Why women don’t contribute to opinion pages as often as men & what we can do about it

Women have made the case for years that there aren’t enough female voices in the opinion pages. The root of the problem, though, isn’t so much that news organizations aren’t featuring female contributors; it’s that they aren’t contributing in the first place.

The reasons they cite are endless, says Catherine Orenstein, founder of the Op-Ed Project, which is designed to enrich public conversation by expanding the range of voices we hear, and especially by increasing the number of women who participate.

I’m not an expert in anything. You should really ask another person. I don’t want to be pretentious or snotty. I don’t have a Ph.D. …

“The effect of all these statements is that women are pulling themselves out of the discussion,” Orenstein said in a phone interview. “A lot of them will in some way discount themselves and their knowledge. If you think about it, what it means is that there’s a disconnect between what we know and our sense that it actually matters.”

How the gender gap is playing out at news orgs

Orenstein founded the Op-Ed Project four years ago partly to help women realize that their input is valuable. About 4,000 women have gone through the Op-Ed Project, which reaches out to female and minority subject matter experts and encourages them to cultivate and share their ideas with the public. Many of these women have gone through the Project’s national mentoring program, where they’re matched with senior-level media folks who offer them support.

The Op-Ed Project’s Augusta Hagen-Dillon has been tracking how the gender gap is playing out in the opinion sections of nine news outlets. VIDA, an organization for women writers, has also tracked bylines and released a study earlier this month showing the lack of female writers in publications such as The New Yorker, Harper’s and The Atlantic. Many women have responded to the findings, including Katha Pollitt, who wrote a Slate piece saying if magazines want more female writers, they need to get more female editors.

Hagen-Dillon’s findings represent early, unverified data, but the Op-Ed Project plans to release a report with more formal data in a few weeks.

Based on byline counts, Hagen-Dillon has found that legacy print publications such as The New York Times and The Washington Post tend to feature the fewest female voices (usually around 15 to 25 percent). The newer online-only sites tend to have slightly more female bylines, while the student-run publications have the most. But they’re still overwhelmingly male. The same is true on some non-news sites, such as Wikipedia.

New York Times columnist Gail Collins, who was the Times’ first female editorial page editor, said that when she was editor, the Times conducted several meetings and related studies to figure out why women’s voices were underrepresented. It has now hired a new female op-ed editor, Trish Hall, who just started two weeks ago.

“One thing that’s been consistently true is that women don’t put their hands up as often as men,” Collins said by e-mail. “When we did our first study almost 10 years ago, I think we found that in letters to the editor, and unsolicited op-ed pieces, the preponderance of men was off the charts.”

Hall said it appears that way still, with men contributing most of the pieces that come in unsolicited.

Collins said the majority of women writing in to The New York Times write about issues relating to children and education. She pointed out, though, that the Times isn’t “looking for the  kind of equity that comes with presuming that women are just interested in family issues.” When it came to letters on the State of the Union Address, male contributors predominated 4-1, Collins said.

Of course, letters to the editor aren’t the only way for women to share their ideas these days; they can share them in online forums, on blogs and in the comments section of stories. The Washington Post’s Michael Larabee, who selects the Post’s letters to the editor, tries to feature a diversity of voices in the letters, but says it’s difficult because he doesn’t solicit contributors.

“We’re mindful of diversity, but content remains number one; we want something interesting, smart, fresh, tight, good writing,” Larabee said by phone. “Since most of the letters come in from men, it’s logical that that disparity would be reflected in what we run.”

The late Deborah Howell wrote about this disparity in 2008, saying: “The Post’s op-ed page is too male and too white” and that “women and people of color don’t submit nearly as many op-eds as white men do.”

There are some exceptions. Recently, for instance, the Post ran a letters package on “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” and received far more submissions from women. All four of the letters Larabee featured were from females.

Why more women don’t contribute

There are a variety of reasons women don’t contribute as much as men.

“We live in a culture of underrepresentation,” Orenstein said. “The problem is it makes us focus more on our own fear of whether we’re bragging or overstepping and less focused on the value of our knowledge and the social obligation of stepping forward in the world’s conversation.”

She also pointed out that we get ideas from the people we circulate with and from the people who look and sound like us. This is true for both women and people of different ethnic and racial backgrounds. If we don’t see people like us speaking up, Orenstein said, it may not occur to us that we should speak up ourselves.

