Where are the women’s voices on Syria?

When it comes to “hard” news issues like foreign policy and national security, male voices dominate. It’s not because there aren’t women with views and opinions though — it’s because we read more competence and authority into the male voice, and we socialize women out of feeling that they’re entitled to an opinion. In the Guardian:

That media bylines are disproportionately male is a well-documented fact. Female bylines are particularly absent in legacy media pieces about the economy, international politics, social action and security. Part of that is the narrow and cyclical world of opinion journalism: op-ed writers are more likely to be printed in a prestigious publication if their work has been printed in a prestigious publication before, so the guy who wrote a couple one-offs about the Middle East for an impressive publication five years ago probably has a better shot at publishing an op/ed tomorrow than the woman who has studied the issues and worked in the region for a decade but hasn’t ever published. Men have dominated journalism and the international politics space for a long time; their publishing legacies make it easier for them to be published going forward.

Columns about so-called “hard” political issues like security and foreign affairs also require a commanding editorial voice. Cultural conditioning leads us to perceive women’s words as less authoritative, and women themselves as less competent than men – and our perceptions shift based on a name alone. One Yale study found that science researchers evaluated candidates with female names on their resumes as less competent and less hirable than male-named candidates with identical experience; the male candidates were offered higher salaries and more career mentoring. It wasn’t intentional sexism, and the science faculty always had clearly-articulated gender-neutral reasons for why they preferred the male candidate. But it’s not a stretch to suggest that we likely read a level of competence, intelligence and authority into op-eds with male bylines that female writers are not afforded.

Unlike a comparison of identical resumes, writing is a craft, and its evaluation subjective. There are many hard-and-fast rules of what makes something “good,” but there’s a lot of personal opinion in there too. That can elicit even further unconscious gender bias. Other industries have sought to challenge unintentional sexism by removing gender from the equation. For example, orchestras around the globe began using blind auditions in the 1970s and 80s to screen new members; that method significantly increased the number of female musicians earning orchestral seats. It wasn’t that male musicians were better; it was that their being male led listeners to perceive them as better. Writing isn’t all that different.

We’re also accustomed to seeing men in positions of power. Men account for 479 of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. They make up 82% of the US Congress, 86% of executive officers and 84% of corporate board members. Men tend to be promoted on the basis of potential, whereas women earn promotions through accomplishments. To put that another way, women have to prove their abilities, while men are assumed to have them. As men move up the ranks, they’re seen as more likable. For women who enter positions of power, it’s the opposite. We see examples all the time in powerful women who are routinely imaged as nagging or shrewish or insufficiently nice — Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, Stephanie Cutter.

Like the scientists who sincerely believed they had valid reasons for choosing the male candidates over the female ones and the members of audition panels who sincerely believed they had valid reasons for selecting male musicians, editors no doubt sincerely believe they’re simply selecting “better” op/eds from male writers. Readers no doubt sincerely believe they take written words at face value and evaluate articles fairly based on content and not bylines.

A sincere belief, though, is not a fact.

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116 comments for “Where are the women’s voices on Syria?

  1. September 13, 2013 at 11:48 am

    As a media executive I know that even when it comes to voiceovers on news channels, male voices are preferred since we believe ‘sincerely’ that viewers associate male voices with gravitas and authority. Bullshit of course.

    • EG
      September 13, 2013 at 4:42 pm

      Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy!

  2. Timmy Twinkles
    September 13, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    Agree 100% with these observations. I especially think you are dead on in terms of it being very apropos to point out these biases in the context of the Syrian situation. Noone is affected more by these regime changes or shake-ups than Arab women. The subjugation of women under Islamic law is an ongoing human rights violation and the ultimate male patriarchal system. (please note I’m addressing situations when populations are living under Islamic law, I have nothing but respect for Muslims and their worship of Allah as it pertains to the individual, I am no palin/Bachman whacko and in fact did some stuff with Students for justice in Palestine when I was west coast)
    In Libya, Egypt, Syria, Arab women are as affected by events as males but as you said there is silence. Nothing said about the women being raped by both sides, or casually driven out of their homes with the clothes on their backs. But during the course of the Arab Spring I’m constantly frustrated by the absence of discussion on women’s rights in the Middle East. Hitchens was actually a strong voice here; he is missed in so many areas. And I’m well aware that some women choose to wear the burqa or head covering; that’s awesome, they should be free and comfortable to do so, but their sisters should be just as free to wear whatever they want. Or leave the house without a male chaperone. Or not get hit. I’m all for religious tolerance, but if things are being done under the auspices of a religion that oppress and persecute people, screw that. It should be openly discussed, and pressure should be brought on alliea like Saudi Arabia to treat their women like humans. It’s not okay to oppress women in the US, and it shouldn’t be acceptable to do it anywhere else.

    • Maya
      September 19, 2013 at 12:17 pm

      oh dear you really do sound so so very white. its amazing that you feel you have to state “I have nothing but respect for Muslims and their worship of Allah as it pertains to the individual, I am no palin/Bachman whacko and in fact did some stuff with Students for justice in Palestine” -oh good for you, have a cookie. especially when you cite an incredibly misogynistic author, hitchens, later on.

      the biggest problem here is men using excuses for their misogyny. and seriously-women are not oppressed in the US? why is it that in india when a woman is gang raped there is a world outcry-but when in america a teenager is raped by a group of tennage footballers everyone is upset about how these “poor young men” have had their educational lives ruined? is it perhaps because the media if focusing on what seperates the perpetrators (their colour, their religion) as opposed to what unites them (their sex)

      i am always suspicious when, and especially when men talk about misogyny of other men that they dont share the same religion/race/culture with. misogyny is everywhere, it is not something that is unique to a certain subset of the world, because ultimatly it is practised by men regardless of. please dont act because you are not religious or from the US you are suddenly better. and its funny that you talk about Muslim women having a voice-although you only want them to have a voice when they are agreeing with you. when they say something different many are quick to say they have been brainwashed. you only care about their voice when it suits you. do you feel as passionate about this as you do the MRA’s who dont see women as human also? or would you excuse their behaviour given the fact they are athiest and dont fall under your critical eye and therefore cant have their misogyny neatly categorised in your opinion? (although they can-fyi its male privlidge)

  3. September 13, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    I agree, but I will say that I have a lot of faith in my own generation (late Gen X) and the one behind me (Gen Y). When we’re the ones at the controls, I know we’re going to do it very differently. By this I mean that I don’t see gender segregation and division the way it existed before the current day. For example, my friends routinely embrace the idea of opposite-sex close associates and acquaintances.

    Having friends and acquaintances who challenge our assumptions is imperative, and this takes many forms. It may be difficult for some to have male friends if they are female or to have female friends if they are male; the possibility nevertheless always exists for understanding and a relationship. Unfamiliarity with the opposite sex is the challenge I see most, not so much an automatic bias based in sexism and discrimination. But I do not deny that it exists.

    Certainly we have a long way to go, but I’m optimistic about this Brave New World.

  4. soft truth
    September 13, 2013 at 2:17 pm

    If women ran things, there would probably not be large-scale wars. Testosterone drives men to organized violence.

    As a small-scale example, look at street gangs. Across the world they’re organized by and dominated by men. Sure, women are recruited into their ranks and may even in rare instances rise to high levels, but without men these violent organizations would not exist.

    I’m sorry if that’s essentializing, but it’s one of the ways women are superior to men.

    • Canisse
      September 13, 2013 at 3:39 pm

      Wow, that’s the type of comment that gives a bad name to feminists. Men aren’t more violent than women by nature; it’s because of the way we are raised. We are not “better” than them as a gender.

