I”ve been looking at the numbers for the last few weeks. And now that I’m seeing a pattern – that four of the six publications we’re looking at, more than 80% of the op-ed contributors are men – I’m starting to wonder why that pattern exists. Why are there so few female op-ed contributors? Is it because women don’t submit as often as men? Because women don’t write as well as men? Because editors don’t want to run op-eds by women? What is going on?
We asked Maura Casey, an Op-Ed Project Mentor Editor and former member of The New York Times Editorial Board, what she thought. This is what she said:
“I’m not exactly sure why. I think that women don’t speak out enough, and it frustrates me. But I think there’s a lot of reasons. One reason is that we’re really, really busy – women are the consummate multi-taskers, we are still, in too many instances, primarily responsible for the home, shepherding the kids, getting them to all the appointments, making dinner, and we work, too. Frankly, I think we’re busier than men. We have a lot to do. And so speaking out on public issues gets pushed to the back burner.
The other thing is that I think we’re not comfortable putting ourselves out there the way men do. Men will speak out, because they think it’s their right, and of course it is; it’s everyone’s right. But men don’t feel the need to be an expert before they can speak out, and I believe that women do. Men have an opinion, and they say it. We don’t. And I don’t know why that is.
I know that in small newspapers, which is where I spent most of my career, we would take what opeds could get — almost anything that came over the transom — and very often you just didn’t get anything from women. It was the same thing I noticed when we invited local candidates – town council, selectman candidates – to have endorsement interviews. After twenty-six years on editorial pages, I can count on one hand the number of women I interviewed who ran for office in their 20s. But I can’t count the number of guys who got out of high school or college and ran for office, right away. It might be that we’re more burdened with family interests, and that keeps us from politics early on. By the time women are in their 40s you see a lot more women candidates. But that’s two things I’ve observed over the years.”
Fascinating insights, and a complex set of factors to unravel. Stay tuned for more insights from our Mentor Editors.