Having more diverse voices in opinion pages, Orenstein said, helps expands our understanding of issues.

“We’re getting only a tiny fraction of the world’s knowledge and the best ideas. There’s a huge black hole of ignorance,” Orenstein said. “There’s nothing wrong with the people who have the world’s microphone … but the rest of us need to have a bigger voice.”

A problem “we’re going to lick in the near future”

Some news organizations have made a concerted effort to find more female contributors. PBS’ Need to Know decided early on that it wanted to feature a mix of female and male contributors for its “Voices” column, but had difficulty finding women who were willing to write.

“I pause to generalize that women aren’t as confident as their male counterparts, but that’s what I’ve found. There is this sense of, ‘Who am I to be so strident on paper, and why would people want to listen to me?’ ” said Jeanne Park, online editor of Need to Know.

To recruit more female contributors, Park began working with the Op-Ed Project and Project Syndicate, which provides news outlets with op-ed commentaries.

Now, the Voices column features 20 contributors, 9 of whom are women. Some of the site’s strongest contributions, Park said by phone, are from female anthropologists, professors and political activists who are writing about terrorism, health care reform and the effects of the earthquake in Haiti.

“The more women you see in opinion columns, the more you begin to realize that it’s not this unheard of thing to put yourself and your writing out there,” said Park, who noted that her “big break” in journalism came when she got an opinion piece published in The New York Times as a teenager.

When she looks back on the past five years, Orenstein said she thinks news organizations are doing “notably better” at featuring more female voices and that more women are starting to step up. Collins is also optimistic about bridging the gender gap.

“I’m pretty confident that this is a problem we’re going to lick in the near future,” Collins said. “It’s only been about the past quarter of a second, historically speaking, that women have been encouraged to take part in the public debate. Now they’re completely engaged, and I know that’s going to be reflected in opinion pages and opinion sites.”

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  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    Dan, we don’t know how the op-ed was submitted or to whom, since that reporting was not part of our initial story and not part of any follow-up we’re planning. –Julie Moos, Director of Poynter Online

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the clarification. I had asked Ms Park for a copy of her 1990 oped by email and she never sent me anything. I thought, my mistake, that this was her admission that it was not an oped piece per se. Even the google search i found turned up the headline “Letter to the Editor” for that piece, but since I could not get it from the NYT archives, i just guessed, and i see now that i was wrong. It was in fact an oped piece and I apologize. My next question, to both you and Jeanne, is this: was that oped piece sent in cold to the cold-calling oped email address at the NYT — oped@nytimes.com — or was it sent in upon request from an oped dept editor or was it sent to a specific editor at the NYT on the oped desk? What i am trying to determine is how difficult is it for anyone, female or male, to get an oped piece published in the NYT, without a college connection or personal connection or cocktail party chatter connection. I know of very few people who have ever had an oped in the NYT accepted without them either knowing the editor personally or having the editors ask them for a piece, or, knowing exactly which personal email address to send it to. Since in 1990 , there were no emails, her oped piece must be have been sent in by snail mail over the transom adddressed to either “editor, oped page” or specifically to an editor she was told to send it to by someone in the know. Can you clarify this? I will accept the truth once you tell me. Thanks. For some reason, you don’t repluy to my ermails on this, and now Ms Park has also stopped replying. It feels like people are trying to cover their tracks. I hope I am wrong. i want to be wrong. So tell me.

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    Hi Dan,

    We received a scanned copy of Park’s piece, and it was in fact an opinion piece, not a letter to the editor. We’ve also removed a few of your comments in this thread, as they were duplicative.


  • Anonymous

    SHOULD READ: “The more women you see in opinion columns, the more you begin to realize that it’s not this unheard of thing to put yourself and your writing out there,” said Park, who noted that her “big break” in journalism came when she got a letter to the editor published in The New York Times as a teenager.

