Last Monday, I wrote a piece for Forbes about gender bias at several major newspapers, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. My particular focus was the op-ed pages of each of these publications, where male bylines outnumber female. Why was that?
New York Times columnist and former editorial page editor Gail Collins explained the reasons for this disparity were because “women don’t put up their hands up as often as men.” Those that do write about “issues relating to children and education.”
That struck me as odd since I put my hand up all the time, and certainly not about “children or education.” What I put my hand up about is no secret: entrepreneurship, economic development, Turkey and the Middle East (oh yes, and the Mets….) Interestingly I’m only called on in two out of the four: entrepreneurship and economic development.
Despite the tremendous knowledge and experience I have about Turkish and Middle Eastern politics and economics, (with a master’s degree and field work to back it up), I find myself marginalized from conversations on these topics. Whether it is a panel, conference or a debate, men, who dominate the topics of Turkish and Middle Eastern politics, ignore me. They opt to talk to and among one another about what former State Department Policy Planning Director Anne-Marie Slaughter calls the “world of states” or realpolitik. They have little interest in my perspective of the “world of societies” which focuses on the important issues of “human rights, democracy, and development.” (From Ryan Lizza’s recent New Yorker profile of President Obama.)
This is, of course, a charge they deny. Until Twitter, there was little I could do to prove otherwise.
Though my Forbes piece focused on the op-ed page, the gender imbalance I struggle with among Turkey and Middle East experts is what sparked it. In particular, it was after noticing that several Turkish officials, including elected and diplomatic representatives, and topic “experts” were following only a handful of women on the popular social media platform – all of who are journalists writing about them. All of the other individuals they follow and engage with are men. There are very few, if no, conversations with women.
There are men focused on Turkey and the Middle East that follow me and engage me in discussion. @abuaardvark, @nuhyilmaz and @speechboy71 are East Coast “think tank” examples; interestingly (and ironically) most others are from the region such as: @_aek_, @fadig, @habibh @mosharrafzaidi and @travellerw. Unfortunately they are the exception.
While it is valid and necessary to blame the New York Times for ignoring female voices on their op-ed page- particularly when it comes to the popular topic of foreign policy, it is equally necessary to recognize that the foreign policy establishment bares responsibility as well. Yes, the past several secretaries of state have been female, but women continue to be grossly under represented in international diplomacy. If and when we are represented it is often as window-dressing. That must stop. I’m not a quota or something to be checked off a list. My voice, precisely because it is female, can contribute to a more dynamic foreign policy exchange.
Time to change the music boys. Your record is broken.