Wednesday, April 7, 2010

I'm tired of being patted on the head

I always wondered whether journalism could ever become gender-blind and now know the answer: probably not.

Evidence this tweet Sunday morning from one of the profession's heavy hitters, commenting on his disillusionment with Apple's iPad, newly released the day before: "After having slept with her (Ms. iPad), I am having morning-after regrets. Sweet and cute but shallow and vapid."


It sent me straight to the public library for Nan Robertson's The Girls in the Balcony: Women, Men and The New York Times, which details the class-action lawsuit filed in 1974 by women at the newspaper who alleged inequities in pay, promotion and beats.

I'd read the book before, but wanted to revisit it, spurred by the Neanderthal weekend tweet, Robertson's death last fall, and the "Are We There Yet" reflection in Newsweek last month on the 40th anniversary of a similar gender-discrimination suit brought against the magazine.

The complaint against the Times dragged on for years before it was settled out of court in 1978; the newspaper paid $350,000 in back wages and other costs and agreed to an affirmative-action plan, according to Robertson's book. At Newsweek, the women who worked with the American Civil Liberties Union on the suit chose not to pursue it once the magazine agreed to hire more women as reporters.

Both cases (and others also filed at the time against Reader's Digest, Time, Newsday and NBC) threw open newsroom doors for a lot of women. But although we got in, I can remember feeling verbally patted on the head many times -- by male coworkers or city fathers -- and reminded that I bore a great responsibility as a reporter. Bletch!

Even today, we're still getting head pats. "In the world of journalism, women make up only 22 percent of the leadership roles, and they still have fewer bylines -- 1 to every 7 males at the top media outlets -- even though the majority of journalism majors since 1977 have been women," said an ABC News report looking back at the Newsweek case.

The three young women now at the magazine who wrote "Are We There Yet" conclude that  "No one would dare say today that 'women don't write here,' as the Newsweek women were told 40 years ago.

"But," they add, "men wrote all but six of Newsweek's 49 cover stories last year -- and two of those used the headline 'The Thinking Man.' In 1970, 25 percent of Newsweek's editorial masthead was female; today that number is 39 percent. Better? Yes. But it's hardly equality."

Neither was the spirit of that frat-boy tweet alluding to morning-after regrets with Ms. iPad.

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