Women are writing more op-eds than ever before, but those op-eds are still predominately about topics our culture considers "pink," which really means less important, according to the OpEd Project, which released their third annual survey today.
The new study found that women wrote 38 percent of the op-eds that appeared in the college publications included in the survey, 33 percent of those at new media outlets and 20 percent at legacy outlets. The latter has always been a sore spot for advocates of female voices, so it's great that there's been an increase in women writers at publications like the New York Times (22 percent now compared to 17 percent in 2005), the Washington Post (19 percent now compared to 10 percent) and the Los Angeles Times (24 percent compared to 20 percent).
But most of those stories were on what they call "pink topics," which the OpEd Project describes as "subjects that women have traditionally written about": think food, fashion, family, and furniture. Are those topics unimportant? No! But it's telling that out of the topics the study considers "general interest" — politics, economy, health, education — women wrote only 261 out of 1,410 articles. Just 11% of economics articles in legacy media were written (or co-written) by a woman. "It's true that this number is, at least in part, a result of a higher number of men in economics," the OpEd Project explained. "In fact, only 9% of economics doctorates were awarded to women in 1974, but the number has been steadily on the rise, reaching 27% by 2000. Not only is this 10% figure not representative of women in general, but it is not representative of women in the field of economics."
When the American Society of Magazine Editors was criticized for nominating 25 men and not one single woman in its long-form categories for the 2012 National Magazine Awards, some said the problem wasn't sexism, per se: women just weren't pitching long-form stories. In an interview last year, OpEd Project Founder Catherine Orenstein told Poynter the same thing: the issue "isn't so much that news organizations aren't featuring female contributors; it's that women aren't contributing in the first place."
But isn't it also problematic that self-described "girly" topics aren't considered general interest topics? That's a point Vanessa Grigoriadis brought up in an Awl piece about the ASME awards:
I think that on an idea level, being a woman does work against you," said Vanessa Grigoriadis, a National Magazine Award winner. "Because what you're interested in is not what your editors are necessarily interested in. Right? They're baby boomers living in Manhattan. They're interested in something different."
Grigoriadis said she recently pitched a story about a facialist who was scamming her A-list celebrity clients. "People were looking at me like, ‘What are you saying?' Like, ‘Why? What's interesting about this?' And so I do think that's problematic. I think when you have lots and lots of male editors, which you do at every publication except a women's magazine, it's hard to get them interested in these kind of human interest-type stories that are based in the world of women."
So what's the solution? The OpEd Project's Katherine Lanpher told Poynter that she thinks editors want to feature more op-eds from women. "Women and others who aren't out there need to submit their ideas more," she said. "To this day, many women and other minorities need to be reminded that they're sitting on powerful solutions to big problems and if they don't share their knowledge the world is a poorer place. … Op-eds aren't about writing. They're about power. And it's just time for more of it be shared."
Image via Zhiltsov Alexandr /Shutterstock.