  • Anonymous

    Mallary, since you don[‘t answer my emaisl……here…….what i meant to say is that the NYT and WAPO and LA Times and even the Boston Globe, all these oped depts operate like this: their editors search out good writers for certain issues weeks before the stories appear, they commission the oped pieces from reliable experts and PHDs and VIPs,…and they also take PR appeals from book publsihers looking to promote a new book with a timely oped piece by the new author, as a free advert really, and that is how Penguin Pr people got the Amy Chua oped into the WSJ. If one was to really research how oped units work, in fact, 99 percent of the pieces are commissioned and only 1 percent, maybe less come in cold over the transom. David Shipley at the NTime once told me this in fact by email. that is the truth…and therefore the editors go to MEn more than to women for these commissioned pieces. ask anyone here. this is the truth nobody wants to talk about. even Catherine orenstein refuses to answerr my emails about this/. SEE? and Patti Cohen wrote that story about Kaite in 2007 at the NYT. It’s all one club. capishe?

  • Anonymous

    Josh358, Yes, …but what i meant to say is that the NYT and WAPO and LA Times and even the Boston Globe, all these oped depts operate like this: their editors search out good writers for certain issues weeks before the stories appear, they commission the oped pieces from reliable experts and PHDs and VIPs,…and they also take PR appeals from book publsihers looking to promote a new book with a timely oped piece by the new author, as a free advert really, and that is how Penguin Pr people got the Amy Chua oped into the WSJ. If one was to really research how oped units work, in fact, 99 percent of the pieces are commissioned and only 1 percent, maybe less come in cold over the transom. David Shipley at the NTime once told me this in fact by email. that is the truth…and therefore the editors go to MEn more than to women for these commissioned pieces. ask anyone here. this is the truth nobody wants to talk about. even Catherine orenstein refuses to answerr my emails about this/. SEE? and Patti Cohen wrote that story about Kaite in 2007 at the NYT. It’s all one club. capishe?

  • http://twitter.com/charlotteclark charlotteclark

    I’m a writer. I write for my own blog, my work blog/press releases and create freelance articles for a variety of magazines and I’m developing a portfolio. I have a number of male friends that do similar and also write strong opinion-pieces, whether they’re right or wrong.

    But this idea of un-confidence with my own opinions affects me terribly. Some part of me doesn’t believe that my opinion is as valid as those of the men I know, and I think a lot of unconfident women would sadly agree. Some of the best British female columnists out there even thrive on writing about their own self-deprecation. It’s a real shame that so many of us don’t feel we can take on men in the opinion stakes.

    Hopefully in the future I’ll learn to promote my own opinions, stop listening to critics and explore ideas that are relevant to other women out there without tearing myself apart.

    Great article Mallary.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RL4HNWHGJ4FKP6IWHR67PETQCE escape

    Yes: Too many people already base their actions and words on feelings rather than rigorous thought and deliberation: George Bush the Younger and Sarah Palin are two good examples. Do we still want even more of the same?

  • Anonymous

    I really fail to see why this is a problem. If you want more women to contribute to op-ed pages or letters to the editor or any other public forum, then just get them to contribute. If they don’t, then it is their own fault that there is a disparity. What is keeping them from contributing if they feel they have something to say? You can beat our breast all day long about it being a problem but if there are no contributions, then you really can’t publish them, can you.

    What I would like to see if criticism of the ideas women put out there for the public without talking about how the write is a bimbo or a skank or some other euphemism. Part of it is the way women portray themselves in their public pronouncements but also a large part of it comes from other women who disagree with the writers. In fact for all the talk about sisterhood among women, the worst offenders of talking down other women are other women. It really seems to be a cottage industry for them. Compare and contrast a conservative woman writing her opinions. The Northeast liberals go ballistic about what she has to say and treat her as if she were the female equivalent of “Uncle Tom.” Conversely compare and contrast the conservative women talking about the Northeast liberal women and their opinions. The same thing happens. Men have some of the same characteristics but men don’t seem to pay so much attention to it. That to me is a large part of what women need to address. There is no absolute in political opinion nor is there really any received wisdom. People can disagree and their arguments should be addressed in kind. That is becoming very rare these days where you have the media outlets which are not at all open to addressing the actual arguments people make but in denigrating the argument because it differs from the ideas of the person opposing the argument. Women need to grow a thicker skin about that as men have had to.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2YCGOA2PQG4ZL5MY5UUNQ5VUF4 sunoltatgmail

    someone who knows reality, thanks

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2YCGOA2PQG4ZL5MY5UUNQ5VUF4 sunoltatgmail

    There are those that get things done and those who worry about it. You are the latter.
    Why would anyone care? Get involved if you want to.

    One could probably make the same study and observation along “professions” and find much the same thing.
    But who is to say that it needs fixing?

