I'm disappointed in women, particularly myself. Check out the opinion section of any local or national newspaper. Where are the women? According to the Op-Ed Project at Stanford University, between 80 and 90 percent of a newspaper's opinion essays are written by men. At the Washington Post in 2008, nine out of 10 submissions came from men, and 88 percent of the pieces published were by men. More startling is the fact that there are more women, as a percentage, in the United States Senate than published in the op-ed pages, according to Rutgers University researcher Bob Sommer. A few months ago, I complained about the lack of women op-ed writers to The Clarion-Ledger, only to be told women just do not submit them.
This isn't the newspapers' fault; it's our fault.
My experience with op-ed writing is similar to that of other women I know. I'm addicted to newspapersespecially on Thursdays and Saturdays when Gail Collins writes for The New York Timesand I have strong opinions on just about everything. Yet, I feel paralyzed when it comes to writing opinion essays. Given the number of smart women in Jackson and around the state, why aren't we writing?
An informal poll of my female friends finds a few recurring reasons: "I'm not an expert in anything." "People might not like me if they know what I really think." "I don't think I'm a good writer." "Someone else might know more about this topic than me." "What if I'm wrong?" These are understandable but inexcusable thoughts because writing opinion essays isn't rocket science.
Opinion essays give people the opportunity to have an impact on the policy process. Elected officials, their staffs and the public routinely read and comment on opinion essays. Catherine Ornstein of the Op-Ed Project met with President Bill Clinton's Latin America policy team the week after writing an opinion essay on Haiti in The New York Times. After submitting an opinion essay to The Clarion-Ledger in March about the role of women in rebuilding the economy, I received e-mails from a man in Mississippi running for public office, asking for my support in an upcoming election. By not writing opinion essays, women are missing a crucial entry point into politics and only enabling the trend of low political participation and representation by women. We must shift from worrying about self-perception to worrying about our social responsibility.
In the spirit of collective action, let's come together to express our opinions and facilitate discussion about important issues. Although I am a woman, I don't want to be confined to "women's issues." I usually develop more refined arguments when I discuss ideas with other people.
Form a group with your peers to function in a similar way: a safe place to refine your opinions and use each other as resources for editing and story ideas.
Let's change the face of the opinion pages in Mississippi and nationally.
Jamie Holcomb can be reached at [e-mail missing]
I'm thrilled to see this article! Jamie, thanks for reminding the ladies in the house that our voices are both vital and necessary in the community debate. I'm pledging to put my writing cap on more regularly.