      If testosterone makes people more violent, then that means that pregnant women are more violent than non-pregnant ones, since their bodies produce testosterone. That’s just bullshit!

      Also, stereotyping women as “softer” and “kinder” is extremely harmful to us, as well. Oh, but women don’t do well at all in combat! They should be barred from entering the army. And the poor things should be encouraged to stay home and take care of the children, too. The world out there is much too stressful for them.

      In short, your comment is insulting to both men and women, and harmful to the cause you presumably want to defend.

      • tinfoil hattie
        September 16, 2013 at 8:08 am

        And the poor things should be encouraged to stay home and take care of the children, too.

        Please stop using this type of b.s. as an example of “soft” things women should do. I get that it was sarcasm, but still. It’s tiresome, having to say over and over and over and over and over that care of children is often a physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausting job.

    • EG
      September 13, 2013 at 4:57 pm

      What arrant nonsense. Testosterone may help explain why an individual’s propensity to violence increases and decreases over his/her life, but to claim that it can somehow be embedded organizationally shows a complete misunderstanding of how biology works.

      What about girl gangs? Women who abuse children? The women in charge of women’s barracks in concentration camps?

      Seriously? You think that nations go to war because of testosterone, rather than because of material interests? That’s absurd.

    • September 13, 2013 at 5:12 pm

      So, since I have PCOS and higher testosterone levels, but I’m still “physically female” (what bullshit), where do I stand on your scale between Hitler and Pacifist Earth Goddess? Am I part of an organised jaywalker mafia? Maybe I vandalise shop windows, but only by painting pretty flowers on them? I walk on the grass where there’s signs to not walk on the grass?

      I am dying to know.

      …okay, so I do sometimes walk on the grass. I’ll have to remember to blame my malfunctioning ovaries the next time. Fascinating.

      • Librarygoose
        September 13, 2013 at 5:27 pm

        That flower vandalism actually sounds pretty cool. But maybe that’s my testosterone talking.

      • September 13, 2013 at 10:22 pm

        ” where do I stand on your scale between Hitler and Pacifist Earth Goddess”

        Wherever you end up, Mac, just don’t do the Pacifist Goddess With Really Bad Moustache And Hairstyling look.

    • GallingGalla
      September 13, 2013 at 5:13 pm

      From a trans* viewpoint, this comment is suspicious, too. After all, is soft truth including trans* women within their supposed testosterone-enraged population?

      • Donna L
        September 13, 2013 at 5:25 pm

        We’re fine once we rid ourselves of all that testosterone poisoning!

      • DannyChameleon
        September 14, 2013 at 9:12 am

        By that logic trans men on T are embracing violence. That’s not a very nice message for soft truth to send.

      • Donna L
        September 14, 2013 at 11:32 am

        Well, sure. Haven’t you heard about the epidemic of violent crimes committed by trans guys after they start taking T?

        I guess you haven’t.

      • DannyChameleon
        September 14, 2013 at 4:19 pm

        I guess you haven’t.

        No, I really haven’t.

        The more I think about this comment (soft truth’s) the more it strikes me as subtly -phobic.

      • Donna L
        September 14, 2013 at 11:35 am

        By the way, I’d be the last person to dispute that hormones taken by transitioning trans people can have a strong and sometimes volatile effect on one’s psyche and emotions. But in my experience, and that of other trans people I’ve talked to, that’s more a factor of changes in hormone levels, than of the hormone levels themselves.

    • SkyTracer
      September 13, 2013 at 10:05 pm

      Do you think men are innately better at math and science? Do you think men “like sex” more than women? You might as well, because either belief has pretty much the same justifications as “women are more prosocial than men.” It’s essentialism, yes, in the “bullshit” sense of the word.

      Here’s an older post you might want to read, soft truth, if you missed it the first time.

      I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve heard good things about Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender, if you’d like to read critiques of gender-essentialist neuroscience.

      • SkyTracer
        September 13, 2013 at 10:11 pm

        “women are more prosocial than men.”

        Inherently, I meant. The average women probably is more prosocial than the average man, but there are environmental reasons for that.

  5. a lawyer
    September 13, 2013 at 4:44 pm

    That is a good article.

    I’m sort of surprised that the Internet hasn’t been a ripe ground for some enterprising PhDs to test this particular issue. There are many people writing under gender-unidentifiable monikers (I have no idea what gender tigtog is, for example) and, of course, there is basically a complete freedom to CHOOSE a neutral username if one wishes to do so. I wish that more people would do so.

    Of course, that would also require folks to avoid personal disclosure, which would drastically change their cost/benefit . If you open with “I’m a PhD from Harvard, and I think ____” then you get the benefit of assumed intelligence and, perhaps, the detriments of assumed privilege or liberalism or snobbiness, or whatever. If you open with “as a POC Muslim feminist, I think _____” then you get a different set of costs/benefits.

    It would be a pain to do. But it seems to me it’d be worth it. I don’t need to know the author of an article in order to judge it as a good article. And even in the blogging space, it holds true: Jill’s argument in the Guardian would be true if she was a female feminist or if she was a male researcher from the Sexism For Everyone Institute.

    • Hugo Was Not the First to Dupe Jill on this Site
      September 13, 2013 at 8:09 pm

      Re: “If you open with “I’m a PhD from Harvard, and I think ____” then you get the benefit of assumed intelligence and, perhaps, the detriments of assumed privilege or liberalism or snobbiness, or whatever.” Not necessarily true and a place to revisit #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen and the intersections of race/gender/color bias.

      I routinely send messages from my Yale alumni account, including to Jill in the aftermath of her publishing Diane Lucas’ post on anti-Black racism at Harvard Law School, but don’t get the benefit of being assumed to be rational and intelligent (much less not a violent ghetto criminal) once people realize that I am a Black woman, and dark-skinned at that. Biases around Black people as naturally violent and unintelligent (e.g. affirmative action lackey assumptions and assertions) cancel out my education accomplishments/awards/credentials: including, especially and ironically, in discussions of how I have been subjected to vicious retaliation for speaking about how a white male colleague sexually harassed me and racistly bullied me for making the same points about gender bias and (White) male privilege that Jill made above in her post, with said bully telling me to “leave your ‘privilege’ critique at home if you want to be friends”.

      It is interesting that the comment after this addresses the issue of the Obama administration having de facto hostile climate issues because when I made the same complaints about my PhD program I was retaliated against, including by a female Obama appointee, and smeared as a violent ghetto criminal (though I am from super-White, small-town New England) in order to discredit me for telling the truth about practices of institutional racism and sexism in the department deeply rooted in implicit biases that White and Asian students in general and male students in particular are intellectually competent, while Black female students like me are not (even when we enter the program with academic honors from a school like Yale). So who is groomed to be an (academic) ‘expert’ is also an issue, and directly related to this issue of who is seen as authorized to speak, especially so as to write op/eds of the kind Jill focuses on.

      At no time does busting out my elite educational credentials due anything to disrupt false accusations made about me to cover up the hostile climate violations I spoke up about and which were covered up by Berkeley in a pattern consonant with the cover-up of hostile climate and sexual assault which Gloria Allred is now suing Berkeley. Jill knowing I went to Yale did nothing to get her to believe that I was credible, intelligent or worth believing, so yes, the issue is very much about how implicit bias (over)determines who is seen as authorized to speak, credible, telling the truth.

    • rain
      September 13, 2013 at 8:11 pm

      of course, there is basically a complete freedom to CHOOSE a neutral username if one wishes to do so. I wish that more people would do so.

      I just read that same sort of suggestion here:

      Whenever I won against my opponents, which I did almost always, some male players would threaten to rape, mutilate, or even kill me (but rape was by far the most frequent threat). I reported these threats to the game operators, whose response was:

      1. It’s your fault for choosing a username that reflects your gender. You should change your name to something that is gender-neutral.

