Tuesday, March 15, 2005


Maureen Dowd's put her two cents and more in about the dearth of female op-ed columnists on the big deal papers. The NY Times was sharp enough to hire the genius Gail Collins, who's now, sigh, management...dang, I miss her columns. The argumentative and proud of it Elizabeth Spiers also has some smart things to say on Mediabistro about gender-specific criticism:

A website critical of my former blog, Gawker.com, once crowed that if I continued upon my degenerate career path I'd end up a married suburban mother in New Jersey. I'll admit that the "New Jersey" part gave me pause, but the married with kids part just struck me as bizarrely irrelevant. (I'm also having trouble imagining the same supposed insult directed toward any of the male writers I know that wouldn't result in snickers or sheer incomprehension.)

I will link to both later. I am too lazy right now.

As with the L. Summers kerfluffle, something dumb has incited something smart--apparently Susan Estrich has been, in Dowd's words, "smearing" Michael Kinsley for his lack of female op-ed types on his paper. Dowd defends him. But listen to what Gail "I Explain It Funny and I Explain It Sharp" Collins says:

Gail Collins, the first woman to run The Times's editorial page and the author of a history of American women, told The Post's Howard Kurtz: "There are probably fewer women, in the great cosmic scheme of things, who feel comfortable writing very straight opinion stuff, and they're less comfortable hearing something on the news and batting something out."

To which I wanna say, why did I NOT get this memo? While I was never, strictly, an op-ed writer, I have terrible college nostalgia for my days as a theatre critic at the University of Pittsburgh's faculty and staff paper, where, at the age of 18, I drew blood regularly. The chairman of the theatre department apparently wanted to break my legs and get me fired, and a pretty well-known playwright wrote me letter after letter trying to make me like his play better. And failed. People thought I was mean...and I enjoyed it.

I liked being mean, and I liked being talked about. I did retreat quite a bit onto a fainting couch of fake niceness when I hit my 20s--do I blame Reagan? Maybe. But arguing, which is at the core of op-edit-try, has always been something I like to do.

I think it has something to do with being raised in a very female family (oldest of five girls), by a lawyer father and an activist mother who spent a lot of time on picket lines. Opinion-zinging was mandatory at the dinner table, defending your position as natural as breathing, and while it could get heated, it was also..fun. I got, unlike a lot of girls, lots and lots of social cues that any smart woman argued for her position, and argued well.

Title 9 is a fantastic thing, and I agree with Dowd that we have to look harder to look for more Gail Collinses and Mauren Dowds, but we still have to train girls and women to think of arguing as the very fine sport that it is. Then we'll have an avalanche of snappy (and snippy) gal columnists. Hark! I hear them coming over the blogosphere right now!


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