February 18, 2005
Kinsley's Days at the LA Times Are Numbered

By Susan Estrich

"WHERE ARE THE GREAT WOMEN THINKERS?" the headline of last week's Los Angeles Times opinion section asked. "Thinking so much about women has shrunk their minds." The year is 2005. It is not easy to get me angry on a Sunday morning. As it turned out, I wasn't the only one.

It has always been my theory that women in America have enormous power, if only we would use it. But it's hard: You have to be willing to stand up, find allies, take the arrows and have people (men) call you names. Usually, it takes an insult -- a tough one -- to provoke us. But when provoked, watch out. Just ask Harvard President Larry Summers. His days are numbered. The opinion editor of the Los Angeles Times would do well to consult with his fellow Harvard man on the topics of women and the cost of arrogance. His are, too.

I have spent the last year trying to convince the three men who run the opinion section of my local paper that there are, in fact, many great women thinkers in the community where I live, but they choose to publish none of them.

The only one to appear regularly on their pages does so in large part because I ran a campaign a few years ago to protect her column when management was trying to downgrade it. The new men, led by my law school classmate Michael Kinsley, make no apologies for not returning e-mails, not following up on suggestions, canceling dinners with community leaders and never rescheduling, and not even bothering to live in the community.

And then we get this garbage about how women have shrunk their minds thinking about equality. Spare me. If they were doing their job, we could think of something else.

Of course, everyone has a right to his or her opinion, including a silly one on a silly topic. I'm sure some people consider my opinions silly. That's what diversity of views is about.

But when the only opinions by women are these, there is something wrong. When a newspaper goes out looking for opinions on Iraq and only asks men; when it goes three days in a row and runs 24 men and only one woman -- that is a problem. When the only articles in the Sunday section by women are about "gender studies," and every other article about a "serious topic" is by a man, something is very wrong.

So I did what I have always taught my students to do. Don't whine, organize. I wrote a letter to the editor and circulated it. I collected the who's who of signatures. I made the calls to say that the letter was coming, temperate in tone, with positive suggestions for the future.

I tried, as I always do -- being a nice girl at heart -- to be nice. I said: Please publish the letter. Don't hire me, hire others, left or right, women who know this community and are going to write about more important things -- things like education and health care and crime and community -- than the silliness of shrunken minds. Please publish this, I said, or I'll have to send it to Matt Drudge, use my mimeograph machine, make an even bigger federal case.

And I was accused of blackmail. Blackmail. So here it is. The Web site is www.latimesbias.org. If this is blackmail, I will teach the next generation how to do it. They will need to know.

For the sad truth is that it isn't just the Los Angeles Times. Time after time, when I ask my syndicate "how I'm doing," it explains the facts of life to me: Most newspapers will only "take" one liberal woman. If they take Molly Ivins or Ellen Goodman, they won't take me.

I love those two women, but we're nothing alike. I'm a lawyer, a law professor, a Californian, a mother of teenagers, a crime victim. On a weekly basis, my columns are totally different than theirs. Can you imagine someone saying that they can't take Bob Novak because they take George Will; can't take Bill O'Reilly because they take Bill Safire? Silly. Everybody does that with women. One is enough.

Nor is it simply the media. One is enough for most corporate boards, if that. Only a minority of corporations has more than one woman on its board, even though it takes more than one for a woman to have an impact. Fewer still have women in top jobs -- 95 percent of the top earners in corporate America are still men.

But that is the dark side. The other side is what happens when men say out loud what they think, or let women do their dirty work. It was a little-known Washington blogger, Charlotte Allen, who expressed the opinion that feminists had shrunken their minds, but given the record of the paper in not publishing women, it's hard to believe that, at some level, as in the case of the president of Harvard, what was said was not simply meant to provoke. And once the words are uttered, they plainly cannot be defended.

Once women hear them, even one woman standing up -- with her friends around her and a couple of Rolaids at the ready -- can make them eat those words. That is what I want to teach my daughter.

Given the state of women today, it is the most important lesson I can offer her, even if my stomach is killing me right now.

2005 Creators Syndicate

Send Today's Article to a Friend


Susan Estrich
Author Archive
Email the Author


Send Today's Article to a Friend