      How would women hiding that they’re women advance the idea that they’re just as competent, or their opinions just as valid, as a man’s?

    • September 13, 2013 at 8:33 pm

      You know, fuck right off. I shouldn’t have to hide my gender or anything else about me for anyone to take me seriously, and if I do, they’re scum. Oh and doesn’t gender-neutral-only policy leave cismen comfortably able to ignore every other gender because they read neutrals as cismen?

      • Jenna
        September 14, 2013 at 11:27 am

        It isn’t just cismen that read gender neutral as male, or assume whiteness when there is really no evidence. We are all trained to it in this society. I’m sure that some of us are resisting the programming, but, it is so pervasive that it does require effort to not assume “white cis male” when we have no visual cues.

      • a lawyer
        September 16, 2013 at 11:51 am

        rain September 13, 2013 at 8:11 pm | Permalink | Reply
        How would women hiding that they’re women advance the idea that they’re just as competent, or their opinions just as valid, as a man’s?

        Everyone would have to do it, not just women. If you think I was arguing just for women to do it, I apologize for the miscommunication–that’s not at all what I meant. That would be ridiculous, like having musicians audition live if they were male and behind a screen if they were not.

        macavitykitsune September 13, 2013 at 8:33 pm | Permalink | Reply

        You know, fuck right off. I shouldn’t have to hide my gender or anything else about me for anyone to take me seriously,

        Well, absent the insult part I agree with you: you SHOULDN’T have to hide anything in order for folks to take you seriously. Duh.

        But the question “how to fix it?” is complicated, and involves–in my view–some interim step of neutrality.

        To riff of the orchestra example: there may come a time in the future where we do not have to have blind auditions, because people will no longer associate “good violinist” with “male.” but in order to get to that point, we need the interim step of the blind auditions as a way to de-program the judges.

        In writing, a gender-neutral policy makes it LESS valuable to assume that everyone is a man, because it makes it less probable. It makes it MORE logical to focus on the content of the argument, rather than the background of the author.

        Doing that would be a valuable way IMO to help fix the problems that exist.

        But of course, when you say “I shouldn’t have to hide my gender or anything else about me for anyone to take me seriously” you can’t really see that as true right now, can you? Chances are that you do it all the time. Liberals and conservatives share the same sets of prejudices and requirements for bona fides.

        Go into a group of conservatives and show them the identical article on Syrian military intervention, and they’ll like it less if it was written by a liberal woman…. but go into a group of feminists and show them the identical article analyzing workplace pay disparities and they’ll like it less if it was written by a conservative man.

        If Jill said “surprise, everyone! You’re the subject of a psych experiment; that article was actually written by Hugo Schwyzer!” the article would remain just as true and well-written as it is now, even though the guy is an ass… But chances are that you wouldn’t think so.

        If you think I am a rich white male conservative Christian fundamentalist corporate attorney, complete with two Mercedes and a membership to an all white golf club, chances are that you would disagree with me more. If you think I am a poor black female Muslim public defender who lives in Chicago and spends all my free time lobbying for the Green Party when I’m not working as a volunteer janitor at the local rape crisis center, chances are that you would disagree with me less. And that’s true even though I would be saying the same thing in both cases.

        That’s why blind communications are important. They take away the concept of “oh, ___ is just saying that because ___ is a ______.” That’s a very valuable addition.

        If you really want to answer the question Oh and doesn’t gender-neutral-only policy leave cismen comfortably able to ignore every other gender because they read neutrals as cismen?

        Maybe. There is no perfect solution which we can apply to all problems simultaneously.

        That said, if you are talking about the real life effects of “assume everyone is a man” which (as applied to modern-day sexism) might also be stated as “don’t assume that the argument is irrelevant because the author isn’t male” then I’m not sure this is a bad thing in the short term, as an interim step.

      • TMK
        September 16, 2013 at 2:01 pm

        If Jill said “surprise, everyone! You’re the subject of a psych experiment; that article was actually written by Hugo Schwyzer!” the article would remain just as true and well-written as it is now, even though the guy is an ass… But chances are that you wouldn’t think so.

        Now, that would be just evil! :D

    • Marksman2010
      September 13, 2013 at 11:35 pm

      I’m do think I’m going to change my username.

      It’s too difficult trying to convince other members that I’m a woman who loves archery.

  6. Tony
    September 13, 2013 at 6:34 pm

    I think you’re giving the Obama administration way too much credit.

    Unlike the last Democratic administration, which appointed the first female Attorney General and Secretary of State (major positions!) he mostly passed over women for the most visible positions and has run his administration as a boys’ club. He doesn’t invite women to his golf (2 out 93 in the first 3 years) or basketball sessions. His top female communications director said the White House “actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women”. His top female economic advisor, Christina Romer said she felt like a “piece of meat.” We’re not talking about a college fraternity here– it’s the president’s Council of Economic Advisers! And the fact that they were willing to go public on the record about such a powerful former employer is telling to me.

    Yes, he appointed Hillary. But Hillary was already one of the most prominent political women in the country, so it’s not as if he lifted her into prominence. (The same can be said to a lesser extent about Janet Napolitano and Kathleen Sebelius, who were popular Governors in states where the other party was perceived to have an advantage). By most accounts, he didn’t let Clinton really make important decisions and ran foreign policy out of the White House. The State Department was sidelined. So when the articles came out reviewing her time at State, there wasn’t a lot of “big, hard” stuff to talk about, it was mostly more low key initiatives that arguably are coded are more traditionally feminine.

    As for her successor, he quickly caved on Susan Rice. If a Republican administration was doing this we’d (rightly) be angry. I’m a blue as they come– I knocked on over 500 doors for Obama last year. But when you have the biggest, most powerful government in the world run as a boys’ club for years, what message does THAT send?

    Basically, I expected the administration to do a lot better.

    • Marksman2010
      September 13, 2013 at 11:50 pm

      You should write a retrospective essay on what it was like to knock on over 500 doors to help get this man elected.

      I don’t know where you live, what part of the U.S., but surely there were some not-so-polite responses through certain doorways. Where I live, you would have been shot after about…50 visits. That’s not an insult, either. I’m serious. I was fired from my job at the flagship public university because I’m atheist and refused to go to my supervisor’s church picnic. When I contested the decision through the Office of Affirmative Action, my files were repeatedly misplaced. When I tried to hire an attorney, none would take the case due to “conflicts of interest.”

      Ever see that move Children of the Corn?

      • Tony
        September 14, 2013 at 2:39 pm

        That’s horrible, marksman. A mandatory religious event at a public university with that kind ?! It’s that kind of thing that gives religion a bad name.

  7. Safiya Outlines
    September 13, 2013 at 9:02 pm

    Is now a good time to mention that this is (AFAIK) the first time there has been any mention of Syria on this blog since Amina the Blogger Who Was Actually Some Usian White Dude?

    Timmy – The Baathist regime in Syria is secular.
    One of my biggest gripes about Western perceptions of the MENA region is that all problems are all about the Islam, all the time and other economic, political and post colonial factors are completely ignored.

    Hence most writing on Syria, whether by man, woman or wilderbeeste is utterly atrocious.

    Notable exceptions would be Amal Hanano (who is a woman) and Robin Yassin Kassab (who is a man) at the Qunfuz blog, who have written many excellent pieces on Syria.

    • September 13, 2013 at 9:04 pm

      …you mean it’s possible for a Muslim-majority country to have any problems ever that aren’t alllllll about the Islam?

      Mind boggled! OMG!

    • Echo Zen
      September 13, 2013 at 9:08 pm

      Yeah, my Fox News-watching brain just exploded.

