Monday, May 19, 2008

I Spent the Weekend Urging Women Not to Write Like This

So right after I spent a weekend teaching women that the most effective op-eds rarely need the phrase “I think” in them and should have point, suddenly in the Washington Post’s Outlook section is the silliest, most pointless ode to Sex in the City. (Sunday’s Post was an ode to overly-long, overly-pointless odes to movies. There was also this “what does Indiana Jones mean” article, but at least it was in the style section).

I cannot for the life of me figure out what is the point to Ashley Sayeau’s article. It’s basically about how she relates to Sex in the City because once she wrote an academic paper about it. Which, fine, I know some things about writing academic papers about TV shows, but to be relevant to other readers it might have been useful not to use the phrase “I thought” or “I think” or “I believe” close to 30 times! It ends up being not about her research but just that she’s an academic who is a fan who squeals with delight seeing the movie premier. Great.

She’s not even a local writer. She’s a freelancer in London. Why does she get front page of the Sunday Outlook section to write what amounts to an overlong, fan-specific, blog post?

Combine this with the infamous Charlotte Allen “Women are dumb” op-ed you have to wonder what John Pomfret, Sunday Outlook editor wants his section to say to women. I don’t believe he’s not getting great, substantial Outlook submissions. I think he’s making his section reflect certain type of believe that women are shallow and dumb.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

What’s Great About My Job

I know I haven’t posted in three weeks. (Has it really been that long? God I’m bad at this). Part of the reason is that work got busy. But I’m not complaining, in fact I actually wanted to rave about my job.

Twice a year my organization puts on these media trainings for women. We teach them how to get their message out in the media, but more specifically, how to write an op-ed, how to speak to the media, and how to present yourself on television and radio. And it’s a pretty intense two-day training. We’re helping people perfect the op-eds they write during the training, and putting them on camera and showing them how to speak. I really do think that without all these organizations specifically trying to get women’s voices into the pundit class, we wouldn’t even have the (bad enough) representation we do have. I’m not just talking about talking heads on TV. I look at the op-ed pages every day in the LA Times, the New York Times and the Washington Post. Women are barely 25% of the daily op-ed pages. And all-male opinion page isn’t rare but an all women page is practically a once-a-year affair. (And only if the news is about prostitution.)

And the thing we don’t really talk about all that much is we put on the training pretty much for free. We even help cover the cost of airfare and housing in DC because we want to train women outside the beltway to be able to become advocates for the causes going on in their states.

I met just an awesome collection of women this weekend. It was a total range of ages -- we had women from high school to the “when I was in high school women weren’t allowed to wear pants” ages. And there was a really diverse mix of jobs, interests and projects.

I was just so proud of not only how well it all came together but how happy every one was. These women will go back to their communities and hopefully in some small way we’ve given them tools to accomplish their goals.

It’s funny because as got home and jumped on my computer to catch up on my email I got a notice from Mediabistro. They are offering a $500 online course on how to write an op-ed. And I don’t want to entirely dump on Mediabristro because, whatever, its just a class. But people shouldn’t think that op-ed writing is only for “professionals” (who take expensive classes).

The opinion pages are not supposed to be a gated community. It’s not enough that there’s also a “Letters” page that just happens to be open to the public if they want to submit a point in 300 words or less. And most editors would tell you they want to get guest column submissions. I’ve talked to women, truly opinionated women, who think that op-ed columns are something that only someone like a Maureen Dowd can write. (Which by the way...can we vote her off pundit island and replace her with woman who isn’t all wit and no intellect.) Half the time if someone writes and op-ed the only thing that keeps it from getting it published is they didn’t have a friend tell them at 1,000 words it’s way too long (or at 350 words it’s way too short).

But I think some people think that only “professionals” get to be opinion-leaders in their newspapers. And that’s just not true. People who have something to advocate for should write, not just for their blogs, but yes for the “mainstream media.” It’s not as closed off as everyone thinks.