Where are all the women?

By Ross Dawson on April 22, 2006 | Permalink

An article by Amy Sullivan in the Washington Monthly recently asked the simple question: where are all the great women thinkers? The context for this question is the media and, in particular, opinion and editorial (op-ed) writers, but the question is also applicable to public intellectuals. The answer, it seems, is elsewhere. In most serious newspapers and magazines the ratio of male to female op-ed writers in 4:1 and at some publications the ratio for submissions is 10:1. Indeed, the number of serious women writers in the media is probably the same as it was a quarter if a century ago. So the obvious question: why? The answer is firstly that politics and political opinion are fairly male dominated arenas where bluster and puff count as much as insight and intelligence. The same is true on talk radio, where 70% of callers, and virtually all shock-jocks, are men. Moreover, the gender bias is probably no more or less than you’d find anywhere else in society.
Malcolm Gladwell’s recent book, Blink, notes that ever since orchestras have been required to audition performers blindfold (ie behind screens) the number of female musicians has increased by 50%. A study discovered a similar quirk in the art market, where buyers were prepared to pay more for a painting if a woman¹s name was switched to that of a man. Then again maybe this silent bias is simply due to a couple of centuries of women being told to keep their opinions to themselves.

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