Carol Platt Liebau: On female bloggers & pundits

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

On female bloggers & pundits

A debate about the relative dearth of female bloggers -- and female op/ed columnists -- rolls on. Howard Kurtz writes about it this morning, and despite his assertion that he doesn't intend to generalize, I predict the feminists will be all over him for the following:

I've been surfing a number of blogs by women and (attention: this is not a generalization) and have found a fair number in diary form that deal with families, literature, cooking and other personal reflections--engaging stuff, to be sure, but sometimes out of the echo-chamber warfare over media and politics that gets the most attention.

For those who care about the views of a truly thoughtful and interesting female columnist (and yes, someone for whom being a female is only incidental!), here's an excellent piece by The Washington Post's Anne Applebaum. Key passage:

This is a storm in the media teacup, but it has echoes in universities, corporations and beyond. I am told, for example, that there is pressure at Harvard Law School, and at other law schools, to ensure that at least half the students chosen for the law review are women. Quite frankly, it's hard to think of anything that would do more damage to aspiring female lawyers. Neither they nor their prospective employers will ever know whether they got there as part of a quota or on their own merits.

Anne Applebaum is absolutely right! Any kind of "gender specific consideration" would be terrible for female writers/pundits. How can I be so convinced? It's my experience with the issue of affirmative action on The Harvard Law Review.

The murmurs about instituting affirmative action for women on The Harvard Law Review, at least, have been circulating for over a decade -- since, in fact, the year I got on. That year (summer of 1990), 39 people were accepted for the Review (from a class of 500). Of that 39, only 9 were women. And the politically correct people went crazy.

There are several experiences relevant to this discussion. First, I recall having a recruitment dinner (the only female Review member present, with about five guys) with attorneys from a very well known Chicago firm. In the middle of the meal, one of the attorneys asked me -- straight out -- "Is there affirmative action for women?" I was very relieved to be able to affirm that there was NOT, that my gender didn't explain my presence. And it sensitized me to how crippling it could be to carry the stigma of being an affirmative action pick. (Liberals - don't start with arguing that the attorney shouldn't have been allowed to ask the question! Better that he ask than just to assume that any female/minority is the product of affirmative action.)

Second, somehow I had the nerve to run for President of the Review (and lose), and also Managing Editor (and win). Had there been affirmative action for women, I would never have believed I had the merit and the right to seek either position.

Finally, a note to conclude this too-long post. I knew a lot of female students (many of whom were probably smarter than I!) who didn't even enter the writing competition for the Review. To their way of thinking, they didn't need the hassle. They were already at Harvard Law School, and good grades would assure them a job at the firm of their choice. They weren't gunning for Supreme Court clerkships, and they weren't interested in the long hours and the fairly substantial workload (and limited social life) that Review membership would entail, and so they just didn't try out. It was, in some ways, a rational decision . . . and might help to explain the low numbers of women in similar situations without resorting to the feminist catch-all rationale of invidious discrimination.

Something similar may be going on with the dearth of female pundits & op/ed writers. Punditizing/writing involves a fair amount of, frankly, rejection -- and my experience has been that women tend to personalize this rejection to a much greater extent than men do. They sometimes tend to feel that it wasn't their writing that was rejected; they were. And then, it becomes a little like the Review writing competition -- who needs the hassle?

Not all women are this way, of course, and there are many men with very sensitive feelings. But even in my work with women on the Review and beyond, it seemed that the women personalized criticism of their work much more than the men did. And to the extent that's a sex-based trait, it makes it more difficult to get into the arena and compete -- and keep going despite the inevitable onslaught of rejections that any writer/pundit encounters.

But that's not something affirmative action (or its equivalent) will solve! Special consideration for women will only unfairly stigmatize those who can make it on their own, and make everyone (including, sometimes, the women themselves) doubt their own merit. Women who want to be pundits will keep at it, without special privileges. Those whose temperament and interests lead them elsewhere -- well, that's fine, too.

And as some women prepare to gang tackle the "white-hegemonic-phallocentric-male-oppressors," let's not forget that there are those who help and promote female pundits most generously -- and not just because they're women . . . Chief among them is Hugh Hewitt. He has allowed me to serve as guest host of his radio show and urged me to begin blogging; his weekly radio guests include Claudia Rosett of The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (and OpinionJournal and The New York Sun), as well as Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review Online. In the blogosphere, he's promoted the brilliant Michelle Malkin (also a nationally syndicated columnist, mind you!) and the outstanding LaShawn Barber.

We want equality of opportunity and fair treatment -- but no bean counting. We want to succeed because -- and only because -- we're good. Not because we're women.


Blogger jchess said...

If I read Mr. Kurtz correctly, and I believe I did, he is of the elitist opinion women are interesting only if they are Liberals.

And being a Lesbian doesn't hurt.

Talk about sexual politics.

Regardless, it's all crap, and I have factual proof to that effect.

James C. Hess

5:08 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home