It raises arguments I’d never seen before about the factors that lead to the gender imbalance in political commentary.
1) Being a political journalist/columnist, or a serious national affairs/sociocultural-type reporter/freelancer, has got to be hard (both in terms of skill level and opportunities to break in). Very hard, regardless of gender. It’s not something any writer/reporter can just do. But women, I think, have a lot more options when it comes to the range of topics, in general, they can write about and still be “journalists.” There are many, many more (paying) outlets for fashion/beauty/entertainment/sex/relationship writing than political writing. In my own fantasies of the joys/horrors of ever trying to strike it as a freelance writer, I’ve browsed through all the how-to-query sheets on media bistro, and sometimes wondered why the heck I wasn’t trying to write the fluff stuff seriously.
So for the kind of person who starts out with mild pretensions of being a serious journalist, or even just a daily news reporter, or a mildly authentic storyteller, and finds it daunting/hard/unrenumerative, etc., there’s a lot easier ‘out,’ I think, for women than for men, who, for the most part, don’t have the option of writing about healthy/beauty/fashion/etc. It’s kind of the same psychology that I think is often under-valued when explaining why women ‘opt out’ of the workplace—work can suck! It’s sometimes hard, and sometimes boring, and for people who don’t find themselves in a perfect situation, staying home with the kids full-time can seem like a socially acceptable way to ‘fail,’ to give up—one that more men would avail themselves of, too, if they could as easily.
2) Another thing is that there are very few separate “men’s issues” in politics, or media, but there are separate “women’s issues”—things like reproductive rights, gender discrimination, the politics of motherhood, media sexism, etc., just to name a few. While these should *theoretically* be things of concern to both genders, they’re not, and I can’t entirely blame men for not taking them as seriously (while I pay attention to, say, race issues, it’s not—for better or worse—something I tend to spend much time exploring in depth or writing about or anything like that; also, why would a male writer want to carve out a niche in writing about sexism, or gender discrimination, or reproductive rights? There’s always going to be a woman writer who can claim more authenticity, and some who even feel offended by a male writing about these things, so there’s totally a disincentive for them to even consider doing so).
Women have had to carve out their own spaces in the blogosphere—places like Broadsheet, Feministe, Feministing, XX Factor, Jezebel, (Ladyblog!)—to discuss these issues, separate from the “real” political issues, like military endeavors, campaigns, taxes, etc. Again, this is understandable; there are a few Big General Political Issues, the sorts that get talked about at the major political blogs and magazines, the hard news stuff, and then all sorts of non-gendered softer stuff – education, race issues, food politics – have to carve out their own separate spaces as well. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of this. It’s just that … well, a lot of very smart, very political women writers/bloggers/pundits are naturally going to be attracted to reading about issues that directly affect them. Which means less time keeping up with the Big General Political Issues. There are only so many hours that can be devoted to keeping up with blog conversations per day, and every minute spent reading Shakesville or the Independent Women’s Forum blog means less time that can be devoted to, say, Andrew Sullivan or Matthew Iglesias. It’s impossible to keep up with it all.
I’m not someone who’s ever had any aspirations to being a Serious Political Blogger (clearly), but as someone who does want to participate in whatever small way in the conversation, who lives in DC, who hangs out with a lot of journalists and writers, and who just generally wants to be well-informed about what’s going on … even I find it daunting. So I think, yeah, this is certainly a disadvantage for women writers/bloggers who do aspire to really be out there—either you’ve got to just do the women’s stuff, or just do the Big Political Issues, and that’s got to be a hard call to have to make. [And, again, the socialization thing, but I think women who show an interest in political/sociology/media etc. are still often encouraged more to focus on social issues than on horserace politics, economics, or foreign affairs).
3) A lot of who-writes-for-where-and-about-what is driven by editors. And if an editor has two people, a man and a woman, who can write about some economic issue, but only the woman can credibly write an article about, say,the ‘opt out revolution,’ they’re going to assign the either/or story to the guy so they can assign the women’s-only story to the girl. That’s certainly not sexist. But it does work against more women writing about the Serious General Political Issues.
Taken as a whole, I think women actually have many more opportunities than men to make a career out of being writers/jouranlists/bloggers. Just not necessarily writing about the kinds of things they may want to write about, or the kinds of things on which we place a premium as Serious Issues.