18th 2014
Editing While Female

Posted under: American history, Gender, jobs, unhappy endings, women's history

Susan B. Glasser, Editor of Politico, tells her story about Editing While Female, and points to the generic conventions of complaints about women in leadership positions in modern journalism:

Shortly before I became the editor of the national news section of the WashingtonPost in late 2006, Ben Bradlee, the legendary former editor of the Post, came up to me at a party. I hear you’re going to get the national job, he said to me. “Do you have the balls for it?”

I was 37 years old, my son was a toddler, and my incredibly supportive husband, the Post’s longtime White House reporter. I was sure that I did. But I was wrong.

She continues, “In the course of my short and controversial tenure in the job, I learned several things,”

among them:  1) print newspapers REALLY, REALLY didn’t want to change to adapt to the new digital realities; 2) I did not have the full backing of the paper’s leadership to carefully shepherd a balky, unhappy staff of 100 or so print reporters and editors across that unbuilt bridge to the 21st century; and 3) media reporters are an obsessive bunch, and they like nothing more than a good controversial-woman-editor story.

In the end, just about every single thing that has been said about Jill Abramson and Natalie Nougayrède was also said about me. That I was difficult and hard to understand and divisive. That there were questions of “management style.” Some of them were surely true, then and now. When I hear Abramson called pushy or Nougayrède called uncommunicative, it’s with a shudder of recognition. You can’t get to greatness by enabling mediocrity; in male leaders, this is called having high standards and it is praised.Places like the New York TimesLe Monde and the Washington Post are not given to elevating editors—of any gender—who would accept anything other than the highest of standards. As in tough, demanding, challenging. But there’s no doubt that many find this off-putting and threatening from a certain kind of woman. Like me.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ve been exchanging emails with a lot of really depressed women these days.





12 Responses to “Editing While Female”

  1. Notorious Ph.D. on 18 May 2014 at 3:56 pm #

    Pushy broad here: Oddly, in my department, the women are the most stringent in terms of expectations of their students; the men (with a few exceptions) tend to let things slide. So our reputation as a monstrous regiment of women is in part earned. But we all know who’s doing the real teaching.

    Oh: and our research record kicks ass, too. And we do the big service commitments.

    And one last thing: We’re fucking exhausted.

  2. Belle on 18 May 2014 at 6:40 pm #

    What Notorious said. Especially the last. Ç’est moi.

  3. Susan on 18 May 2014 at 6:48 pm #

    I have experienced some of this, especially with a few male colleagues who really don’t want to respect a woman. But by and large, my male colleagues are good and committed teachers who make the students work. (One of them has the students completely terrified in our methods course.

    It’s the service end of things that leaves me exhausted; and the desire that things happen without being willing to actually do the work. At times I feel they want a “Mom” who will make things works for them.

    Because our chancellor is female, it does mean that overt sexism is less obvious; but there are certainly administrators who don’t want to talk to women…

    Depressed, indeed.

  4. truffula on 18 May 2014 at 6:53 pm #

    True story: About an hour ago, a retired old grad of the professional school I head* blustered his way into my office and announced “I can’t believe youse a lady.” I replied “you’re from the states, east coast, aren’t you? Navy?” NYC, Vietnam, VXE-6, and elsewhere. Suitably disarmed, our conversation proceeded along a jolly enough trajectory of military aircraft, oil patch economics and reserve estimates, the good ol’ days of student binge drinking, etc. He even tagged me into his harem by giving me a little beach pebble from the town where he lives on the coast of Spain. He thinks I’m legit but still left shaking his head at the inconceivability of a lady in charge.

    Having my share of experiences with both, I’d honestly rather engage this guy, who only thinks I don’t have the balls for it, than some entitled Ivy league a$$hole who’s pretty sure he got where he is through nothing other than his own sheer brilliance and will to succeed while I got where I am through special consideration.

    * My unit is 90%+ male. Always have been, though female students are always in the top echelon of academic performance and (at least today) the young male students are supportive and inclusive.

  5. LadyProf on 19 May 2014 at 10:51 am #

    Seconding Susan on the toil. I’ve worked in several institutions and all of ‘em dumped a huge share of the demeaning powerless gruntwork on women, both senior and junior. Senior-ranked men seem to think admin work for them = making decisions and giving orders. A woman who gives an order is “arrogant” and worse.

    I too have been exchanged depressed e-mail messages, but I’m thankful to Abramson for insisting that Sulzberger fire her openly rather than smarmily.

  6. nicoleandmaggie on 19 May 2014 at 1:17 pm #


  7. Matt_L on 19 May 2014 at 6:42 pm #

    I hope Jill Abramson sues Sulzberger and the NYTimes for employment discrimination and wins. I also hope that the judgement awards her a generous cash payment and a pair of solid gold truck nuts the size of volleyballs.

  8. Susan on 19 May 2014 at 11:37 pm #

    You might be interested in Abramson’s commencement speech today:

    She comes across as classy. Though like Matt L., I hope she sues and wins.

  9. Shelley on 20 May 2014 at 8:27 am #

    Your last sentence made me smile (not in a mean way).

  10. New Journal: History of Women in the Americas : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 21 May 2014 at 9:20 am #

    […] Susan alerted me to a new English language journal which will likely be of interest to readers of this […]

  11. cgeye on 25 May 2014 at 9:42 pm #

    Spam, ahoy….

    The sad part of the Abramson matter? The only other person who will be punished for their actionable behavior will be the HR spokeswoman who slipped and said Abramson was fired for asking about the discrepancy in her salary compared to past heads and subordinates.

    The fish rots from the head down, but only the scales will be stripped.

  12. Historiann on 26 May 2014 at 8:32 pm #

    Hey–cgeye: it’s good to hear from you! I hope you are well.

    And as usual, you are right on about this. I hope the spokesperson will survive. I took her comments as further evidence of chaos at the Times & hope she won’t pay the price for the disorganization.

    It just goes to show that you should never act out of emotion rather than reason. It will get you in trouble every time.

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