Sisterhood Blog

Why Women Are Reluctant To Take On the Mantle of 'Expert'

By Karen Loew

  • Print
  • Share Share

When I sat on my first panel of professionals before an audience, I received some useful advice. “The audience thinks you’re an expert,” a dear friend told me. “So, just accept that mantle and be one.” The audience turned out to be tiny, but I ran with the advice and pontificated to the sleepy assemblage about journalism and civic engagement, my favorite subjects. Indeed, they took me for the expert I was billed as (even presenting a commemorative mug from the oh-so-glamorous local chapter of the American Society for Public Administration).

An expert is exactly what many women deny they are, according to the OpEd Project, a nonprofit in New York City dedicated to increasing the number of opinion pieces written by women on the nation’s newspapers’ op-ed pages (the name comes from “opposite the editorial” page; it’s a space that includes opinions “opposite” the newspaper’s official ones as expressed in editorials). The group’s latest survey of six top news sources showed only about one in five op-eds were by women. Only one in five! If women identified and embraced their expertise — whether gained through professional experience, graduate school, time spent doing hobbies or raising children or other personal experience and observation — perhaps they would write and submit more op-eds to newspapers. But that’s just one reason for the relative silence; women also may be “keeping their ink dry” because op-ed pages matter, frankly, to just a sliver of the population, or seem boring, or women are gravitating to the more accessible social and online media (like this blog).

This has been on my mind because I had the pleasure and privilege of heading the Forward’s opinion pages for 10 weeks this fall while the editor was on leave. So, it was my job to read and evaluate all the submissions of opinion pieces and letters to the editor. A great variety came in, ranging from the instantly delete-able to the moderately worthwhile to the truly inspired. Having had plenty of experience on the other side of blind submissions, myself — the confidence it takes to submit something you’ve written, the nervous hoping for a response — I took seriously the responsibility to evaluate and respond to each thoughtful submission. It didn’t take long to notice that the vast majority were from men: of the coherent ones I deemed worth another look, about seven times as many op-ed articles were by men than women, while men sent four times as many letters to the editor.

I was annoyed, first, by the disparity in letters, because Letters to the Editor is meant to be the most democratic and open forum. Why didn’t women email more often with their reasoned responses to the Forward articles they’d read? With op-eds, my second annoyance was that I kept receiving unappealing pitches and pieces regularly from the same male writers. Perversely, I envied their confidence and persistence — they kept on writing, and emailing me the fruits of their labors, even though they weren’t great writers! If only women had the same misplaced confidence! (Think of the wars they could start!)

But seriously. How about some merited confidence? Women’s unique ideas are needed in the world. Through the OpEd Project’s seminars and coaching, many women have submitted op-eds and been published — and some have seen the further effects of their writing, whether it’s receiving a grant based on that op-ed, or being invited on television shows to amplify their positions, or seeing an instant community pop up around a newly articulated perspective (as one “pro-life feminist” reported). If our speaking out has an impact, then our silence does, too.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Op-Eds, The OpEd Project, Editorial, Letters to the Editor

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.