“Where are the women?”

Barbara Kay has just written an interesting column in response to Maureen Dowd‘s call for more female op/ed writers.

Dowd notes that “Men enjoy verbal dueling,” while she, “As a woman,” wants “to be liked — not attacked.” Whether she means to or not, Dowd implicitly acknowledges that the problem may not be editorial hiring policies so much as the fact that there are just far, far more men willing to debate the contents of columns such as hers than there are women; she writes:

Men I know and men who read The Times write me constantly, asking me to read the opinion pieces they’ve written. Sometimes they’ll e-mail or fax me their thoughts to read right before I have lunch with them. Women hardly ever send their own rants.

Most tellingly, she adds that “Male bloggers predominate,” and the blogosphere is one realm in which hiring practises simply do not come into play — as Kevin Drum puts it:

Although its geeky Usenet roots were (and are) testosterone laden affairs, there are still no formal barriers to entry here, no old boys club in the usual meaning of the word. Yet if you take a look at the Blogosphere Ecosystem, which for all its faults is probably the closest thing we have to a consensus measure of popularity for political blogs, you will find exactly three women in the top 30: Michelle Malkin, La Shawn Barber, and Michele Catalano. (There are a few group blogs in the top 30, but those are very heavily male dominated too.)

That’s a grand total of 10% of the most popular political blogs. And to gaze even more deeply into our collective navel, that 10% is 100% conservative. . . .

As it happens, Kay is a conservative herself, and she takes special exception to Dowd’s conclusion that “there are plenty of brilliant women out there who are great at math and science. We just need to find and nurture them.” Kay responds:

No, Maureen, you’ve got it backwards. If a woman needs finding and nurturing, she’s wrong for the job. We don’t want shrinking violets on our op-ed pages. We want strong proactive women writers with definite opinions, who scorn affirmative action and like to duke it out in public.

Obviously, as a man who has just entered the blogosphere, I am part of the problem here. But I don’t see how I could be part of the solution if I wanted to. Like the posters for The Godfather Part III say, “Real power cannot be given. It must be taken,” and if women want to join the verbal fray, they will. Or to use another analogy, it doesn’t matter how often you extend the invitation — if a girl doesn’t want to go out with you, she won’t go out with you.

And now, of course, comes the part where I wonder about the implications of this for film blogs, film critics, and so on.

I don’t think that film discussions must always be about mounting arguments, but I do think that that is a big part of what we do — in my case, at least, arguments have been very helpful in clarifying why I think the way I do about a film, or what I think a film is trying to say. And women have certainly played a big part in how I have come to understand certain films. (Although, now that I think about it, the discussions in question have often concerned science fiction, which, for all I know, may just appeal to women with a stronger appetite for abstract reasoning.) But I can also see that there must be room for “finding and nurturing” in film appreciation, too.

It’s kind of like faith. Theological discussions, debates, and arguments can be fun. But you can’t always be arguing the faith; you have to just sort of bask in it from time to time, through prayer and meditation and so on, and you have to make space in which people feel safe basking. And I say this as one who is still learning how to do both of those things.

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