Some observers immediately suspected that sexism might have had a part in the firing of Jill Abramson as executive editor of The New York Times. Others believed, however, that a management style so abrasive that it disheartened the news staff was reason enough for this executive’s ouster.
Now, in Women’s enews, Betsy Wade, the Times’s first female copyeditor and a Times staffer for 45 years, offers some historical background. Wade, who was a leader of the women who filed a sex-discrimination lawsuit against the Times in 1974, calmly calls attention to a tradition of sexism she maintains was established by Adolph Ochs, who bought the Times in 1896. (He barred his own daughter, Iphigene, from working at the paper, and hired only four women in his 38 years as publisher.)
Iphigene married Arthur Hays Sulzberger, who became publisher when Iphigene’s father died. Twenty years later, a stag party was held to celebrate Sulzberger’s years at the Times. Iphigene—barred from the party!—recorded this greeting: “Dear Arthur . . . Once more you must admit I am right. If this were not a man’s world, as I have always insisted it was, I would not be left out in the cold tonight. If I’d had been the boss’s son instead of his daughter, this party might have been for me and not for you.”
Historically, Wade writes, the Times was glacially slow in hiring women who could rise in its ranks, and still slower in hiring nonwhite employees for almost anything.
And see publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr.’s response to the uproar over his firing of Abramson in another Today’s Talk Topic, “Point/Counterpoint.”
For women who’ve spent decades fighting—first for their place in the workforce, then for equitable treatment and pay—the announcement Monday that The New York Times was firing the first woman to hold the position of executive editor carried many echoes of the old double standard.
When Jill Abramson became executive editor in 2011, she said the promotion was like “ascending to Valhalla.” The post made her a powerful person on the global stage, and women celebrated the shattering of what had been a particularly thick glass ceiling.
But her ousting from the job after less than three years has commentators saying she was viewed as “pushy,” “abrasive,” and “condescending.” Ken Auletta of The New Yorker reported that when Abramson discovered recently that her compensation package was less than that of Bill Keller, her predecessor in the top newsroom job,she demanded an increase, which “may have fed into the management’s narrative that she was ‘pushy,’ a characterization that, for many, has an inescapably gendered aspect.” (The Times told Politico that Abramson’s “total compensation as executive editor was not less than Bill Keller’s, so that is just incorrect . . . Her pension benefit, like all Times employees, is based on her years of service and compensation. The pension benefit was frozen in 2009.”
Yes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Male leaders are perceived as taking charge, female leaders are seen as being bitchy. A Gallup poll in November found: “If Americans were taking a new job and had their choice of a boss, they would prefer a male boss over a female boss by 35 percent to 23 percent, although 4 in 10 would have no preference.”
In April 2013, only about a year and a half into Abramson’s tenure, Politico wrote: “In recent months, Abramson has become a source of widespread frustration and anxiety within the Times newsroom. More than a dozen current and former members of the editorial staff, all of whom spoke to Politico on the condition of anonymity, described her as stubborn and condescending, saying they found her difficult to work with. But, as the article pointed out, “every New York Times executive editor has demonstrated the ability to cut someone off at the knees.”
The compensation issue, if the news reports are accurate, is particularly disappointing because The New York Times has long stood for civil rights, women’s rights, and equality. In an editorial on “comparable worth” published on Jan. 2, 1985, The Times wrote: “Deliberate discrimination between men and women by a single employer is impermissible.
Was Abramson a perfect executive editor? Probably not. Was she given less leeway than her male predecessors? Probably.
She’s not the first executive editor to be forced out. Howell Raines, an executive editor who was also criticized by staff members for having a brusque management style, left the job in 2003. Of course, it took a plagiarism scandal to unseat him.
In making the announcement of Abramson’s firing, Arthur Sulzburger Jr., publisher and chairman of The New York Times, told the staff that she had done an “outstanding job in preserving and extending the level of excellence of our news report,” according to the Daily Beast website.
“She’s an accomplished journalist who contributed mightily to our reputation as the world’s most important news provider,” he said.
So the playing field is not yet level. But as women, even given the inequities, we need to keep playing.
(VIDEO) The Wednesday Five: Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Hollywood’s Power Execs, New Answers on Pay Equity and Thinking Twice About Crop Tops
This week, blogs marked Domestic Violence Awareness Month, shared intriguing studies on pay equity and women & development, and listed some maybe-questionable attire for women over 50.
