Daily Meme: The Ugliness of Being a Woman Boss

Yesterday, the New York Times fired its executive editor, Jill Abramson, the first woman to lead the paper in its 163 years of publication. When a woman finally reaches this pinnacle—perhaps the single most important position in journalism in America, if not the world—then gets shown the door after just two and a half years, questions about gender in the workplace will inevitably come up.

  • Rebecca Traister argued that even if the firing was justified, the abrupt and brutal way in which it was carried out was depressing, especially compared to the manner in which previous Times editors have left. She points specifically to Howell Raines, whose disastrous term as executive editor featured a disgruntled newsroom and the Jayson Blair scandal. Raines gave a speech to the staff and was presented with a stuffed moose.
  • In his story on the firingNew Yorker media writer Ken Auletta reported the following: "Several weeks ago, I'm told, Abramson discovered that her pay and her pension benefits as both executive editor and, before that, as managing editor were considerably less than the pay and pension benefits of Bill Keller, the male editor whom she replaced in both jobs. 'She confronted the top brass,' one close associate said, and this may have fed into the management’s narrative that she was 'pushy,' a characterization that, for many, has an inescapably gendered aspect." The Times denies that Abramson was paid less than Keller, but NPR's David Folkenflik says he confirmed that Abramson did indeed confront the paper's management over compensation.
  • Abramson is being replaced by her deputy Dean Bacquet, who is extremely popular with the paper's reporters and will become the Times' first African-American executive editor. In TimeWalter Isaacson wrote hundreds of words about how nice and kind and good Bacquet is, complete with a tribute to his friendly smile. Could there be an implicit message there about Abramson? Nah.
  • Stories of displeasure with Abramson's management style have circulated throughout her time at the Times' helm. At the same time, many argue that the paper has never produced a better product, in both its print and digital versions. If we pull away from this particular case and look at the larger issue, there's little doubt that successful, powerful men get a lot more leeway to act like jerks than successful, powerful women do. Danielle Kurtzleben of Vox writes that "Abramson's tenure is a perfect storm of everything ugly about becoming a woman boss, from the wage gap to the glass cliff to the gender stereotypes that afflict female leaders."
  • And if there were anything resembling gender parity in the top ranks of American journalism, Abramson's firing wouldn't be such a big deal.