Gee thanks, Susan. Political pundit Susan Estrich has launched a venomous campaign (links here and here and here) against the Los Angeles Times’s op-ed editor, Michael Kinsley, for alleged discrimination against female writers. As it happens, I have published in the Los Angeles Times op-ed pages over the years, without worrying too much about whether I was merely filling a gender quota. Now, however, if I appear in the Times again, I will assume that my sex characteristics, rather than my ideas, got me accepted.
Estrich’s insane ravings against the Times cap a month that left one wondering whether the entry of women into the intellectual and political arena has been an unqualified boon. In January, nearly the entire female professoriate at Harvard (and many of their feminized male colleagues) rose up in outrage at the mere suggestion of an open discussion about a scientific hypothesis. That hypothesis, of course, concerned the possibly unequal distribution of cognitive skills across the male and female populations. Harvard President Larry Summers had had the temerity to suggest that the continuing preponderance of men in scientific fields, despite decades of vigorous gender equity initiatives in schools and universities, may reflect something other than sexism. It might reflect the fact, Summers hypothesized, that the male population has a higher percentage of mathematical geniuses (and mathematical dolts) than the female population, in which mathematical reasoning skills may be more evenly distributed.
A feminist gadfly in the audience, MIT biology professor Nancy Hopkins, infamously reported that she avoided fainting or vomiting at Summers’s remarks only by running from the room. And with that remarkable expression of science-phobia, a great feminist vendetta was launched. It has reduced Summers to a toadying appeaser who has promised to atone for his sins with ever more unforgiving diversity initiatives (read: gender quotas) in the sciences. But the damage will not be limited to Harvard. Summers’s scourging means that, from now on, no one in power will stray from official propaganda to explain why women are not proportionally represented in every profession.
The Harvard rationality rout was a mere warm-up, however, to the spectacle unfolding in Los Angeles, brought to light by the upstart newspaper, the D.C. Examiner. USC law professor, Fox News commentator, and former Dukakis presidential campaign chairman Susan Estrich has come out as a snarling bitch in response to L.A. Times’s editor Michael Kinsley’s unwillingness to be blackmailed. Estrich had demanded that Kinsley run a manifesto signed by several dozen women preposterously accusing him of refusing to publish females. When Kinsley declined, while offering Estrich the opportunity to write a critique of the Times in a few weeks, Estrich sunk to the lowest rung imaginable: playing Kinsley’s struggle with Parkinson’s disease against him. Said Estrich: Your refusal to bend to my demands “underscores the question I've been asked repeatedly in recent days, and that does worry me, and should worry you: people are beginning to think that your illness may have affected your brain, your judgment, and your ability to do this job.”
It is curious how feminists, when crossed, turn into shrill, hysterical harpies—or, in the case of MIT’s Nancy Hopkins, delicate flowers who collapse at the slightest provocation—precisely the images of women that they claim patriarchal sexists have fabricated to keep them down. Actually, Estrich’s hissy fit is more histrionic than anything the most bitter misogynist could come up with on his own. Witness her faux remorse at engaging in blackmail: “I really do hate to be doing this. I counted e-mail after e-mail that I sent and was totally ignored. I can’t tell you how much I wanted to help quietly. If this is what it takes, so be it.” Witness too her self-pitying amour propre: “You owe me an apology. NO one tried harder to educate you about Los Angeles, introduce you to key players in the city, bring to your attention, quietly, the issues of gender inequality than I did—and you have the arrogance and audacity to say that you couldn’t be bothered reading my emails.” Add to that her petty insults: “if you prefer me to conduct this discussion outside your pages . . . that makes you look even more afraid and more foolish.” And finally, mix in shameless self-promotion: “I hope [this current crusade is] a lesson in how you can make change happen if you’re willing to stand up to people who call you names, and reach out to other women, and not get scared and back down. If you recall, I wrote a book about that, called Sex and Power. It’s what I have spent my whole life doing.”
Selective quotation cannot do justice to Estrich’s rants. But their underlying substance is as irrational as their tone. Estrich lodges the standard charge in all fake discrimination charges: the absence of proportional representation in any field is conclusive proof of bias. Determining the supply of qualified candidates is wholly unnecessary.
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!
Self-centered? Thin-skinned? Takes things personally? Misogynist tropes that sum up Estrich to a T. It is the fate of probably 98 percent of all op-ed hopefuls to have their work silently rejected, without the “courtesy of a call.” But when a woman experiences the silent treatment, it’s because of sexism. Similarly, it is the fate of most e-mail correspondence to editors to be ignored. But when Estrich’s e-mails are ignored (“I sent e-mails to my old friends at the Times. Neither time did they even bother to respond.”), it’s because the editor is a chauvinist pig.
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.
She provides a clue to her thinking, however. For Estrich, apparently, having a “woman’s voice” means being left-wing. She blasts the Times for publishing an article by Charlotte Allen on the decline of female public intellectuals such as Susan Sontag. Allen had argued that too many women writers today specialize in being female, rather than addressing the broader range of issues covered by their male counterparts. For Estrich, this argument performs a magical sex change on Allen, turning her into a male. After sneering at Allen’s article and her affiliation with the “Independent Women's Forum which is a group of right-wing women who exist to get on TV,” Estrich concludes: “the voices of women . . . are [not] found within a thousand miles” of the Los Angeles Times.
In other words, Allen’s is not a “voice of a woman” because she criticizes radical feminism. Estrich does not disclose if she conducted this sex change operation on all conservative women when compiling her phony statistics on the proportion of female writers on the op-ed page.
“Women’s liberation,” for the radical feminists, means liberation to think like a robot, mindlessly following the dictates of the victimologists. But if all bona fide women think alike, then publishing one female writer every year or so should suffice, since we know in advance what she will say.
Depressingly, Estrich’s crusade, no matter how bogus, will undoubtedly bear fruit. Anyone in a position of power today, facing accusations of bias and the knowledge that people are using crude numerical measures to prove his bias, will inevitably start counting beans himself, whether consciously or not. Michael Kinsley could reassure every female writer out there that Estrich has not cowed him by publishing only men for the next six months. It would be an impressive rebuff to Estrich’s blackmail. I’ll happily forgo the opportunity to appear in the Times for a while in order to get my pride back.