- We’ve spent a lot of time here on Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but Miranda Spencer reminds us at Women in Media and News that October is more than that. “Less reported is October’s other “ribbon” issue, domestic violence (DV), which has had its own Awareness Month since October 1987 to connect those who work to end violence against women and their children. [Domestic violence] statistics are even more devastating than breast cancer rates. A woman has a 1 in 8 lifetime chance of having breast cancer, whereas 1 in 4 women (and 1 in 13 men) will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, and an average of three women in America die as a result of domestic violence each day. Add in psychological and economic forms of abuse that can follow even after the DV victim leaves the perpetrator – including physical and cyber stalking and even identity theft – and we’re talking about a preventable menace that could use a lot more public awareness.” Click over for the rest, and think about wearing a purple ribbon next to your pink stuff, at least.
- While we’re considering what to wear, Gerit Quealy has some thoughts on what not to at Style Goes Strong. Among her “5 Things Not to Wear After 50″ are micro-minis, complicated lattice heels, and crop tops: “You may have the greatest abs of your life, but showing them off in a crop top doesn’t show them to their best advantage. Helen Mirren revealed her admirable belly in a bikini and you still wouldn’t catch her in a crop top. In fact, a bikini is a better option. Or workout wear at yoga class. Gwyneth Paltrow’s ensemble at the Emmys exposed her midriff and she took a lot of heat for her choice — and she’s just 39.” We’re guessing that WVFC’s Eleanore Wells, for one, will take issue with Quealy’s list: do you? Click over and see if you agree, and let us know in comments.
- Are you sick of hearing from men, discussing the severe gender gap in pay in the business world, how “it’s women’s choices” that explain the inequality ? At Harvard Business Review, Christine Silva and Nancy Carter of Catalyst can help you fight back. Sharing results from their most recent study, which tracked nearly a thousand MBAs across the country, Silva and Carter write: “The problem isn’t only a late-career phenomenon by which women are denied the big promotion after having advanced steadily alongside men. Rather, the entire pipeline is in peril. More particularly, our research has managed to explode four prevailing myths about the progress of women in workplaces.” In addition to the one about women’s choices, they found that you can’t blame the recession or lack of mentoring, or the one about the gap disappearing as women rise up the pipeline. “Major interventions are required to build a robust pipeline of women leaders,” Kimberly-Clark CEO Thomas Falk told Catalyst in a meeting reported on at HBR.
- Why do women hate development? That question was put to WVFC recently after Infrastructurist reported on a different kind of study, a national poll from a poll by the Saint Consulting Group.”The poll results — which come from a nationwide telephone survey of 1,000 people done in June — indicate an interesting divergence in priorities between men and women when it comes to industrial growth,” writes Melissa Lasky. “Just about any type of project that comes with potentially negative environmental consequences — natural gas pipelines, nuclear power plants, quarries, malls — received much stronger support from the men surveyed than the women, usually with more than a 10% difference. (For example, 50% of the men said they’d support a new power plant in their community while just 32% of women said they would.) And across the board, men were uniformly more open to development than women.” She cautions us that these findings “aren’t a blanket statement about gender and urban development,” but it left us thinking about power in towns and whether some concrete ceilings need shattering along with the glass ones.
- When we saw the title “Hollywood’s Top Six Women,” we thought we’d see a list of actors. But in Third Age’s slide show, only Oprah has put in time in front of the camera — and she’s included less for that than for her producing prowess. Others include Disney’s Anne Sweeney and “50-year-old Stacy Snider [who] has been a major player in Hollywood for decades, previously climbing to the top spot at Universal Pictures, where she was chairman, and responsible for making much-loved movies like Erin Brockovich and Meet the Parents.” In honor of Snider, this week’s W5 video also celebrates fellow midlife women Julia Roberts and Erin Brockovitch herself, who probably contributed to the skepticism among women that we mentioned in the previous item.
In the wake of the Supreme Court decision blocking a class action lawsuit by women who work for Wal-Mart, the question remains: What can women who believe they are underpaid do? Claire Shipman of ABC News reports that it is important to find out what others doing similar work are paid and to negotiate for pay increases. Shipman notes that in workplaces in which pay is made public, like the federal government, pay inequities are smaller than they are in workplaces where talking about pay is discouraged or prohibited. And Mika Brzezinski of Morning Joe on MSNBC tells ABC News that women should not threaten to quit over pay inequities unless they are ready to follow through on the threat.
We don’t watch Morning Joe religiously, so we’re glad we learned about the moment below, when Mika Brzezinski talks about confronting MSNBC about pay inequities.”In another interview,” As Huffingtom Post pointed out, “Brzezinski said she was making fourteen times less than co-host Joe Scarborough.” Also in the clip are two women Brzezinski included in her new book Knowing Your Value: Women, Money and Getting What You’re Worth: the seemingly unflappable director Nora Ephron and NBC News political correspondent Norah O’Donnell. Watch to see these three talk about when they realized what they deserved; you may end up resolving to do so in your own life.
