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Thursday, March 24, 2005

She Blinded Me With Science

The subtitle for Georgetown linguistics professor Deborah Tannen's LA Times opinion piece "The Feminine Technique" reads: "Men attack problems. Maybe women understand that there's a better way."

In the piece, she discusses Maureen Dowd, the NY Times' only female op-ed columnist, and why it is that there are so few females in her field.
"Men enjoy verbal dueling," said Dowd . . . "As a woman," she explained, "I wanted to be liked — not attacked."

That, Tannen agrees, is a feeling that many women have. But the real point, and the argument Dowd misses, according to Tannen, is the fundamental assumption that attack-dog journalism is the only kind worth writing.
That is the blind spot that explains why women are missing from many of the arenas of public discourse, including science (as noted by Larry Summers of Harvard)1 and opinion writing. (The Los Angeles Times was recently criticized for not running more women on its opinion pages.)

No one bothers to question the underlying notion that there is only one way to do science, to write columns — the way it's always been done, the men's way. There is plenty of evidence that men more than women, boys more than girls, use opposition, or fighting, as a format for accomplishing goals that are not literally about combat . . . (emphasis added)

The authoress concludes that "the true role of journalism should be a third way: a watchdog. And a dog who is busy attacking is not watching."

Every time someone comes up with an explanation like this, especially at the expense of the media, I remember what my extremely liberal journalism professor once told me: "The number one goal of the media is to sell their product." Of course, he said this in bitterness and disgust, but the fact remains. It doesn't really matter that "there's another way to do it," (although other possibilities should always be explored) because in the end, if a paper is employing columnists who don't sell, whether it's a White male or a transgendered Eskimo, what's the point other than charity or because some special interest group criticized their way into making it happen? The other thing that her conclusion widely misses is that it's not just journalism that we're talking about, it's op-ed journalism, the kind that people turn to directly because they're looking for a strong "attack dog" opinion. (The kind, ironically, that Tannen is trying to make here.)

This is the kind of article that can only be written by an extremely liberal intellectual who's running late to pick up her kids from soccer practice.

1Larry Summers' mention of women and science is one of the most over-hyped everyday-recognition-noted-by-someone-of-some-importance in recent memory. A summary of the apt position of The Economist can be found here (the actual Economist article is for premium subscribers only).

1 Comments:

Blogger Ben said...

dearest hans,

you are the most conservative liberal i have ever met.

i agree with you fully.

democratically,
herr settembrini.

5:36 PM  

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