  • http://twitter.com/therealchella Chella Turnbull

    I would like to add that all of the publications to whom I made fruitless submissions which seemed to disappear into a black hole, had female editors. I would also like to say that it was these female editors shutting me out which caused me to discover the wondrous world of blogging. So I really need to thank these ladies for ignoring me – they did me a really huge favor.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2RP7ATMBJZEM652TZFA42LDWOM ellen

    Like the fallacy of logic you’ve just spouted?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jonny-Cache/1039153428 Jonny Cache

    Here’s a paper I often recommend on the subject of diversity in general:

    Susan Awbrey • “The Dynamics of Vertical and Horizontal Diversity in Organization and Society” • Human Resource Development Review, March 2007, vol. 6 no. 1, pp. 7–32.

    • Abstract • http://hrd.sagepub.com/content/6/1/7.abstract
    • HTML •

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2RP7ATMBJZEM652TZFA42LDWOM ellen

    “I just don’t get the impression that women are as interested in public affairs as men are,” he says, dismissively. Josh, you are quite mistaken. See my comment above about contributors to New York Times online forums.

    It may be that men are “more aggressive,” as you note, about expressing opinions. Yet my experience as a daily reader of the above-mentioned New York Times forums, whose success in attracting many smart, confident female voices I’ve reflected upon often, suggests that a key ingredient in their success is giving women enough space for their voices to be heard. They may not be as inclined to push and shove to have their voices heard as some men are, but given a safe, civilized (i.e., judiciously moderated) forum to express their opinion on news stories and issues, they do. In fact, upon reflection, I think the moderation itself may be a key ingredient of the NYT forums. I know that I almost never contribute, or even waste my time reading, the online forums at the Washington Post because they are unmoderated, and because unmoderated, just seem to degenerate into a frenzy of uncivil bullying (of the authors, the subjects of articles, or other readers who leave comments) that really alienates and drives many women away.

    Something about the format of the NYT online forums does encourage a very healthy abundance of engaged and insightful female contributors. It would be useful to try to analyze what variables of that particular publishing environment so successfully attract female writers.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2RP7ATMBJZEM652TZFA42LDWOM ellen

    Interesting that you mention, separately, the New York Times and online forums. I am a daily reader (and contributor a few times a month) of NYT’s moderated online forums for readers’ comments that accompany many articles and op-ed articles. There are a large number of excellent, eloquent, very prolific contributors to the NYT online forums who any frequent reader comes to know by name and learns to seek out for incisive, excellent remarks on a daily basis. I would hazard a guess that possible half or more of the top contributors are women.

    There were two articles online by the NYT Public Editor on their wildly successful online forums and the legion of daily contributors a few months ago. The articles quoted a few of these champion contributors, including a regular named Karen Garcia (in New York, if I recall correctly), and many readers commenting on the two articles added more favorite contributors by name, including one particular contributor who consensus seems to hail as the finest of the group, a woman named Marie Burns in Florida.

    I would also mention that during the early months of the financial crisis in 2008 and early 2009, among the most incisive, frequent contributors to NYT articles on the crisis, particularly to Paul Krugman’s columns, was a woman who signed herself as Ann S. in Michigan. From the context of her many smart, outraged, very informed and lengthy comments, she may have been a finance or labor lawyer or labor activist, as she appeared to be on the front lines of the economic crisis and suffering in Michigan. The 2008 presidential election also had a huge community of regular contributors to NYT online forums, and again a very high number of the best and strongest voices were women.

    The many women who contribute regularly to NYT forums have very confident voices, some speaking in areas of their own expertise, but many speaking, like their male counterparts, not as experts per se, but as passionate, critical, highly educated and informed citizens on a broad range of topics on contemporary politics, the economy and international events. They are absolutely not limited to speaking on issues of “children and education.”

    I suggest you seek out these women. Perhaps with a little coaching and mentoring you can recruit and encourage some of these already-experienced and confident female contributors and help them develop into the kind of regular writers you are grooming at your Op-Ed Project. As a reader I would be delighted to read full articles by many of the best voices I read on the NYT forums every day. As a shortcut, you might just ask the people who moderate the NYT forums to recommend some of the best contributors to you as a start. Good luck! Wonderful work that you are doing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1311495499 Uva Be Dolezal

    The comments are almost as interesting as the article. One thing I kept thinking, but didn’t find, was what it takes to not be ignored as a woman. It was sort of hinted at in the perfectionist stuff, where the girl doesn’t consider something unless she has 8 /10 requirements, while a guy may try something with 4 or less. But, then imagine, you have a college degree + 8/10 requirements, and they publish the or hire the guy who only had 3 and no degree ? This sort of thing I think is best statistically represented by comparing the wage gap between men and women in same job or depression statistics with job satisfaction statistics. It’s a huge compound problem being ignored.

