Something struck me as I clicked on the salon.com daily newsletter in my inbox Wednesday and it totally pissed me off.
Now before I go on, let me assure you that I love salon.com, that I’ve been reading it ever since Dave Talbot started it before the idea of digital journalism had even hit the radar, and that I myself have written for it as well. But here’s what got me going: Salon’s daily newsletter lists the each day’s headlines, along with bylines, and what I noticed Wednesday was this: Of the 30 stories linked, only 8 were written by women. Not that bad, you say? Well, that’s debatable. But of those:
One was a personal essay by Laura Wagner on going back to Haiti to report on what we don’t know about what it’s like there now. Okay, good.
Another was an editorial by Joan Walsh, salon’s editor-in chief.
One was by a freelance food writer, whose piece was about a layered Japanese cake made with coffee jelly.
And the other five were all corralled into the women’s neighborhood known as Broadsheet. Don’t get me wrong. I love Broadsheet as much as the next girl. Read it every day in fact, and almost always agree with the feminist line. But, if you were to be honest you’d have to admit, every column is thorougly predicatable: we’re pissed about (fill in the blank) and we’re gonna riff about it. Done.
I couldn’t help but wonder: on a cutting edge news site, run by a woman in fact, can’t you figure out something for smart women writers to do — other than rant or rhapsodize over tea cakes?
So anyway, then I went over to jezebel.com. More cranky pants. They were talking shit about Elizabeth Gilbert. Now, let me say again, as I’ve said before, that I am probably the only woman left in America who hasn’t finished Eat Pray Love. But c’mon: “How Elizabeth Gilbert ruined Bali”? Really? They also talked a little trash about Julia Roberts. Of course.
So then, what the hell, I checked out the New York Times Homepage. Nine bylines and only one woman, whose byline was shared. To be fair, Maureen Dowd’s column (no byline) was up in the corner. And there’s no question, were I to have given the gray lady multiple clicks beyond the home page, I am sure I would have found a number of women. Or on the blogs. Like Lisa Belkin, who I read often and kinda like, who writes about parenting.
But. Way back when, there was a TV show, “Lou Grant”, that had been a favorite — either in real time or on rerun channels — of just about everyone I knew in J. School. And there was this one episode where the girl reporter followed a hot story that allowed her to get outside the walls of the traditional woman’s beat, the only place most women journalists were allowed. You know, lightweight features, ladies lunches, that sort of stuff. The girl ghetto.
Anyway, having run into all this stuff, on Wednesday, I couldn’t help wondering. Are we back there again? The girl ghetto? Where’s the writing of substance? The Reporting with the captial “R”? Are smart women only capable of essays or riffs or recipes? You gotta wonder if we’ve been sucked into a ghetto of our own making, where we do simply what’s expected of us: We write about food, we write about kids — or we put on the cranky pants and riff predictably about women’s issues.. It that’s all we want to be known for, great. But seems to me, if we want to be taken seriously — as journalists, or even as women — we ought to break out of this self-imposed exile.
Right here, I should probably add a little backstory. I’m still pissed off about the list of the “greatest magazine stories ever“, compiled by men, that only had ONE woman on the list’s first iteration: Susan Orlean, for “The Orchid Thief”, who initially earned one star out of a possible four. What about Orlean’s award-winning “The American Man at Age 10”? Or what, no Joan Didion? No mention of one of the most critically acclaimed magazine pieces ever, her “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream”?
I’m happy to report that the list has been updated and, ahem, the above have been included. But nonetheless. I’ve been, you know, cranky ever since.