LOOK OUTWARD. I�ve admired Katha Pollitt�s work for years and was thrilled to see she took the time to respond to my essay on the lack of women opinion columnists. Pollitt makes some excellent points; indeed, Gail Collins was hardly the sole decision maker when it came to hiring and promoting New York Times columnists. That�s why I wanted to take the focus off Collins and ask some larger questions about the significance of the debate on women in journalism. I believe it�s important to expand the parameters of this discussion: If we�re going to obsess over the number of women with magazine bylines and on newspaper op-ed pages, we shouldn�t disconnect those discussions from concerns about the lack of women congressional representatives, governors, mayors, and state legislators.
This doesn�t mean, as Pollitt writes, that I issue �an invitation to editorial complacency.� In fact, I argue explicitly in my piece for byline gender quotas, as put forth by Ann Friedman, to force editors to reach out to female writers as well as expand their definition of the topics worthy of emphasis and coverage. What I'd like to see is a broader conversation about why the media favors certain topics within which female thought-leaders are vastly underrepresented. It�s almost too obvious to point out that as long as our government is dominated by men, our public institutions will continue to favor men and our political debates will continue to be limited, giving women and their concerns short shrift.
Committed feminist editors like Katrina vanden Heuvel make a huge difference in the pages of their publications. But committed feminist legislators are just as important when it comes to shifting our political discourse and engaging women in policy debates. It is the same phenomenon keeping women out of electoral politics that keeps them out of opinion journalism and other fields: self-perpetuating institutions built to favor men and advance their interests. So while journalists should certainly look inward to address the inequities in our profession, we must also look outward, and remember the widespread gender disparities that exist across American life. Journalism doesn�t exist in a vacuum, and neither should debates about women�s role in it.