  • Anonymous

    I think they get a *lot* of op eds! And even if sheer numbers didn’t overwhelm your chances of getting published, there’s clearly more of a chance that a commissioned piece that fits an editor’s judgment about newsworthiness will fill that editor’s needs.

  • Anonymous

    What I’ve noticed is that, from an early age, girls seem naturally to be good, whereas little boys delight in disobedience.

    For example, I remember watching a friend’s little boy walk along the top of a log in the forest. The moment his mother expressed her concern for his safety and told him to come down, a broad smile crossed his face, and he redoubled his efforts to walk along the log.

    This distinction is readily apparent in school, where girls are more likely to do the work put in front of them. Boys are I think under the same pressure as girls — grades, the disapproval of teachers and parents — but they’re less likely to heed it, in fact, may thrive off it. And here they may receive a certain amount of social reinforcement, because we’re all a bit fond of Tom Sawyerish or Bart Simpsonish disobedience. Despite a longstanding attempt to portray gutsy women taking risks — the spunky Hollywood heroine who replaced the fainting Victorian beauty, the karate chopping television heroines who dispatch armies of attackers twice their size — in real life, a girl who is too “tomboyish” may risk a certain amount of social disapproval.

    I believe that at least one study has shown that among teenagers, boys tend to initiate risky behavior, whereas girls will follow along with the boys but tend not to initiate the hijinx on their own.

    This tendency to take risks or rebel can be problematic in school and sometimes later in life, but I believe it has advantages in competitive environments, where a willingness to take calibrated risks is conducive to success. It’s a risky rather than a safe strategy, and like all such strategies, it produces winners and losers, both.

  • http://twitter.com/therealchella Chella Turnbull

    Back in 2004 I contributed an article to a local monthly magazine. It stirred up such controversy that the magazine fired its editor and devoted much time & effort to appease the local yoga community (long story …). Then they took the magazine online, starting with the issue after the one I contributed to. They would not respond to my requests as to why the issue I wrote in would not be posted on the ‘net. During this time I also submitted several opinion pieces to local newspapers. While my letters to the editor were normally published, my other submissions were never even acknowledged in any way.

    I believe that opinion writers have to walk a tight line. You have to be provocative without being offensive; you must stir the interest of the reader, without stirring the wrath of sponsors. You have to be challenging while still, of course, being politically correct. And you also have to submit to your editors and their proposed changes. No wonder women don’t seem to have the time for all this.

    These days there are so many opinions available on the internet that we don’t need newspapers or magazines to read something new. Blogging is freedom – no editor looking over your shoulder, no deadlines, no rejections, and no sponsors to piss off. It’s wonderful and I would never go back to trying to make submissions to somebody else for publication. I think that your article might be slightly old fashioned in this regard.

    So in conclusion, if magazines and newspapers were not so skittish about sponsors and nervous about offending people, then maybe they would have a lot more interesting writers on staff. You can’t have your political correctness and your provocative writers too – you have to pick one or the other.

  • Anonymous

    I just don’t get the impression that women are as interested in public affairs as men are. This is true even of regular columnists. They tend to write about political personalities — people — rather than about the issues. This, to be perfectly blunt, is boring to me, so I find myself skipping their columns.

    I should add that I don’t see that as a matter of better or worse. It just reflects a different range of interests and expertise.

    I think it’s also very true that women tend to be reticent about expressing their opinions, whereas we guys seem to be equipped with a bluster that’s frequently out of proportion to our actual knowledge. Essentially, we’re more aggressive. We strive for dominance. Just look at those loony old men who are being overthrown — we hope — in the Middle East. What kind of crazy arrogance does it take to suppose that your opinion is worth more than that of millions? Gorilla beat breast. That’s what it amounts to, isn’t it, male mammalian head butting instincts.

