lack of gender diversity: “There are probably fewer women…who feel comfortable writing very straight opinion stuff…hearing something on the news and batting something out.”

There are “brilliant women,” offered Maureen Dowd—the only woman among eight op-ed columnists at The Times. “We just need to find and nur-ture them.” To which The Nation’s Katha Pollitt retorted: “Oh, nurture my eye,” dashing off a list of names of 13 easy-to-find women who would make great op-ed columnists, and adding her own for good measure.

FAIR also looked at women’s participation on the Sunday-morning political talk shows (all hosted by men) where, surprisingly, NBC’s Chris Matthews achieved near-gender equity, with 49 percent women pundits and panelists for the six months ending Feb. 28. If Matthews can do it, why can’t Meet the
, Fox News Sunday or ABC’s This Week (39 percent, 25 percent and 22 percent women, respectively)?

The picture looks similarly grim for women who review books, according to two researchers who studied the influential New York Times Book Review for 53 weeks in 2002 and 2003. Look-ing at reviews of 807 books, Mary Ann Palko and Paula J. Caplan found there were twice as many male reviewers as female—a clear “imbalance of influence,” Gloria Steinem commented to them, and “all the more bizarre, since women purchase the majority of books.”

Review editor Charles McGrath brushed aside suggestions for recruiting women reviewers, stating: “Our standards are so high that [a] great many writers-even published writers-don’t meet them.” McGrath left the Review in 2004 and was replaced by Sam Tanenhaus, to whom Caplan and Palko presented their latest find-ings, hoping for a warmer reception.

“Many thanks for this,” he replied in a terse email. “We feature many women reviewers in our pages and will continue to do so. But we don’t tally the numbers or ratios and think it would be a mistake to do so.”

It’s also a mistake to leave out women’s opinions and voices. The media can do better, and maybe this latest brouhaha will at least embarrass some publications—if not spur them to change.

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