Can You Hear (or Read) Me Now?

Originally posted by Rylee Sommers-Flagan June 24, 2010 on EmoryWheel,com (Emory University's student newspaper)

I’ve long been suspicious that editorialists and editorial boards, despite purporting to speak on behalf of their audiences, are not demographically representative of the larger population. These suspicions were confirmed for me last week in a workshop with a group called the OpEd Project.

According to several studies, men dominate something called “thought leadership” in the United States. Specifically, male voices make up about 85 percent of those present in the national editorial conversation. They supply the perspective in opinion media, vastly outnumbering female representation in talk shows, expert interviews, and op-ed pieces across our country.

Just to be clear, that leaves 15 percent of the idea space to women.
To be even clearer, with women making up 50 percent to 52 percent of the population, that’s a gap of about 35 percent.

This gap isn’t limited to opinion media; currently, only 17 of 100 U.S. Senators are female, and 75 of 435 (about 17 percent) of U.S. Representatives are female.

Oddly enough, though I’d like to develop a conspiracy theory or blame paternalistic control, under representation of women’s voices on editorial pages and in government isn’t purely the fault of opinion media producers and editors, or the electorate at large.

In fact, research from the aforementioned workshop suggests that it’s rather difficult to get women to write or talk about their expertise in editorial media forums and similarly difficult to get women to run for office. The host informed the twenty or so women in the room that the Washington Post had conducted an internal study on the editorial submissions they received and published. While women had written 15 percent of the op-eds they published, they had submitted even fewer — only 10%. The Washington Post was, in this case, being more than equitable to women’s opinions.

This is strange to me. I’m a woman. I often feel the urge to contribute to conversations in the media, but the more I learn, the more I feel lonely in my desire to contribute.

The OpEd Project’s workshop took place at a conference devoted to finding strategic means to end violence against women. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney spoke about the importance of ratifying CEDAW, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women — not exactly a radical convention. Yet, the United States is the only industrialized nation that has not ratified it. Among non-industrialized nations, a few, including North Korea and Iran, haven’t ratified it either — nations that systematically repress women.

This is the company we keep, refusing even to vote on a basic statement about injustice of worldwide discrimination against women.

It is time for women to step up and speak out. We should throw a fit about CEDAW on every page and airwave we can reach. Our male counterparts are encouraged to engage whether or not they’re informed. We should feel encouraged, too. The world is changing. I remember Dr. Ken Stein asking a class of 200 why significantly more men than women spoke or asked questions in class; he wanted a change. I remember feeling embarrassed I hadn’t said a word.

Be brave; send your thoughts to the Emory Wheel or the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Be really brave; write something and send it to the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal (or the Wheel). Call into NPR for "Talk of the Nation." Tell the world what you think. It really is time to hear from the women.

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