Foundation Friday: Train the Victim

There’s a nice little blame-the-victim piece in yesterday’s New York Times: an account of training sessions women can take to learn to write op-ed articles.  After noting that 65-75% of op-ed submissions come from men (a number provided by unidentified editors who may be lying through their teeth to protect themselves from charges of sex discrimination or who may simply notice male work 75% of the time), the piece goes on to show how women downplay their expertise and refuse to embrace fame and fortune–all reasons, it implies, that op-ed pages are dominated by men.

Why did the Women’s Funding Network spend money on this training?–and, presumably, on the promotional efforts necessary to place a story about it in the New York Times?  If too few women submit op-eds, why didn’t the Network identify women experts and give them grants to turn their long-form expertise into the appropriate 750-word format?  (The identification part should be pretty easy: the Network is, after all, the sponsor of SheSource, which finds women experts and seeks to connect them to journalists.)  Why didn’t it give them grants to hire secretaries to send their op-eds to every newspaper in the country–or set up a central bureau to which women experts could send op-eds to be relayed (as many times as necessary) to outlets nationwide?

It’s simply false to suggest that women are under-represented on editorial pages because we can’t write, or we’re insufficiently motivated by the lure of fame and fortune, or we’re too timid to construct an argument.  It’s more likely because we’re not stupid, and we can see that if there’s one woman on an op-ed page there’s very unlikely to be another one.  Certainly, a project that set women to battering down that door with a flood of submissions would be worth funding–but could we dispense with the condescending idea that first women need to be taught how to write? 

What we really need is support in documenting the sexism that keeps our opinions off mainstream pages (and securely ghettoized in blogs like this one).  So kudos to the Chicago Foundation for Women and the Chicago Tribune Foundation, joint underwriters of the Association for Women Journalists (Chicago)‘s project to catalog the extent to which women are represented in positions of authority in Chicago media.  [Full disclosure: I’m a member of the AWJ (Chicago) board.]  We’re not wasting our time–and the foundations aren’t wasting their money–assuming that the problem is that women can’t write; we’re going right to the source and hoping to document the problems women have getting hired. 

The notion that women are under-represented because there’s a lack of supply has venerable roots: for years, apologists have gotten away with saying there are so few women corporate vice-presidents and partners in law firms because there aren’t enough junior women MBAs or lawyers in the pipeline.  It’s been twenty years since women outnumbered men in law school classes–and I know, because I was a law school dean of admissions–and women still aren’t ending up in the partnership suites.  Let’s stop pretending the problem is lack of qualified women and start focusing on the real problem: discrimination on the basis of sex. 

Thanks for nothing, Women’s Funding Network.   

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