A new study was released yesterday by the OpEd Project — an organization whose goal it is to increase the number of women writing op-ed pieces for major news outlets — that said that, though there is an improvement in the percentages of female bylines in major news media, the numbers are still dismal. Furthermore, when women do write op-ed pieces, they are usually centered around “pink topics” — food, fashion, family and furniture. The study found:
While past Byline Surveys have found that legacy news outlets tend to feature the fewest female voices in op-eds (usually around 15 to 20 percent), the newest survey says there’s been an increase in the number of op-eds written by women in The New York Times (22 percent now compared to 17 percent in 2005), The Washington Post (19 percent now compared to 10 percent) and The Los Angeles Times (24 percent compared to 20 percent).
Even when editors solicit opinion pieces, women are more likely to turn down the opportunity, whereas men will usually jump at the invitation. It’s not just women who don’t have bylines, either. A similar study showed that “one-half of one percent of op-eds in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal were written by Latinos; in The Washington Post, it was 0 percent. Asian Americans authored an average of 2 percent; blacks roughly 5 percent.”
Why is this happening? There is certainly no shortage of women who have opinions on topics, whether women’s issues or hard news topics. According to several professionals in the field, women are still grossly underrepresented in the media. The majority of commentators and writers we see are still male, and therefore it can be intimidating for women to jump into such a male-dominated field. Sue Horton, the Op-ed and Sunday opinion editor at the Los Angeles Times, thinks there is something even more interesting going on.
Though there isn’t any hard data on the subject, she says that women are more likely to write pieces about subjects they have specific knowledge and experience with, whereas men are more likely to submit “dinner party” pieces, or articles on any subject they happen to have an opinion on, whether they have experience with it or not. It makes sense, then, that men would jump at the opportunity to write a piece for which they had been solicited whereas women would not; men aren’t afraid to share their opinions on any topic, and women feel more pressure to do further research — a time-consuming process that many don’t have time for. Opinion pieces are also largely unpaid, and with women still not making the same amount of money as men for the same work, it follows that women would have to turn down time-consuming, unpaid writing opportunities.
The problem might be compounded by the way women tend to feel about themselves. In a recent interview, The OpEd Project founder, Catherine Orenstein was quoted saying, “A lot of [women] 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.” If we don’t think that our opinions matter, we won’t be submitting them in writing to major news outlets.
In October of last year, I attended an OpEd Project seminar in Chicago, and it was one of the most valuable things I could have done for my writing career. Not only did we learn the basics of writing a compelling opinion piece and pitching that piece to major outlets, but we learned that our words mattered. The bulk of the morning portion of the session was spent detailing our individual expertise. They actually made us say, “I am an expert in…” which was incredibly difficult for some of us to do, largely because we felt that someone else needed to validate that expertise for us. Due to the seminar, I have published several opinion pieces for news media outlets, and plan on doing much more.
While some of the problem with getting women to write op-ed pieces is our own doubt that our voices matter, some of it is lack of access to information and contacts in the media. To help combat this problem, The OpEd Project has put together a free list of information about where to submit opinion pieces.
Even if you have not taken part in the seminar, you can use these resources for submitting and pitching your opinion pieces, and I, for one, urge you to do so. We need more women opinion writers!
Photo Credit: NS Newsflash