Sisterhood Blog

The New York Times and Gendered Editing

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

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New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson

I used to roll my eyes when my mother would point to someone on television and say, “He’s Jewish!” or, “She’s Jewish!” Now I’m that person, thrilling to the news of a Jewish woman’s rise to a position of prominence and influence, like when Elena Kagan was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, or when Jill Abramson was named the new executive editor of The New York Times.

So I joined Forward Editor Jane Eisner and countless others in reading with particular interest Abramson’s interview with Times Public Editor Arthur Brisbane in last Sunday’s issue of the paper.

Brisbane’s first question in that interview is whether Times readers would notice a difference “because a woman is now in charge.”

Abramson said, “The idea that women journalists bring a different taste in stories or sensibility isn’t true.”

Brisbane’s second question, “Will you be a command-and-control type of leader, or one who leads by more subtle means?” also underscores how common the perception that women and men have different management styles has become.

Jane, in a Forward Thinking blog post, writes that she respectfully disagrees with Abramson, and cites as an example a story that she felt important but a male editor might not have: the Forward’s annual salary survey of major Jewish organizations, to see how many men and women are in leadership positions there and how their salaries compare.

She wrote: “sometimes, women will see a story where men don’t, and vice-versa.”

I definitely agree.

But I respectfully depart from there in that I think the whole debate about gender’s impact on judgment ought to be broadened to reflect the reality that it is different individuals with different life experiences who have different perspectives. It goes far beyond gender.

An editor from a financially impoverished background is more likely to be attuned to stories about economic disadvantage. A gay or lesbian individual is likely to be more interested in stories relating to GLBTQ identity. An editor who runs marathons is more likely to be interested in stories relating to her avocation. You get the idea.

People are complex, and it does a disservice to members of every group to assume that they will have one perspective or another .

Certainly there are people whose work contradicts every known element of their background. Case in point: Ralph Lauren’s empire is built on an uber-Waspy ideal of beauty, though the background of the designer born in the Bronx as Ralph Lifschitz is anything but.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met people who think I’m either lesbian or Orthodox because I’ve written lots of stories about those communities over the years, and then are surprised to find out that I’m neither.

Each one of us comes to our job with a wide range of experiences, biases and interests.

It does a disservice to women to say that there is “a woman’s perspective” or “a female management style.” In fact, it’s dangerous, and easily used (overtly and subtly) to limit women’s opportunities in the workplace.

It is in the best interests of all of our companies to have in top management a diverse range of people. And it’s to the benefit of all female workers for managers to be reminded that gender is not the only paradigm.


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