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An Estrich With Its Head Stuck In The Sand
Heather Macdonald takes on the ravings of Susan Estrich:

For the last three years, Estrich’s female law students at USC have been counting the number of female writers on the Los Angeles Times op-ed pages (and she complains that there aren’t more female policy writers? Suggestion to Estrich: how about having your students master a subject rather than count beans.). She provides only selective tallies of the results: “TWENTY FOUR MEN AND ONE WOMAN IN A THREE DAY PERIOD [caps in original]” (she does not explain how she chose that three-day period or whether it was representative); “THIRTEEN MEN AND NO WOMEN” as authors of pieces on Iraq.

Several questions present themselves: how many pieces by women that met the Times’s standards were offered during these periods? What is the ratio of men to women among experts on Iraq? Estrich never bothers to ask these questions, because for the radical feminist, being a woman is qualification enough for any topic. Any female is qualified to write on Iraq, for example, because in so doing, she is providing THE FEMALE PERSPECTIVE. (This belief in the essential difference between male and female “voices,” of course, utterly contradicts the premise of the anti-Larry Summers crusade.) Thus, to buttress her claim that Kinsley “refuses” to publish women, Estrich merely provides a few examples of women whose offerings have been rejected: “Carla Sanger . . . tells me she can't get a piece in; I have women writing to me who have submitted four piece [sic] and not gotten the courtesy of a call—and they teach gender studies at UCLA. . . .” It goes without saying, without further examination, that each of those writers deserved to be published—especially, for heaven’s sakes, the gender studies professors!

...The assumption that being female obviates the need for any further examination into one’s qualifications allows Estrich to sidestep the most fundamental question raised by her crusade: Why should anyone care what the proportion of female writers is on an op-ed page? If an analysis is strong, it should make no difference what its author’s sex is. But for Estrich, it is an article of faith that female representation matters: “What could be more important—or easier for that matter—than ensuring that women's voices are heard in public discourse in our community?” Her embedded question—“or easier for that matter?”— is quickly answered. She is right: Nothing is easier than ensuring that “women’s voices” are heard; simply set up a quota and publish whatever comes across your desk. But as for why it is of paramount importance to get the “women’s” perspective on farm subsidies or OPEC price manipulations, Estrich does not say.

I dunno, I always find it insulting when people refer to me as a woman writer. I'm a writer, and I'm rational, and I'm funny. Or I'm dumb and inane. But, can we please take the gender bias out of it? Let's ask Estrich that, since she's the one putting it in. P.S. The LA Times doesn't publish me either, and I think it's because editors there don't like me, and don't like my column, and would really rather not have the angry readers it smokes out of the woodwork. Also, word has it that (feminist!) editors there were offended by a joke I made about my breasts in the one piece I did write for them, Return Of The PInk Rambler:

My search fruitless, I decided to head home, after dropping in at the Hollywood police station.

BEING A GIRL, I find in-person visits in such situations to be quite helpful. ("Hi, I have big breasts, will you find my car?")

Gender studies, huh? I think she's referring to those people in that profession who confuse being equal with being the same and get paid for it. Oh, let's definitely hear more from them! Regarding not getting so much as a call, I didn't get so much as a call from the editors when I've submitted pieces they didn't print, and I'm sure it would have been no different if the name on them had been Andy Alkon instead of Amy. Amy to Estrich: Oh, grow up!

Posted by aalkon at February 26, 2005 7:59 AM


The Estrich/kinley slapfest is just about as much fun as we'll ever have with media in this town. The La Observed guy notes that MK hired Susan's ex to write a one-off column the other day. And there's something flat cute about Estrich DOING BLOG POSTS (since excised from the site) IN ALL CAPS. SHE'S A PROFESSOR OF LAW, you know.

Posted by: Crid;and at February 26, 2005 4:17 PM

She's embarrassing. And I'm not embarrassed as a woman, but as a human.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 26, 2005 6:59 PM

I'm also embarrassed for her as a Democrat.

Posted by: Cridland at February 26, 2005 9:57 PM

That was fantastic. When I grow up, I want to be a ballbuster just like Heather Macdonald.

Did anyone see the exchange between Steven Pinker and Katha Pollitt on the Larry Summers controversy in this week's (or maybe last week's) letters section of The Nation? Juicy, juicy stuff. I wanted to push them both into a ring of mud, grab a bag of popcorn, and watch them go at each other.

Anger is so energizing. Some days, it's the only thing that gets me out of bed in the morning.