    • Karak
      September 13, 2013 at 9:29 pm

      I would say that a lot of the social and structural problems have Islam woven into them in the same way Christianity is part of our issues in this part of the world.

      Which isn’t what you’re saying, I get that, but I think talking about Islamic-informed POV is really important to understanding some people, in the same way the American Protestant work ethic and outlook is key to understanding me.

      • Safiya Outlines
        September 13, 2013 at 10:22 pm

        Karak – this is an outsider’s perspective, but Christianity only seems to get mentioned when talking about overtly Christian USians, generally it is accepted that the US has a particular political and societal culture and that seems to be the basis for any discussion.

        Whereas, when it comes to Muslim-majority countries, Islam is too frequently and all too poorly, cited as the starting point and motivations for everything ever – e.g a big motivating factor for much of the the Arab Spring was economic hardship (coupled with several other factors).

        There’s also the issue of there not being the one, monolithic Islam, especially as Islam is an extremely decentralised religion anyway. So you can have Islam as the tool of the oppressive state, as well as Islam being used as a space away from state control and also as a discourse and a weapon opposing oppression.

        In summary, I feel that Westerners get to be all complex, with analysis going to the nth degree, the Global South are shown as cardboard cutouts, with any motivating factors being stuck on a post-it note.

      • Timmy Twinkles
        September 14, 2013 at 1:24 am

        I know the Ba’ath party is secular. Actually, in retrospect you’re exactly right, my post was pretty choppy and I can see why it didnt make sense. I’m not trying to make all problems in the Middle East about Islam, in no way shape or form. I’m saying Islamic law in the Middle East and Africa oppresses women. That may not be this year’s cool thing to say, but believe me people who watch Fox News could unequivocally care less about the persecution of Arab women. So while your points about post-colonialism and economics are well-taken, my original point regarding Islamic law’s repugnant treatment of women stands.

      • a lawyer
        September 16, 2013 at 12:02 pm

        Safiya Outlines September 13, 2013 at 10:22 pm | Permalink | Reply

        Karak – this is an outsider’s perspective, but Christianity only seems to get mentioned when talking about overtly Christian USians, generally it is accepted that the US has a particular political and societal culture and that seems to be the basis for any discussion.

        Whereas, when it comes to Muslim-majority countries, Islam is too frequently and all too poorly, cited as the starting point and motivations for everything ever

        The US is quite distinct from many countries (including but not limited to many Muslim-majority ones) in that we are a relatively successful religions melting pot. We also don’t have a state religion, and in fact we affirmatively reject that in the Constitution. Combine that with our exceedingly liberal free speech laws and we’re actually pretty unusual, as these things go. If you look at other countries that are arguably more similar to the type of religious majority and control… well, in Ireland, for example, much of the reporting used to focus heavily on religion.

        Compare the US constitution to the Syrian constitution, for example, and you’ll see that religion is much more intertwined in Syria. As an example, the president must be a Muslim, and the laws are specifically derived from Islamic jurisprudence. moreover, those laws were passed only recently.

        It doesn’t mean that Islam is in fact the issue “all the time” but it explains why many USians look there first: it’s because many of the countries involved wrote documents which involve Islam.

      • September 16, 2013 at 12:06 pm

        The US is quite distinct from many countries (including but not limited to many Muslim-majority ones) in that we are a relatively successful religions melting pot. We also don’t have a state religion, and in fact we affirmatively reject that in the Constitution.

        And yet India’s had more non-Hindu PMs than the US has had non-Protestant presidents, in approximately a third of the time, despite not being a shining example of democracy. Yeah, I don’t buy your crap about the US being some sort of secular state, not with the shit I’ve seen go down. (The Obama=Muslim thing alone…)

      • EG
        September 16, 2013 at 1:09 pm

        we are a relatively successful religions melting pot

        Sure, as long as by “religious melting pot,” you mean “different varieties of Christianity.”

      • Safiya Outlines
        September 16, 2013 at 5:58 pm

        A Lawyer – No, in Syria the laws most certainly are not entirely derived from Islam and are generally derived from the whims of the Assads in spirit and certainly in practice.

        To give one example, the legislation underpinning the activities of the various branches of the Mukhabarat (secret police) is avowedly not derived from sharia law.

        The rest of your comment has already been dealt with.

      • Donna L
        September 16, 2013 at 1:07 pm

        But Mac, what about all the non-Christian presidents the USA has had? There’s . . . um . . . never mind! There’s been one presidential candidate of Jewish descent, and one vice-presidential candidate who was Jewish, but they both lost.

        But, of course, there are no Protestants on the U.S. Supreme Court at the moment, if I’m not mistaken — something that certain people point to all the time as proof that Christians (= Protestants; they don’t consider Catholics to be “Christian”) are a persecuted minority in the USA.

    • Sid
      September 14, 2013 at 1:49 am

      Is now a good time to mention that this is (AFAIK) the first time there has been any mention of Syria on this blog since Amina the Blogger Who Was Actually Some Usian White Dude?

      Honestly, 99% of the time the best thing white women can do to show solidarity is to completely refrain from speaking on issues pertaining largely to women of color. See: the early posts on this blog about muslim women. And the comments section on posts re: muslim women here inevitably turn up horrendous views, such as the one timmy posts above. Reading the ostensibly liberal men and women film critic reviews of Wadjda has only exposed yet more stupidity on these issues.

      • Safiya Outlines
        September 14, 2013 at 4:05 am

        Sid – silence is not solidarity.

      • Sid
        September 14, 2013 at 2:26 pm

        It is a better alternative than when discussing the issue, non-Poc’s simply introduce more noise and bs than actual understanding. Better to let PoC women speak for themselves.

  8. Timmy Twinkles
    September 14, 2013 at 3:48 am

    Since I am fallible, I took a look at some contemporary scholarship on Muslim women and their alleged oppression. When I contrasted the position taken in my post with some opposing (and logically sound) commentary, and additional perspective, I concluded that my reasoning was unsound. One thing I most definitely did not consider is that I was unwittingly echoing the orientalist narrative that racists and politicians use to cloak their agenda in a concern for women’s rights. Mind you, I don’t believe that an idea or assertion should automatically be illegitimate simply because one or more bad actors ascribe to it as well. But in this case the assertion is problematic on its own merits, so the bad company only further weakens it.
    Anyhoo, I fully accept the premise that telling Muslim women to renounce Islam is not a legitimate response to perceived oppression. Furthermore, I would have said from the beginning I have no issue with the Muslim head/body coverings. Most of that sort of criticism I see is ill-disguised bigotry. My concern was and is stuff like the Islamic religious police of Saudi Arabia and Iran. Beatings for minor transgressions. Religious fanatics getting to arbitrarily decide both the punishment and the crime. While I totally understand the backlash against islamaphobia and racism disguised as feminism, it would be a shame if the oppression that does exist in specific instances was whitewashed just to spite a bunch of bigots.

    • Safiya Outlines
      September 14, 2013 at 8:23 am

      Timmy – At this point you are derailing. Although you are proving Sid’s point about why this blog generally steers clear issues that affect Muslim women whether they are caused by religion or not.

      The O.P. is about 1) Syria, 2) Gender balance in coverage of that conflict.

      Yet all you’ve done is give us your precious opinions about All The Muslim women, including completely irrelevant stuff like the niqab (not burqa, FYI) in Saudi Arabia* If I had my bingo card, I’d be close to full house by now.

      Since you’re probably not finished sharing your great insights with us, I will say Can we have a giraffe here please? To stop tedious detailed derailing?

      *Thus proving my comments elsewhere, that no matter what the issue at hand is – in this case mass conflict with many casualties, someone always thinks discussing Saudi Arabia is more important.

