Michael Kimmel, one of the OEP’s newest Mentor Editors, is a Professor of Sociology at SUNY Stonybrook, and the author of more books than some people have read in their life. His most recent book, Guyland, is about masculinity in America – on which Kimmel is an expert – and focuses specifically on young men between the ages of 15 and 25. Recently, Kimmel has begun writing columns for The Huffington Post. Last week, he answered some of our burning questions about the op-ed gender gap:
Chloe: Why do you think there are fewer women on the op-ed pages than men?
Michael Kimmel: My answer’s going to sound sort of ironic. Feminist women are kind of in a contradictory position, because on the one hand, women assert that there’s no difference between women and men, that women can do anything men can do. Therefore, since women and men are so similar, why do you need to put women on the page? Editors can almost use equality feminism against women. We don’t have to hire a female surgeon to get a feminist perspective on surgery. So since women and men are so similar, we hire the best qualified. That’s what they would say. And the best qualified are the ones with the best history, so in this sense, seniority and tenure, all those sorts of things, which we know are gendered, come back to haunt women.
CA: Do you think there are really editors out there who would justify their 80-20 breakdown like that?
MK: No, that’s what I, as a sociologist, would say. What the editors would say is that they are definitely looking for the distinctive voices of women or minorities. And what my belief is that women and minorities are seen as niche groups. So you have one, and you check it off. It’s like The New York Times. They have Bob Herbert: Check. They have two women: Check. And then outside those niches they have economics, politics, global affairs, and those turn out to be – what a surprise! – white men.
So what happens is, women are a topic to be covered, so when you have one, you basically cover your base. And that’s how I do think they see it. Women are a niche market, a particular topic. And you can’t have a man cover that. So you get a woman, and if you’ve covered it demographically, and you’ve covered it substantively.
So the argument that I just made (and this is the sociologist speaking again) is a difference feminism argument. Yes, women have a different voice, women have different sensibilities, women have a different perspective, OK, so we’ll cover women. We’ll have our girl, she’ll cover girls, that’s solved. And in a funny way, difference feminism ends up segregating women into a kind of ghetto, which has been the argument against difference feminism all these years. But equality feminism also ends up hurting women because then you’re just looking at the blank, de-gendered resume, and you have one person who’s had all these great previous appointments and the other person who’s had less, and you say, “we’ll take the best.” And the one who looks like the best looks that way because of institutional discrimination, which gets buried in the credentialing, and you always end up with the white man. So whether you use a similarity or a difference model, either way, women lose.