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    Thanks, @RobertaGuise. I think the more that we can encourage women and minorities to participate, the better. Even if some do dismiss their ideas, that’s even more reason to keep adding to the conversation and be heard. As Catherine Orenstein of the Op-Ed Project pointed out, “We’re getting only a tiny fraction of the world’s knowledge and the best ideas” and “the rest of us need to have a bigger voice.”


  • Anonymous

    “I think it stems from girls being taught from early age that they have to be perfect to please, while boys are allowed to make mistakes.”

    Being taught by whom? By their father, mother – by whom? This is one of the many problems with discussions of this sort: contributors all too often resort to vague talk about society or culture or they use the passive voice to avoid having to specify exactly who is responsible, and think they have somehow proven their point. But since such vague statements are almost impossible to refute or support they become nothing more than an expression of the person’s own resentments.

    Too many people already base their actions and words on feelings rather than rigorous thought and deliberation: George Bush the Younger and Sarah Palin are two good examples. Do we still want even more of the same?

    If people can’t be bothered to research the facts, then all they are going to end up doing is venting. If that’s what you want to do then post on a mommy blog or on Facebook, or join the Tea Party.

  • http://twitter.com/USAlex007 Patti Sue

    Here’s my completely biased opinion.
    I am an intelligent, well-versed woman. I would not write an opinion column for the simple reason that I would not want to be lumped in with our “news” ladies. Unfortunately, too many women (or perhaps their simple-minded bosses) have decided that the only way to get anyone to listen to them is to slap on too much make-up, puff up their lips, show their cleavage and sit on a couch between all the men in a short red dress! It is hard to be taken seriously when our sister newscasters look like they are going to a party at the playboy mansion!
    By the way, I don’t blame men for this problem. I blame the women who still believe that no one will listen unless the puppies are showing. Here’s a newsflash……when the puppies are showing all men hear is blah, blah, blah, puppies, blah, blah, blah!

  • Anonymous

    As Cookie points out, women are judged more harshly than men when it comes to disseminating ideas. So one of the reasons women don’t contribute more, is because they fear that their ideas and opinions will be dismissed. As we get more women’s voices onto the Op-Ed pages, however, we’ll reach a tipping point where women are equally accepted as influencers, and the critiques will tend to focus on the issues rather than on gender.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_H566AGTHFHTO6AUALFTE3KODK4 D.

    Mallory Jean Tennore, good column and great comments here but there is one major thing you are not mentioning. Most oped page editors commission the opeds, and they only commission opeds to people who make news, or who are experts with a PHD or are celebrity VIPs. I have been writing and sending in oped pieces for over 40 years to the Boston Globe, The New York Times, and LA Times, and the Washington Post, and not once have they ever even replied to me with a real letter, other than a form letter saying “sorry this does not fit out needs.” What they are really saying to us all, male or female, is this: people who are not VIPS or rich CEOs or celebrity personalities or recent book authors with a hot book topic to promote, the way Amy Chua got her piece in the WSJ, need not apply. This is NOT about male or female. This is about oped page departments
    that feel they are entitled and that only Harvard or Yale grads can work there as editors of said units. Shame on Amercan journalism. This is not a gender thing, this is a class thing. Go back to square one, Mallory Jean. But other than that, a good piece. The comments are telling. Still, listen to what i am telling you. I speak from experience. Oped piece are commisined by editors with an agenda, and very very few oped pieces that come in cold and over the transom are ever published. Period. Do a survey. The worst is the NYT. — Danny Bloom, Tufts 1971….not bitter, just amused! SMILE

  • http://twitter.com/CollectiveAct Rosie Williams

    I was interested to read the participation rates for females in op-ed are similar to those on Wikipedia so it would seem there is nothing particularly different about Wikipedia as compared with these other bastions of public discourse.

    I am founder of a campaign to help women as individuals address the gender gap issues on Wikipedia called Women4Wikipedia. It is at http://women4wikipedia.net

    I suspect that what irritates people in these kinds of debates is the sense of being held responsible for other people’s beliefs and behaviours?

    As a society we need to provide girls and women with safe environments where they can learn to trust and validate their own opinions. For individual adult women I feel they/we need to take responsibility for validating our own opinions and/or providing environments for ourselves where we can find support in that process from others. I have created mine at the above link and welcome women to join the forum if they are interested.