Eager to see what the Shriver Report has to say about women over 50, I paged through my electronic copy, wishing in my over-50 way that I had physical pages to flip and leaf through. But despite my failure to find any chapter or essay specifically dedicated to those of us who remember only too well the plight of women that Betty Friedan described so well in 1963, I could not stop reading. The study codifies what many of us know to be true, and it also reveals facts about American society that both encourage and dismay.
The statistics are eye-openers; they describe a social landscape much changed in 50 years. In 1969, a third of all workers were women. Now the labor force is 50 percent female. Heather Boushey, an expert on women and workforce issues and an editor of the Report, calls this change “certifiably revolutionary—perhaps the greatest social transformation of our time.” As Gloria Steinem writes, “It should end forever the debate about women’s place in the labor force; women are the labor force.”
Yet Hilda Solis, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor, offers these sobering statistics: “About 67 percent of workers paid at or below the minimum wage are women. African-American women working full time earned about 70 percent (69.6 percent) as much as men (as a whole), and Latinas 62.7 percent as much as all men. … At the top end of the work pyramid, only 23.4 percent of women in the workforce are executives.”
What the study makes clear is that as women leave home to go to work, everything changes. Lost in the great health care debate, for example, is the fact that women are no longer able to provide free, at-home care for sick children or aging parents. They have little time to volunteer at schools or local charities or to head community religious and service organizations. Families depend on supermarkets, restaurants and other retail stores that stay open 24/7 to serve their needs. However, Boushey points out, that means that somebody—disproportionately, somebody from an immigrant and/or lower-income family—has to work during nonstandard hours. The marriages of those workers suffer, as does their ability to access childcare and other support during those off-hours.
What were once viewed as women’s issues are now understood to impact everyone.
- Young men today are much more involved in the business of parenting than their grandfathers were. Maria Shriver reports that a large majority of both men and women believe that businesses should be required to provide paid family and medical leave for every worker who needs it.
- Today mothers are the primary breadwinners in 40 percent of all families, a trend accelerated by the recession, but they still earn less than men—$0.77 on average for every dollar—in the same jobs. Since three-quarters of the jobs lost in the recession belonged to men, the laid-off husbands champion equal pay for their wives.
Women, by occupying seats in what once were exclusively male preserves, enable, even challenge, men to understand that a woman’s experience can be very different from a man’s. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for example, explained to her male colleagues on the Supreme Court that a 13-year-old girl suffers a strip search in a way that men can’t imagine. More recently, Sen. John Kyl (R-Ariz.) argued against requiring the inclusion of basic maternity care in medical insurance because he, for one, wouldn’t need it and it would raise the cost of the insurance. “I think your mom probably did,” interrupted Sen. Deborah Stabenow (D-Mich.).
The Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII, banned employment discrimination based on race, sex, religion or national origin. “Forty years ago it was assumed that more men participated in sports because women were uninterested,” Delaine Eastin, former California superintendent of public instruction, remembers. But, she continues, “[w]ith the passage of Title IX of the Education Act of 1972, the number of women in high school sports grew 904 percent.”
Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan and many, many other women fought long and hard for rights that some younger women today take for granted. Sister Joan Chittister, author of The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully, writes:
I am an American woman born in an era when women rose up to claim the human rights that men had been giving men for over 200 years…. Brave women bore the ridicule that being called ‘feminist’ brought with it. They risked the rejection that came with building “a woman’s nation.” They braved the social cost, the terrible discomfort, of being “the first this, the first that.” They gave their lives to changing laws and opening doors. Most of all, they taught their daughters to expect for themselves the same opportunities their brothers took as birthright, to arrogate unto themselves the same possibilities the male world assumed for its sons.
Although women enjoy more possibilities and have more choices as a result of the feminists’ fierce determination to change the laws and attitudes that restricted them, much remains to be done.
Shriver pulls it all together:
Women still don’t make as much as men do for the same jobs. Women still don’t make it to the top as often as men. Families too often can’t get flex-time, child care, medical leave or paid family leave. The United States still is the only major industrialized nation without comprehensive child care and family leave policies. Insurance companies still often charge women more than men for the exact same coverage. Women are still being punished by a tax code designed when men were the sole breadwinners and women the sole caregivers. Sexual violence against women remains a huge issue. Women still are disproportionately affected by lack of health care services. And lesbian couples and older women are among the poorest segment of our society.