Posted by: Lena-doodle-doo at February 26, 2005 11:53 PM

In my eternal love for both of you, I went out and found the Pinker-Pollitt exchange:

Letters | Posted February 17, 2005

Woman, Summers, Pinker, Pollitt...

Cambridge, Mass.

According to Katha Pollitt ["Subject to Debate," Feb. 21], the press has responded to Harvard president Lawrence Summers's remarks on gender disparities in science by writing, "Women are dumber! Steven Pinker says so!" I've been following the press coverage of this event pretty closely and have seen nothing that attributes to me that mad belief. What I did write, in my book The Blank Slate and elsewhere, is that (1) on average, women and men are equal in general intelligence; (2) on average, women are better than men in certain cognitive skills such as verbal fluency, but since these are only averages, it does not mean that all women are better than all men; (3) on average, men are better than women in certain cognitive skills such as mental rotation of 3-D objects, but since these are only averages, it does not mean that all men are better than all women. These conclusions are well established in the literature on gender and cognition, such as the excellent book Sex Differences in Cognitive Abilities, by Diane Halpern, the president of the American Psychological Association.

Is it too much to expect even a minimum of accuracy and nuance when it comes to this issue?



New York City

My characterization of press coverage was clearly humorous and satirical, not a literal summary, in seven words, of the oceans of blather swirling around Summers's bumptious remarks--remarks that Pinker has been frequently quoted as supporting. Obviously, averages do not tell us anything definite about each individual member of the set (although, come to think of it, if women are, on average, superior to men in verbal fluency, shouldn't Harvard's language and literature departments be crammed with tenured women?). Yet general impressions of group capabilities do affect the way individuals are treated and evaluated. That is how stereotypes work. I'm sure the Harvard Medical School interviewer who told my classmate in 1971 that "women can't be doctors" knew that women doctors existed. He was making a judgment about an individual based on his sense of probability--a judgment that was spectacularly wrong, as negative judgments about women's abilities have historically been.

Actually, the more relevant of Pinker's ideas about gender and intelligence is his much-quoted statement that evolution produces "more geniuses, more idiots" in men. In other words, the reason there are fewer women at the highest levels of math and science is not because of social factors like discouragement, discrimination, bias--to the existence of which a mountain of research attests--but because there are fewer women at the highest levels of intelligence. It's not exactly "women are dumber!"--it's more like women are more likely to get a B+ and men to get D's or A's. But if you're looking only for A's and believe that most are men, you'll focus your efforts--as teacher, mentor, hiring committee--on them.

Someday we may know whether outstanding ability is distributed in this way. I am disturbed that Pinker apparently believes it explains the current tenure picture at Harvard, an institution that has been hostile to women as equals since its inception.


Posted by: Lena-poodle-poo at February 27, 2005 12:09 AM

All right! I'm mad now. Why aren't there more male advice columnists? Just kidding.

By the way, Amy, you've done it now. You've mentioned your pink Rambler. Must you ALWAYS talk about that?

Posted by: Patrick at February 27, 2005 4:08 AM

Oh, you'll all be hearing more about the darling little Insight soon enough! (Especially if I get my case on Judge Judy!)

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 27, 2005 4:42 AM

Hi -

What bothers me quite a bit about this Summers issue is the press reporting of it. Summers released his remarks on the Harvard website some time ago. Has anyone, stable and detatched, in the press seen fit to read it and comment on the media controversy in light of his original remarks, in lieu of commenting and opining on the controversy over the controversy ?

Looks like the next step will be media reporting on the media reporting of the media coverage of the controversy over the controversy. (smile)


Posted by: L'Amerloque at February 27, 2005 5:05 AM

Hi L'Amerloque --

"Looks like the next step will be media reporting on the media reporting of the media coverage of the controversy over the controversy."

Oh, I think we passed that point weeks ago.

And hi Patrick!

Today I saw a comic that showed a woman, hand on hips, standing in front of a very official-looking man who was sitting at a desk. She said:

"You've got sexual harrassment lawsuits filed against you by every other woman in this office. You've never sexually harrassed me, so I've decided to sue you for discrimination."

Posted by: Lena-doodle-doo at February 27, 2005 5:56 AM

> But if you're looking only for A's...

Would that be a problem? Some want only the best.

Posted by: Cridland at February 27, 2005 12:22 PM

Amen, sister.

Posted by: Dick Masterson at August 17, 2005 1:09 PM

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