  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jonny-Cache/1039153428 Jonny Cache

    I think it is important for the rationality of this discussion to draw a distinction between opinion pages at large and what Mallary Jean Tenore called “non-news sites, such as Wikipedia”.

    The above article falls within the penumbra of a Wikimedia Foundation focus on upping the percentage of women contributing to Wikipedia. Increasing the levels of participation in avowedly democratic enterprises is a good thing. But Wikipedia is avowed rather explicitly not to be an experiment in democracy, nor is it even remotely democratic in point of fact. Indeed, trying to correct the defects of Wikipedia Culture by recruiting more participants of any class or kind is like trying to correct the defects of a Ponzi scheme by pumping more dollars into it. And that is not a good thing.

    In short, I think we have to be clear about the vast differences between the two types of participation before we try to judge what is beneficial and what is not.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3FQTYTGYX5CWQI6K3WVOS6HPGU Lee L

    You used an ad hominem attack in the end of your post. Thanks for proving my point.

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter


    Thanks for your response. You raise a good point about girls being taught they have to be perfect to please. Perfectionism can certainly stifle creativity. I think that writing opinion pieces can be especially tough for perfectionists because, the reality is, opinions aren’t perfect. They’re shaped by our experiences, our upbringing, our beliefs. When we share them, we make ourselves vulnerable and open to criticism from people who disagree. If we don’t express them, though, our voice gets lost. And because no one is perfect, we do make mistakes. We just have to hope that men and women get the same treatment when they make them.


  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jonny-Cache/1039153428 Jonny Cache

    There are several threads at The Wikipedia Review on this and related topics:

    Blog Post: “Wikipedia Is Sexist” — http://wikipediareview.com/index.php?showtopic=33097
    NYT Learning Network Discussion — http://wikipediareview.com/index.php?showtopic=33077
    Wikipedia Women Facebook Group — http://wikipediareview.com/index.php?showtopic=33052
    WMF GenderGap Discussion Forum — http://wikipediareview.com/index.php?showtopic=33040
    Concern About Porn On Wikipedia — http://wikipediareview.com/index.php?showtopic=33021
    The Truth According To Wikipedia — http://wikipediareview.com/index.php?showtopic=32897
    Media Coverage Around The World — http://wikipediareview.com/index.php?showtopic=32780

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_42RVBEDRL6IRK2ZHJAOA3RHMRQ Cookie

    I strongly recognize that bit about women feeling like they don’t have the right qualifications. I think it stems from girls being taught from early age that they have to be perfect to please, while boys are allowed to make mistakes. As a woman, if a task has 10 listed requirements and I fulfil 8, I feel inadequate. My brother, in the same situation, would probably feel “Oh what the heck, let’s give it a shot”, even if he only matched 4 of those requirements (or maybe even less!).

    Much like Lee L below proves with his comment, women are instantly disqualified if they make mistakes. If a man writes an op-ed and gets some statistics mixed up, I bet readers would simply call him on that, maybe call him sloppy or possibly accuse him of trying to cheat the readers. But once he had corrected the numbers no one would think anything more of it. If a woman would make the same mistake, Lee L and the likes of him would instantly start generalising and call women in general incompetent to handle hard facts, unsuitable for rational thought and definitely not worthy of writing op-ed pieces for a major newspaper. Even if she corrects the numbers and alters her story to reflect it, a large portion of the readership would disregard the actual facts of the piece and just keep trolling the fact that she got NUMBERS WRONG.

    I’m sorry, Lee L, that I don’t have a scientific study handy to back my theory up, you’ll have to make do with anecdotal data. If I wasn’t so busy making my husband sandwiches and doing laundry, maybe I would have time to search Pub-Med for relevant references.

  • Nepenthe

    If there’s one thing I’ve learned from reading the letters to the editor of the local paper, it’s that men rarely use logical fallacies. Oh, no sir.

  • http://twitter.com/shadowprancer Brittany Pedersen

    Well, just because men contribute opinions doesn’t mean their opinion is accurate or even relevant. Maybe this ‘problem’ isn’t really a problem, most often women think before they speak and think before they write so if they do have an opinion then it will be more worth a reader’s time. Quality over quantity.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3FQTYTGYX5CWQI6K3WVOS6HPGU Lee L

    It’s because it’s rare to find a woman that can stir up debate without using fallacies of logic to support her cause.