When Nicholas Kristof at The New York Times pointed out that most letters to the editor are written by men, I wasn’t surprised. And, seeing the 37% figure he cites for opinion writing on reproductive health, I thought: “Of course men write more letters and opinion pieces; it’s a pissing contest. Besides, women are too busy.”
That figure represents content by female journalists. A 37% figure on reproductive health? Really? How pitiful is that?
Sure, we juggle jobs and babies and carpools and in-laws, all the while trying to keep our bed partners happy. Who has time for a letter to the editor?
Yet isn’t all this juggling directly related to our reproductive health?
As the years pass, we find ourselves filling out financial forms for college kids, looking for jobs, restarting life after divorce, and quite possibly caring for our aging elders.
Again, who has the energy for editorials?
I also consider the number of women who voice opinions through blogs, myself included. We seem to be fine with spending time in our online venues. And yes, reproductive health has become more contentious in recent years. So is this where we’re putting our most strident viewpoints? On the web, to select audiences? Does this explain — in any way — the 37% statistic on a subject that concerns us — quite literally — body and soul?
But these are articles in the news biz…
Is “Busyness” a Feminist Issue?
Interestingly, the context of Mr. Kristof’s remarks, appearing in his newsletter, is one of sexism, and also, progress for women in the political arena. That is, progress in which:
… Women increasingly are affecting the national conversation…
And, his column explores:
… the role of women through the prism of Hillary Clinton’s campaign…
Here is the article he references, Clinton, Trump and Sexism, itself an entertaining trip down memory lane. (Who doesn’t enjoy a reminder of the journey we’ve traveled with Hillary, from cookie conundrums to bad hair days to finally paying attention to her words and her accomplishments?)
Returning to the subject of opinion writing, as I revisit the 37% figure, I recall my past 20 years of Crazy Busy Life — endlessly multitasking, and frankly, still at it. In that light, I can almost deem that percentage something of an accomplishment, if you compare it to, say… female representation in Congress.
Apples to oranges?
But if women spend child-bearing years during which they barely have time to pee, to make love, to read a book, to do one thing at a time for two hours straight, they likely don’t have time to craft a letter to the editor on any subject, much less do what’s necessary to run for elected office.
But female journalists? Why has writing on reproductive rights been left to the province of men?
Do Women Have a Voice?
Not entirely a digression, allow me to cite The Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University on gender demographics as follows:
… In 2015, 104 (76D, 28R) women hold seats in the United States Congress, comprising 19.4% of the 535 members; 20 women (20%) serve in the United States Senate, and 84 women (19.3%) serve in the United States House of Representatives. Four women delegates (3D, 1R) also represent American Samoa, the District of Columbia, Guam, and the Virgin Islands in the United States House of Representatives.
Did you get that? Female representation is 20% in Congress, though women make up 51% of the US population.
And women of color?
33 of the 104 women serving in Congress in 2015 are women of color: 18 African Americans, 9 Latinas, and 6 Asian American/Pacific Islanders…
Like I said, that 37% figure doesn’t seem too bad, except for the fact that we’re talking about female reproductive rights.
And that leaves me bordering on apoplectic.
A few more facts and figures from the Women’s Media Center study that Mr. Kristoff cites:
In 2015, more laws restricting reproductive rights were passed than there are states in the nation — 57, with hundreds more under consideration. Since 2011, 288 laws curtailing a woman’s right to make her own reproductive decisions have been enacted in the states.
Of What Use, a Letter to the Editor?
Now, as to the fine tradition of letters to the editor, specifically, we may not care to pen a paragraph to The Times on the off chance it’s “good enough” for the few that are chosen. Nonetheless, I must ask: How many of us have ever tried?
And if not The New York Times, then the local paper?
And what about husbands, boyfriends, adult sons, brother-in-laws? Have they sat at their keyboards and shot off a response to a political position, a social issue, or some other item of public interest? Are men, still, more comfortable speaking their minds?
Simplistically, it seems to me the answer is yes. And yet — setting aside assumptions of the sort I made — our families, our nurturing, our work lives, our blogs — are those excuses for not undertaking a more “formal” means to express ourselves? Has the subject of reproductive rights become so explosive as to scare us away?
Ironically, as I’ve had a bone to pick on a specific recurring topic at The Times, in recent months I’ve considered crafting an impeccably edited letter to voice my points. And no, it isn’t on an issue of reproductive health.
What’s happened thus far?
Weighed down by too much to do and too little time, by the need to make a buck like the rest of us, by the “journalistic” desire to base any argument on facts (rather than factoids), by multitasking in order to cover my varied responsibilities, let’s just say… a letter to the editor falls away as a priority.
And ain’t that a shame. Worse… doesn’t this make me — all of us who don’t speak our minds, whatever the subject — part of the problem?
I welcome your thoughts.
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