      [Apologies for delayed response to giraffe alert (exact wording is important) - thank you for sending this alert ~ mods]

      • Timmy Twinkles
        September 14, 2013 at 12:43 pm

        Meh, no need for a giraffe, whatever that is it sounds ominous. [Pointless gaslighting deleted ~ mods]

      • TimmyTwinkles
        September 14, 2013 at 4:02 pm

        I know i said i wouldnt post again, but this time i really wont post again. My censored post was inappropriate (read some stuff on the term gaslighting, interesting). I’m not so sure about manipulating reality or any such, but I definitely let myself get defensive and descend into ad hominem territory. I should know better. One quick thing that I think is worth pointing out (i know this is additional derailment but the milk has already spilled so perhaps the mods will be merciful). No excuse for personal attacks, and maybe I just overreacted anyway, but for some reason it drives me crazy when in this sort of context a commenter who expresses an unpopular or controversial viewpoint is immediately dismissed as a fox news adherent/tea party sympathizer or reactionary conservative or xenophobic or whatever. Believe it or not, some white (by white i mean ancestors in rev war white), upper mid class, straight, cis, southern males actually legitimately hold alot of the beliefs prevalent on this site and in the broader third-wave feminist culture. By some I mean maybe there’s 10 of us but we’re in the process of recruiting. I’m not here for my health, I’m here because I see value in engaging with this community. I try to self-correct and be more self-aware. Obviously I’m new and have already made gaffes. But I’m damn sure not here to feed into oppression or mansplain or erase anybody’s experience or any of the other rotten things I know male guests done on this blog and others in the past. I’ve noticed there are a few other male commenters here whose sole contributions consist of restating a point already made and enthusiastically seconding it. Thats not my vibe either; you dont need me to validate anything you say/believe. Anyway, I havent exactly covered myself with glory in this thread but I assure you I’m engaging sincerely and with clean hands, albeit imperfectly.

  9. John
    September 14, 2013 at 4:46 am

    It’s a bit ironic JF chose to write this for the Guardian, because there are / have even some good female writers on ME issues, including Soraya Ghannoushi, the daughter of the present Muslim Brotherhood president of Tunisia.
    But the majority of women do tend to stick to light articles in the Guardian, or to discussing gender issues.
    I wonder if Jill asked CIF’s editors (who are female) to write an article on Syria, whether it would be commissioned?
    Here on the UK, the picture isn’t quite as bad as on the US. We had a very influential war correspondent for many years, Kate Adie, teporting om flak jacket and helmet and we now get women presenters on the BBC’s news programmes.
    The London Evening Standard, the major evening newspaper in London is edited by Sarah Sands.

  10. Angie unduplicated
    September 14, 2013 at 8:29 am

    The gender bias became seriously infuriating when the chemicals were deployed. Atrocities against civilian women and children were no big fucking deal to the dudebros at State and the UN but when male soldiers got the gas, everyone began to cry for intervention. None for Syrian noncombatants, and obviously none for noncombatants in the Congo.
    It’s not the testosterone, obviously, that enables male gangsterism, it’s the boys-will-be-boys tolerance factor.

    • Esti
      September 14, 2013 at 11:57 am

      Strongly disagree with this. The outrage about chemical weapons that I saw in U.S. media, and in speeches and statements from the administration, was primarily about women and children casualties. The distinction in what would draw intervention was all about conventional vs. chemical weapons–and while people can (and do) debate whether that distinction makes sense, I think that caused more focus on women and children rather than the reverse.

    • Willemina
      September 14, 2013 at 12:04 pm

      Dafuq? So I suppose all the old guys and kids that got gassed get counted as “combatants” as per administration standards in your eyes?

      Don’t get me wrong, the hypocrisy is strong in this whole political theatre show going round and round, but I really don’t see the point in gendering then erasing the victims of this.

    • Sofia Ambrosini
      September 14, 2013 at 6:16 pm

      With all due respect, you don’t know what you’re talking about.

    • Evan Carden
      September 14, 2013 at 8:54 pm

      My understanding is that this is almost backwards. Chemical weapons aren’t all that useful against soldiers, but are really good at killing civilians. I believe that this (along with concern about retaliatory deployment) is one of the main reasons the chemical weapons ban exists, in that armies/generals didn’t usually argue that the ban compromises security.

  11. Timmy Twinkles
    September 14, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    Last post in this thread i promise, I did derail a bit, sorry about that. I don’t think in terms of derailment generally but that’s probably because I don’t operate a blog. Ill do better on that in the future.

  12. Sofia Ambrosini
    September 14, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    The female-male reporter ratio on Syria is most balanced for any war I can remember.

    CNN International has Arwa Damon, al-Jazeera has Dalia Hatuqa, and let’s not forget the late Marie Colvin who worked for the Sunday Times who was killed IN Syria.

    In fact, the Daily Beast wrote an entire article on the subject:


    On the matter of gov’t officials shaping US FP, the two most prominent pro-intervention voices in the Obama administration (who have, so far, shown more influence than the likes of realists like Hagel or Kerry) are Samantha Power and Susan Rice.

    On the matter of FP “specialists” who voice their opinions in the media, Anne Marie Slaughter, Sarah Chayes and Christiane Amanpour are some examples. Before Elizabeth O’Bagy’s credentials were exposed as being fraudulent, her article on Syria in the WSJ was cited by both Kerry and McCain.


    • Tony
      September 15, 2013 at 4:13 pm

      On the matter of gov’t officials shaping US FP, the two most prominent pro-intervention voices in the Obama administration

      I don’t think you can say pro-intervention voices are really influential unless the administration actually decides to intervene. Right now the anti-intervention voices are most influential, within the administration, primarily Obama himself (by his actions). And outside the administration, almost everyone else, both domestically & internationally.

      • Sofia Ambrosini
        September 15, 2013 at 5:45 pm

        The US has been arming the rebels and just threatened a 72 hour strike against Assad (only for it to be stopped by Putin and a Congress that was likely to say no). This, after the President has promised to pivot to Asia and begin nuclear negotiations with Iran.

        Believe me, the realists are losing.

      • Rhoanna
        September 15, 2013 at 6:35 pm

        I don’t know which side the “realists” are on, but those opposing intervention have most definitely held sway. The civil war has been going for over two years. Yet only in the past month has the USA supplied weapons to the rebels, and despite the talk about a “limited” missile strike, we haven’t done that either, nor do we seem likely to. The CIA has been providing other aid for the rebels for longer, but that’s been covert, and apparently only started in 2012. So the USA isn’t exactly intervening in any large or meaningful way.

      • Sofia Ambrosini
        September 15, 2013 at 8:50 pm

        We have been using the Gulf Arab states as proxies to arm the rebels.


        Anyway, the lesson is that the original OP was poorly researched and offensive.

      • Gretchen
        September 16, 2013 at 8:57 am

        Agree 1000% Sofia

        While the general point of the article is valid, using Syria as the primary example seems to have been the result of click-baiting rather than actual research.

    • September 16, 2013 at 10:06 am

      It seems like you perhaps didn’t read the piece. The argument isn’t that there aren’t any (or enough) women writing and speaking about Syria. The argument is that they aren’t being given their fair share of the big opinion and analytical platforms. I don’t deny there are amazing women doing this work — in fact, I mention some of the same women you do in my piece. And the Daily Beast article you link doesn’t in fact say that there are equal numbers of female reporters (or more female reporters). It says there are a small but influential number of female reporters. Which I certainly don’t deny.

