The misconception that women do not want to express their opinions results in fewer opinion columns written by women, said Katha Pollitt, the recipient of the Michigan Award, which recognizes writers who continuously address women’s underrepresentation in the media.
Pollitt, a columnist for The Nation since 1994, addressed the problem of the underrepresentation of women in print journalism in her speech in the Hussey Room of the Michigan League yesterday. Pollitt said female journalists are not treated equally.
“It’s very hard to be a journalist,” she said. “In all fields where men have the top jobs, women have to fight hard to get good assignments.”
Pollitt also said stereotypes prevent women from advancing in journalism.
“The most popular argument is that not enough women want to express opinions,” she said. Other stereotypes include the misconception that women are not as persistent as men, do not try hard enough and do not speak authoritatively enough, she said.
Pollit began her speech with an incident that has brought the public’s attention to the under-representation of women in the media.
She gave the example of University of Southern California Law Prof. Susan Estrich, who accused Michael Kinsley, the editorial page editor of the Los Angeles Times, of not hiring enough female opinion columnists.
In a website she created, Estrich went on to post the results of a study founded in 2002 by students at USC to monitor the underrepresentation of minority voices in the media. The results show that The Los Angeles Times’s opinion section is only 18 percent female.
Pillott said women need to take actions on the individual and collective level to increase the media coverage of women.
“Women should try harder, be prolific,” she added. “Timeliness is important. It’s better to write a less good piece right away than to write a better piece after everyone else has written something about it. Women should also try to get an area of expertise — don’t be afraid to be an expert.”
Susan Douglas, chairwoman of the Department of Communication Studies, said she agreed there are not enough women in the media.
“There have been a lot of women in entertainment programming, but other women’s issues are underrepresented,” she said. “Women do not appear as experts, and they rarely comment on the economy or wars. And the female columnists are dramatically underepresented,” Douglas said.
Communication Studies Prof. Derek Vaillant said the under-representation of women in opinion journalism is an issue of which the public is not aware.
“There’s definitely underrepresentation in opinion journalism, which is disproportionately dominated by men,” he said. “It’s clearly an issue. The publicity that Estrich and Kinsley exchanged is positive, but most Americans are unaware of the struggles that women journalists go through.”