I share the hope of the authors that The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything will be a clarion call to action for all Americans to work to rectify these inequalities. Only such hard work can bring America, who pioneered social change in the 20th century, back into the vanguard.
On Friday, the House of Representatives passed two bills of importance to women. The Paycheck Fairness Act requires employers to pay equal wages to men and women who perform the same job unless there is a rational reason for the pay disparity. Also passed was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which overturns the 2007 Supreme Court decision Lilly Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (550 U.S. 618). In the year since that decision, lower courts around the country have been busy deepening its effect, turning away suits charging discrimination based on sex, race and disability.
As Congress enters recess, House members are reminding their Senate colleagues to get serious about pay equity, in the wake of last year’s disastrous Ledbetter v. Goodyear decision by the Supreme Court. One is 15-year House veteran Lucille Roybal-Allard, who as the first Mexican-American woman to serve in Congress knows a thing or two about societal barriers:
The Paycheck Fairness Act creates a training program to help women
strengthen their negotiation skills. It enforces equal pay laws for
federal contractors. The measure requires the Department of Labor to
work with employers to eliminate pay disparities by enhancing outreach
and training efforts. The bill prohibits employers from retaliating
against employees who share salary information with their co-workers.
Finally, the legislation allows women to sue for punitive damages in
addition to compensatory damages now available under the Equal Pay Act.
A couple of weeks before the House passed the Equal Pay Act, I
had the pleasure of gathering with many of my colleagues in the House
and Senate at a rally on Capitol Hill in support of both this measure
and the pending Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. We were joined at that
rally by Lilly Ledbetter herself, who provided first-hand testimony
about the years of gender-based wage discrimination she endured while
employed as a supervisor for a Goodyear Tire plant in Gadsden, Alabama.
After nearly two decades, an anonymous note revealed that she had been
paid less than male co-workers who held the same job, including recent
hires with less job experience.
This measure passed the U.S. House of
Representatives with my support on July 31, 2007, but awaits passage in
At forty, learning how to fly: Filmmaker Jennifer Fox knows a thing or two about bravery. Her PBS documentary series include Stories From a Free South Africa and Beirut: The Last Home Movie. But as Britt Wahlin writes this week, her new Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman required bravery of a very different kind:
But in her early 40s, she begins to wonder where she fits. Though
she eschews marriage, she has a relationship with a married man, and
the way she feels when he’s not there for her is anything but
liberating. She thinks she may want children after all. All around her,
female friends are experiencing parallel struggles figuring out how
love, sex and partnership square with often competing desires for
independence: professional, financial and otherwise.
To figure it
all out, she turns the camera on herself and invites family, friends,
and friends of friends to share their stories, too. “Flying:
Confessions of a Free Woman” is the resulting tapestry of narratives, a
six-hour meditation on the modern female experience. The women in
“Flying” cover a gamut of topics ranging from marriage, motherhood,
divorce and sexuality to abortion, infertility, virginity and violence.
germs of “Flying” came to Fox in the mid-’90s, when it struck her that
though she tended to be in relationships with men, her female
friendships were holding her together. “I was initially interested in
female language, how women communicate with each other,” she said. In
South Africa, where she was working, her water-cooler conversations
with the female members of a mostly male production team always hit on
the same topics: love, sex, relationships. “Though we were from
different backgrounds, we were experiencing the same things,” Fox said.
She hypothesized that the themes of modern women’s lives cut across
race, class and culture, but she wasn’t sure how to incorporate her
ideas into a compelling film…
And in classic old-school feminist fashion, Fox draws out her subjects partly through the power of her own confessions:
In India, Fox initiates a discussion about masturbation with a group of
widows. The women ask, “How would one do that?” and then break into
hysterics at the mere suggestion that they would touch their own bodies
for sexual fulfillment in the absence of husbands.
But the main
story in “Flying” is Fox’s own, which plays out like a soap opera —
each episode ends with a cliffhanger. She takes a tell-all approach:
about her sex life, her relationships, her abortions, her miscarriages,
her sexual abuse, and her anger toward her parents and grandmother. She
says her decision to share everything, both the good and the bad, was
her political choice. As a filmmaker, she wanted the film to show that
“this is not a perfect life, but it’s a real life.” As the film’s
subject, she believed she was on a journey to self-understanding that
required complete honesty.
Newsmix wonders how many other late bloomers, on learning of the film, thought instinctively of the Kate Millett book of the same title. Fox’s own website for the film, which is busy winning awards at numerous film festivals, makes no reference to any such thing; perhaps she’s instead thinking that by making it this far, we are all superheroes.