      Saying that there aren’t enough women writing about foreign policy and Syria on the pages of the most influential American papers isn’t the same thing as saying that there aren’t enough women qualified to write about those issues, or who aren’t writing about those issues in other contexts. There are. But who editors choose to write op/eds and analysis — the stuff that creates major policy influence, that the President and Congresspeople are briefed on — matters quite a bit. And that there are so few women (and even fewer Syrian women) is an important piece of this conversation. It’s far from “clickbait.”

      • Sofia Ambrosini
        September 16, 2013 at 11:26 am

        Here are the major news outlets that have a) extensive news coverage of Syria and b) have female correspondents leading the coverage of the country:

        1) Washington Post: Liz Sly

        2) NPR: Kelly McEvers

        3). CNN International: Arwa Damon, Christiane Amanpour, Hala Gorani

        4). Telegraph: Ruth Sherlock

        5). Al Aan TV: Jenan Moussa

        6). New Yorker & Time: Rania Abouzeid

        7). al-Jazeera: Rawya Rageh

        8). Sunday Times: Marie Colvin (RIP), Hala Jaber

        9). BBC: Lyce Doucet

        10). al-Jazeera America: Azmat Zahra

        11). Financial Times: Abbie Fielding Smith

        12). New York Times: Anne Barnard Smith

        13). AP: Zaina Karam

        14). Reuters: Mariam Karouny, Erika Solomon

        15). al-Jazeera English: Anita McNaught , Zeina Khodr

        Anyway, the fact that there is a civil war going on where there’s hundreds of thousands of people being killed and you can’t even do basic research is just a sad indictment on American “feminism.”

      • September 16, 2013 at 11:41 am

        You’re arguing against a point I didn’t make though. Where did I say there are no women covering Syria? Or no women leading the coverage? Here is what I said:

        The overwhelming majority of expert talking heads and op-ed writers on US intervention in Syria are male. It’s not because men know more about the Middle East or foreign policy or war and security, it’s because of long-standing and often unconscious assumptions about male power and competence, and how our media reinforce and perpetuate them.

        In fact, in the piece lists tons of women who are writing and talking about Syria:

        The problem certainly isn’t that there aren’t any women working in national security and foreign policy. It’s true that women are underrepresented in the national security and foreign policy worlds, making up less than 30% of senior positions in key foreign policy institutions. But “few” doesn’t mean “none”, and there are substantial numbers of brilliant women doing important work.

        The Obama administration has appointed a few of them, from National Security Advisor Susan Rice to US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power to Janet Napolitano (former Homeland Security Secretary) to Lisa Monaco (chief counterterrorism advisor) to Hillary Clinton. Dozens of other women have held prominent positions in government, at think tanks and in academia, including Anne-Marie Slaughter, Condoleezza Rice, Fran Townsend, Michele Flournoy, Heather Hurlburt, Isobel Coleman and Jolynn Shoemaker. Women are writing about national security and foreign policy around the internet – Katie Drummond, Diana Wueger, Zainab Al-Suwaij, Nora Bensahel, Anna Therese Day, Juliette Kayyem, Michelle Shephard.

        It’s not a question of whether there are female writers, or even whether there are prominent female writers. There are! No argument there! I was addressing the dearth of female voices writing op/eds and political analysis in major U.S. publications. Which again does’t mean zero women. It does mean fewer women than men.

        Again, happy to issue a correction if I am factually incorrect about anything in the piece. But you’re making arguments that don’t actually address anything I said.

      • SkyTracer
        September 16, 2013 at 11:43 am

        Looks like a “small but influential” group to me.

      • Sofia Ambrosini
        September 16, 2013 at 11:55 am

        You were already corrected. On FB, on Twitter and even o Buzzfeed. The apology has been long, long overdue.

      • September 16, 2013 at 12:12 pm

        What exactly was I “corrected” on? So far, no one has pointed out any fact on which I was incorrect. Instead, you’re making arguments in response to claims I never made. So no, I am not going to apologize for something that didn’t happen.

      • September 16, 2013 at 12:18 pm

        Many of these women are speaking and writing about Syria, yet the media narrative centers the opinions and voices of male commentators.

        That was the central argument of the piece. And somehow that’s a controversial point?

      • Bagelsan
        September 16, 2013 at 12:05 pm

        I see… about 1-2 women per news outlet. Is that supposed to be an overwhelming huge and impressive number? That looks like tokenism, practically. I’m glad there are some women, but I wouldn’t say there are lots of them by any stretch.

      • Gale
        September 16, 2013 at 5:30 pm

        Reading this discussion, I wonder if the issues are these:
        (1) Ms. Filipovic restricted herself to a small sample of the available data and therefore did not count the contributions made by many important writers. It was clearly a limited sample; whether it was a representative sample depends on your definition of traditional media coverage. On the other hand, Ms. Filipovic’s article was not meant to be a scientific survey with operationalized definitions of traditional media, etc.
        (2) Relatedly, Ms. Filipovic’s article seems to be part of a larger agenda (women in the media), rather than about Syria per se. I am not sure that makes it clickbait. This article could have been written at another time, about a different important foreign policy issue. But right now, Syria is a very important issue, making it an appropriate case in point. On the other hand, the fact that women reporting on Syria found the article insulting suggests that the intended message was not clear enough.
        (3) For this article to be the only mention of Syria on feministe seems to overlook more important issues regarding the conflict. Fair enough.

      • September 16, 2013 at 5:42 pm

        Actually, if you read my piece, I link to larger more formal studies of female bylines in op/ed writing, broken down by topic. One of the least-covered by women is foreign policy. Perhaps with regard to Syria, those numbers are totally off. To confirm my suspicions that it’s more of the same, I looked at about two weeks worth of opinion writing on Syria in two major publications and counted the bylines (would loved to have looked at more publications over a longer period of time, but I am one person who has deadlines and cannot dedicate several days to byline-counting). What I read on the pages of the Times and the Post was in line with what larger studies of FP generally pointed to — overwhelming numbers of male bylines.

        Anyway yes, I think that characterization is probably correct. And I obviously should have done a better job at clarifying my position in the piece. I’m a bit frustrated with what seems like an initial misreading that other commentators have run with.

  13. Sofia Ambrosini
    September 14, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    In fact, I would argue that the vast majority of reporters in Syria are women.

    • September 16, 2013 at 10:02 am

      That’s an interesting thing to argue, but is there evidence of it? The Daily Beast article linked above mentions a “small but influential” group of women.

      I don’t deny that women are writing and talking about Syria — that was the entire point of my piece, which a lot of folks seem to be glossing over. In fact I list the names of a dozen women who are writing and speaking on the issue (some of whom are re-listed above, which makes me suspect that folks didn’t read the full column). But most of the major US media outlets publishing Syria-related opinion pieces are publishing significantly more men than women, as far as I can tell. That’s an ongoing structural and sexism issue, which is why I’m confused that there are so many people being like, “Nuh-uh! There are tons of women writing about Syria!” Yes, I know, and I said that in the piece (repeatedly). But there aren’t as many women as men on the op/ed pages of the most widely-read and influential news pages, which means that the women who are analyzing the Syria conflict are again getting drowned out.

      Maybe I’m missing something huge. If there are in fact more women than men writing about Syria for major publications’ op/ed pages, I would be thrilled to issue a correction.

      • Sofia Ambrosini
        September 16, 2013 at 11:52 am

        Do you mean like Christiane Amanpour, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Elizabeth O’Bagy (who was cited by both McCain and Kerry), Samantha Power, Susan Rice, Rosa Brooks, Jennifer Rubin, Laura Payton, Samantha Nutt, Janice Stein, Zainab Salbi, etc. etc.?

        The problem isn’t gender. The problem is that a) there’s a horrific civil/proxy war going on that’s being fueled by international actors that is getting innocent Syrians killed and b) too many people who don’t know anything about Syria are talking about Syria. As evidenced here.

