Writing Women Into a Corner
Anne Applebaum is hopping mad over Susan Estrich’s calls for more newspapers to hire more women columnists and other such expressions of tokenism. She believes this would do serious damage to women in the professions. While this topic was all over the blogosphere weeks ago, Applebaum’s perspective here is still worth reading.
As for Estrich, I don’t know much about her at all, except that she’s just launched a conversation that is seriously bad for female columnists and writers. None of the ones I know — and, yes, I conducted an informal survey — want to think of themselves as beans to be counted, or as “female journalists” with a special obligation to write about “women’s issues.” Most of them got where they are by having clear views, knowing their subjects, writing well and learning to ignore the ad hominem attacks that go with the job. But now, thanks to Estrich, every woman who gets her article accepted will have to wonder whether it was her knowledge of Irish politics, her willingness to court controversy or just her gender that won the editor over.
This is a storm in the media teacup, but it has echoes in universities, corporations and beyond. I am told, for example, that there is pressure at Harvard Law School, and at other law schools, to ensure that at least half the students chosen for the law review are women. Quite frankly, it’s hard to think of anything that would do more damage to aspiring female lawyers. Neither they nor their prospective employers will ever know whether they got there as part of a quota or on their own merits. There’s nothing wrong with a general conversation about how women can be helped to succeed in law school or taught not to fear having strong opinions. But trust me, in none of these contexts do you want to start calculating percentages.