On Wednesday, May 21, Gloria Steinem — journalist and women’s rights icon — said that Jill Abramson’s firing from the New York Times is a double standard.
Steinem spoke out about what she’s calling sexism on Robin Morgan’s weekly radio show, Women’s Media Center Live with Robin Morgan. Other women featured on the roundtable discussion were Carol Jenkins, WMC founding president, Emmy awardee, and former WNBC New York news anchor; Geneva Overholser, former member of the New York Times editorial board and former chair of the Pulitzer Prize Board; and Soraya Chemaly, writer, media critic, and activist.
After getting fired from the New York Times on Wednesday, May 14, Abramson has been at the center of conversations around equality and fairness between women and men in the media. On Saturday, May 17, New York Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. released a statement saying, “Equality is at the core of our beliefs at The Times. It will always be.”
But Steinem disagrees. Here’s what she said on the radio program:
On double standards:
“It’s obvious that it is a double standard, a huge huge double standard. I mean, we have all known editors of newspapers and especially the New York Times — I’m thinking of Abe Rosenthal who was so difficult, was legendary — so there is clearly a double standard. What the New York Times doesn’t realize is that there is also a different kind of double standard in the sense that people expect better behavior from them. So they are going to and engender much, much, much more anger and outrage and disappointment than, say, a network or some other journalistic body might. And they’re going to have to deal with this.”
On the NYT’s history of sexism:
“Also, I think backstage the New York Times has always been extraordinarily hypersensitive. When women as a group sued the New York Times for sex discrimination in the ’70s, the Sulzberger of the era tried to get their lawyer fired from Columbia Law School for being their lawyer. It’s not a problem of the woman who’s being too critical, it’s a problem of a newspaper that is absolutely incapable of taking criticism. So, this is both a typical case and a special case, also, special in the sense that, wherever power is greater, the discrimination against outgroups is the greatest.”
On women and race:
“I think one of the questions we ought to ask right away is what salary is [Dean Baquet] getting? Is he getting an equal salary? In an ideal world, or of course if this were a straight-up competition situation, [Abramson and Baquet] would stand together, and that does occasionally happen. Derrick Bell quit Harvard Law School because there was no woman on the law faculty, I mean sometimes it is clear that this is a coalition. And mostly we are … pitted against each other, but it is what it is now, and I think it’s very important that we both point out the unfairness to her and demand fairness for him on salary and everything else.”
On the Sulzberger family:
“The New York Times should have been inherited by Ruth Holmberg as the sister of the Sulzberger … I mean, the New York Times itself has been inherited in a very, very patriarchal way and has dismissed talent within its own family. In my opinion, knowing Ruth Homberg who then became farmed out as the publisher of the Chattanooga Times, it would’ve been a much better newspaper; she was a much smarter, more humane person than her brother. So, you know, it is itself passed down through the family in a profoundly patriarchal way. I have been for years saying it’s like hemophilia: It passes through men through women and men get it.”
On ownership and enterprise:
“I think there’s one title we need, it’s called owner. Because in a way, women are like an immigrant group, everybody has had a tough time working their way up to varying degrees through the dominant system, and therefore each new group ends up with a larger share of starting their own business. More women are trying to start their own businesses than men — of course they’re much smaller, I’m not comparing in size — but I do think it’s both a reason and an encouragement to go outside of structure, to go someplace where nobody can fire you, and start your own enterprise.”
On why men resist powerful women:
“I also think in the very long term that as long as most of us are raised by women, and men especially who don’t even have their own example to the contrary, we’ll continue to associate female authority with childhood and [men] will continue to feel unmanned by an authoritative woman, because the last time they saw a woman in power they were 8 or 10 and they literally feel regret. And if you think about the response to Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, the big, grown-up news people on television who were saying things like, ‘I cross my legs whenever I see her’ and ‘She reminds me of my first wife’ … just horrendous things, and these are intelligent people and men, and in a deep way I think they’re feeling regressed. So until men are raising children too, until we have enough women in authority and men raising children, we’re going to continue to have a certain amount of resistance among men, especially to women in power.”
“People will accept the event in the way that you do, so you have to consider that, and that in itself is gendered because it’s easier to present ourselves as a victim than a victor. So we ourselves need to take the personal power to not present ourselves as a victim and to just keep going, keep our sense of humor, keep our strength, and more people will accept it in the way we do. I think we should pity these idiots who are not administrators, who are so biased they can’t adjust to the talent of half the human race, and we should have that attitude toward them.”
On the future of women and journalism:
“I think it’s very, very important that we not start blaming the victim, that we look at it realistically, and understand that as women start to lean in, men have to lean out if we’re going to end up in the same place. And we need to do two things: One is keep up the criticism big time, not only of who [the New York Times] hires and how they treat them, but how this newspaper is inherited and how they have feverishly restructured themselves … they are obsessed with patriarchy. So both from an inheritance point of view and a hiring point of view, they’re not up to anything like modern standards. And, we need to support each other, because how we find out whether we are doing something that we could correct or are being treated unfairly is generally by the support of and insight and honesty of the other women around us.”
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