      • Bagelsan
        September 16, 2013 at 12:03 pm

        I’m pretty sure Jill isn’t trying to say anything about Syria, per say, she’s trying to make a point about the reporting on Syria in the US. A point that you haven’t really disproven, yet.

      • Sofia Ambrosini
        September 16, 2013 at 12:42 pm

        There was no “point”. She just wanted to tell us that she thinks there are too many men writing in the NY Times op-ed columns. She simply used Syria as a launching pad to make that point because it’s the current trending topic. She was rightly rebuked for her ignorance on the topic by the very same people she purports to defend.

      • September 16, 2013 at 12:57 pm

        Is your position that there are just as many women as men writing op/eds about Syria in major U.S. publications?

      • EG
        September 16, 2013 at 1:13 pm

        She just wanted to tell us that she thinks there are too many men writing in the NY Times op-ed columns. She simply used Syria as a launching pad to make that point because it’s the current trending topic.

        I believe she chose Syria in order to make the point that expertise on serious, international news is considered by default to belong overwhelmingly to male pundits and commentators. That’s not a point that can be made without looking at serious, international news stories.

      • Sofia Ambrosini
        September 16, 2013 at 2:48 pm

        Actually, I’ll let the amazing reporters you purport to “defend” speak for themselves:

        Sarah Kendzior: Don’t speak for people to whom you are not willing to listen.

        Rania Abouzeid: FWIW, I really don’t view reporting as gender competition. Was incensed by author’s infantilization of female reporters on Syria


      • a lawyer
        September 16, 2013 at 4:26 pm

        OK, this is getting a bit bizarre. Sofia, you’re arguing against someone, but it’s not Jill.

        Try to see this analogy: There are many outstanding women who write fiction. However, there are a disproportionately small number of women who get sufficient publicity that they are invited to speak at panels; chair departments; own publishing houses; write columns in the NY Review of Books, etc.

        You probably agree with that, right? And you would probably also agree that this is not a reflection of the “lack of quality writers who are women.” Rather, it’s a fairly predictable outcome of the state of the world because men tend to know (and therefore promote or interact with or invite or refer to) other men, which reinforces the status quo. As a result, many women don’t get as much publicity, and therefore aren’t discussed publicly as much.

        Same here. There are a lot of smart people who are writing on Syria. Many of them are women. However, it is a similar outcome: when it comes to source-neutral publications (places which don’t have their own embedded reporters in Syria, etc.) many of those women are not getting the same air time. And when it comes to the public discourse, many of these women are not getting the same level of treatment.

        The result is that they aren’t as well known. That is really all that Jill is saying.

        And your reaction makes no sense: it’s as if Jill commented “Keri Hulme doesn’t get much press; too bad, because she’s a great author–I wish the publishing industry was less dominated by men” and you responded “how dare you suggest that Keri Hulme isn’t a good author; don’t you know that women can be writers, too?”

  14. Donna L
    September 16, 2013 at 12:50 pm
    • September 16, 2013 at 12:58 pm

      And frankly an odd one, given that it purports to be arguing against what I wrote, then makes basically all the same arguments: There are lots of women covering these issues, but they don’t promote themselves as often as men, and they’re less likely to be on op/ed and news analysis pages of large and influential publications.

    • DannyChameleon
      September 16, 2013 at 1:46 pm

      That article appears to reiterate what Jill said.

    • Sofia Ambrosini
      September 16, 2013 at 2:50 pm

      After you wrote that abysmal article, the vast majority of male FP buffs (Andrew Exum, Max Fisher, Dan Murphy) were able to easily list the number of reporters, journalists and analysts that were women and were covering Syria. That’s because they follow the news and you don’t.

      • Bagelsan
        September 16, 2013 at 11:26 pm

        Sofia, isn’t Jill just the worst? She is so terrible and wrong and probably smells bad too! And she clearly hates women! You are right to be so very very offended!

  15. Sofia Ambrosini
    September 16, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    Here are some great rebuttals:

    Azmat Zahra:


    Liz Sly:


    Christopher Chivers hits the nail on the head in this comment:

    There are many lines of field reporting in war in which men face great social and cultural barriers, if men can cover them at all. And these themes are beyond important. They are essential. If the combination of all our coverage is to have a rich meaning and be of any valuable service, it needs us all. Gender politics has no place in this work. This Guardian piece should be moved past quickly, for the pile of stink it is, and the distraction it creates.

    • EG
      September 16, 2013 at 3:15 pm

      That comment makes no sense. There are many essential lines of field reporting that men face great barriers in trying to cover, and we all need to combine to get full coverage…but pointing out “gender politics” has no place?

      How does that work? We acknowledge that gender matters and we need everybody’s voice, but we just don’t discuss it?

      • Sofia Ambrosini
        September 16, 2013 at 3:30 pm

        Actually, it makes perfect sense. The article sought to find controversy where none exists. Men and women are both contributing greatly to the mosaic of international conflicts. Women don’t need to be told to “speak up” as they are already speaking, and people are listening. Stop infantilizing them and listen.

        My theory is that no one here really cares about what’s happening in Syria. It was just an opportunity to get on your high horse. Too bad you fell off it.

      • EG
        September 16, 2013 at 3:41 pm

        No, it really doesn’t make sense. If there are areas that men can’t cover, gender politics is already an integral part of the reporting process.

        Except the argument isn’t about reporters. It’s about who gets consulted for expertise and gets to pontificate.

      • September 16, 2013 at 4:54 pm

        Ah I see. So the problem was bringing up gender at all, because it detracts from a more important issue? So it’s not in fact that I was wrong about anything, it’s that it’s uncomfortable to have it pointed out that there are many women who aren’t getting the recognition they deserve because of male-dominated media industries? Ok.

      • PrettyAmiable
        September 16, 2013 at 5:32 pm

        Women don’t need to be told to “speak up” as they are already speaking, and people are listening.

        Thank God no one ever told women to speak up. See, literally, this line from Jill:

        It’s not because there aren’t women with views and opinions though

        It was just an opportunity to get on your high horse. Too bad you fell off it.

        The irony; I can’t even.

      • PrettyAmiable
        September 16, 2013 at 5:54 pm

        I take back what I said about falling off your high horse; it looks like you’re being propped up by a number of journalists who also show a stunning lack of reading comprehension. Lovely. Glad these are the people who have the best ability to communicate with a large number of people in one go.

    • Bagelsan
      September 16, 2013 at 11:28 pm

      Thank god Christopher is here to tell Jill to sit down and shut up about gender! I needed a man to give his input on this before I could decide, on account of chronic lady-brain.

  16. Bagelsan
    September 16, 2013 at 11:30 pm

    But I’m maybe not being fair to Sofia; she has worked hard to beat the absolute stuffing out of strawJill. And a brutal victory it was; strawJill is soundly defeated.

    (Real Jill is, I imagine, puzzled as hell.)

  17. September 16, 2013 at 11:32 pm

    God only knows it’s not like I have a problem with arguing with Jill, but this thread has left me…really very puzzled. o_O

    *backs away slowly*

  18. tinfoil hattie
    September 17, 2013 at 11:36 am

    I’m willing to bet that if any naysayers took the time to list the names of MEN writing about and commenting (via radio or TV) syria, the list would be too long to post here.

    Jill is absolutely right. How is her piece even controversial? Yeesh.

    • transleft
      September 17, 2013 at 1:29 pm

      Does anyone else feel utterly unsurprised that the mainstream narrative as shifted to blaming women for not getting themselves recognized (by demanding or being forceful or whatever)? As always everything falls on women. Clearly if women aren’t being recognized it’s their own fault and certainly not the fault of a society that deprioritizes women voices *eye roll*

    • Sofia Ambrosini
      September 17, 2013 at 2:06 pm

      Unlike you and the rest of the commentators, I follow the news on Syria. While I don’t judge a person’s writing based on their genitalia, it’s fairly easy to see that there are more female than male correspondents, particularly from major news organizations reporting from the region.

      I think the more important question is, why are you not following the news on Syria? Do you have so much time in your hands that you can complain about the lack of female voices in Syria but not have the time to actually read them? Why doesn’t “Feministe”, which purports to be the voice of women post the articles written by the women they are supposedly defending to give them the publicity they claim is lacking?

      I posted a long list of female correspondents, and guess what, it didn’t require any Googling. They are just as notable as the likes of Engel or Nir Rosen for those who have actually been following the news. Many of them have also written books. Go order them from Amazon and write a review on it here. Give them the “voice” you claim they are lacking.

      • September 17, 2013 at 2:52 pm

        Sofia, if you have actual figures demonstrating that there are equal numbers or more women reporting on Syria as men, I’d love to see them. And actually, I follow the news on Syria quite closely. I’d ask that you read my column equally as closely. You’ll see that I’m primarily discussing opinion writing and news analysis, not reporting. I did that for a few reasons, but primary among them was the fact that op/ed sections are where non-journalist “thought leaders” in their fields have a chance to speak their mind, and where there’s great opportunity for byline equality because editors have quite a bit of leverage in commissioning pieces. Field-specific public intellectuals also have great sway over political decision-making; you can bet that President Obama is getting a file folder of the Syria op/eds that are printed in the Times and the Washington Post, whereas he may not be reading every report that comes through over the AP wire. That isn’t to say that op/eds are more important than reporting; it is to say that for the purposes of my column, I had reasons for focusing on opinion writing in major publications. Which is why I didn’t discuss the female broadcasters and reporters, and instead listed the many women who are in academia or at think tanks, and who are online editorial writers.

        I’ll also just point out here that no one thinks they judge a person’s writing (or other work) based on their genitalia. Yet in reality, we all do.

        I’ll also point out that it’s a noted dynamic that when women are 30% of a room (or of bylines or any other group), there’s a perception of “equality” — observers think there are equal numbers of men and women. When women are 50% of a room, there’s a perception that the room is majority women. When women speak for 50% of a conversation, there’s a perception that she’s dominating. These dynamics have been documented time and again by social scientists, and are worth mentioning here as a reminder that how we perceive things is not necessarily how they are.

      • Sofia Ambrosini
        September 17, 2013 at 6:06 pm

        1) President Obama’s FP record shows that it has been far more influenced by the women in his cabinet (and those serving as advisory roles) than the men. The surge in Afghanistan was aggressively pushed by Michelle Flourney and Hilary Clinton over the likes of Karl Eichenberry and Joe Biden who cautioned against it. The surge itself was the brainchild of Michelle Flourney, General David Petraeus and Kimberly Kagan, another influential FP specialist. Intervention in Libya, while being opposed by Bob Gates and Joe Biden, was favored by the likes of Susan Rice, Hilary Clinton, Samantha Power and Anne-Marie Slaughter. Anne Marie Slaughter has been the leading voice of intervention in Syria, and without her, the US would not be sending light arms to the rebels. Both Secretary Kerry and Sen. McCain cited the work of the now-disgraced Elizabeth O’Bagy who wrote glowingly about the rebels in the WSJ. This completely contradicts the claim that women are somehow too shy to state their opinion in public.

        2) The female correspondents I listed earlier are not only covering Syria but are the chief correspondents for their respective news organizations. CNN International’s coverage of Syria, once led by Michael Ware, is now being led by Arwa Damon. The Washington Post’s main correspondent working out of Syria is Liz Sly. Al-Monitor is led by Laura Rozen. The NY Times, once led by the late Anthony Shadid, is led currently by Anne Barnard. Syria Deeply is led by Lara Setrakian. There are simply far too many to count. This line, “while my female peers stay quiet, feeling that they aren’t well-informed enough to publicly voice an opinion” is demonstrably false. And the notion that I should somehow count every correspondent, and see how many of them are male or female is laughable and misses the point that all these reporters have been trying to convey to you (in vain).

        3). Op-eds in the NY Times and the Washington Post on any issue (health care reform, gun control, Iraq war) have always skewed male. That is not a reflection of some gender bias in FP, but of the fact that many of these op-ed writers have been there for decades be they Thomas Friedman or Charles Krauthammer. The underlying issue is not that there are not enough women, but that there are not enough experts with specialized knowledge of the given topic.

        Finally, it seems as Christopher said, this has been a major distraction from what is actually important and that is the Syrian people. For people to use this civil war to make a cheap point about gender are really no better than the conservatives who have used it to humiliate Obama.

      • PrettyAmiable
        September 17, 2013 at 3:18 pm

        Unlike you and the rest of the commentators, I follow the news on Syria.

        Did you ever pause to consider that maybe the difference between you and the rest of the commenters is that we have reading comprehension skills and you don’t? Because I’m pretty sure that’s the only thing you’ve demonstrably proven in this thread.

      • Donna L
        September 17, 2013 at 3:44 pm

        I hope these journalists present what they see with more accuracy than they present what they read — namely, Jill’s column. Failure of reading comprehension, indeed.

      • Sofia Ambrosini
        September 17, 2013 at 5:14 pm

        Oh, they understood what she said. These brave journalists who dodge bullets, bombs and kidnappers feel they don’t need to be defended by someone who doesn’t know anything about their work.

      • PrettyAmiable
        September 17, 2013 at 5:47 pm

        I’m really excited to see what you say next that confirms you didn’t understand the piece you claim to have read.

      • Sofia Ambrosini
        September 17, 2013 at 5:55 pm

        You should focus less attention on what I say and more attention on what’s happening in Syria. I know it might be boring for you, but give it a chance.



      • DannyChameleon
        September 17, 2013 at 6:29 pm

        How dare you talk about Syria when other, obviously more important things are happening?

      • September 17, 2013 at 6:33 pm

        Oh my god, you tedious little snot, would you at least try to read the article, or are you just choo-chooing on the Missed The Point failroad that happily?

      • DannyChameleon
        September 17, 2013 at 7:17 pm

        choo-chooing on the Missed The Point failroad

        I will have that one off of you as well (with your permission, of course).

      • September 17, 2013 at 7:38 pm

        LOL. Go ahead!

      • EG
        September 17, 2013 at 6:39 pm

        Nothing could be more boring than your repetitious and inaccurate comments.

      • September 17, 2013 at 7:05 pm

        While I don’t judge a person’s writing based on their genitalia, it’s fairly easy to see that there are more female than male correspondents, particularly from major news organizations reporting from the region.

        So you’re also cissexist. That’s nice.

  19. PrettyAmiable
    September 17, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    Thanks for the link to the Reuters feed which shows entries from two people who present as women and seven people who present as men.

  20. Sofia Ambrosini
    September 18, 2013 at 10:13 am

    It’s quite hilarious you think that some of the best foreign correspondents in the country (and me) somehow misunderstood an article (it was more like a rant TBH).

    Anyway, time to focus on the real world. Like Syria.

    • Bagelsan
      September 18, 2013 at 6:43 pm

      *stares in wonder at Sofia* Damn you, Poe’s Law… is she actually serious?

  21. Steve
    September 20, 2013 at 2:11 pm

    Newly launched, Al Jazeera America seems to also be unable to publish women writing opinion pieces on Syria. There are 21 pieces of commentary here, and I don’t believe there is a single post from a woman…


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