Uncommon Women...That's Us
Where Credit Is Due
By GAIL COLLINS
A few months ago, a saleswoman at Macy’s tried to wheedle me into renewing my expired store credit card by offering a deep discount on the towels I was buying. So I dug it out of my wallet, where it was nestled between an expired press pass to the Texas State Capitol and an expired library card from Manchester, N.H., and happily handed it over.
She looked at it, puzzled. “But this isn’t your name,” she said. The card said Daniel Collins. That’s my husband, who I believe has never been to Macy’s, or bought a towel, in his entire life.
I flashed back to a moment when I was living in Connecticut. I have no idea what year it was, except that it is very possible Richard Nixon was still president. I was in the Macy’s in New Haven when a woman with a clipboard came up to me and asked me if I wanted to apply for a credit card. “Absolutely,” I said instantly.
She took up her pen. “What’s your husband’s name?” she asked. I wish I could tell you that I made a speech about equal rights and headed for the door, but I just let her fill out my application. This was an era when women still needed a male co-signer to get credit. In some places, you needed a husband or father to even get a library card.
Anyway, I was proud of being newly married and dumb about the women’s movement. I worked as a reporter in the Connecticut State Capitol, where the male legislators and male lobbyists and male reporters met in a place called the Hawaiian Room to drink. When a female journalist demanded that she be admitted, too, the media was barred completely. The guys in the press room blamed it all on the one woman, who, I am sorry to say, was not me. My only reaction was to wonder why anyone would want to go to the Hawaiian Room, which was in the attic, with steam pipes along the ceiling festooned with limp plastic leis.
I’m telling you all this because on Monday we will celebrate Women’s Equality Day, the anniversary of the 19th Amendment and women’s right to vote. That was in 1920, and there’s no longer anyone around who can tell us what that felt like to be disenfranchised because of your sex. But there are plenty of people who recall the time when women couldn’t get credit in their own name.
Next year, if we’re in the mood, we can celebrate the 40th anniversary of the day that Kathryn Kirschbaum, then the mayor of Davenport, Iowa, was told she could not have a Bank of America card without her husband’s signature.
The great thing about Equality Day is that it works in two ways. We can mull both how far we’ve come and how far we have to go. The one thought feeds the other. The idea of having 50 women in the U.S. Senate, or 250 female C.E.O.’s in the Fortune 500 seems less far-reaching if you contemplate the fact that in the 1960s, a spokesman for NASA said “talk of an American spacewoman makes me sick to my stomach.” Now, one of the two American astronauts on the International Space Station is a woman, and that is so routine that we’re not even aware of her name. (It’s Karen Nyberg.)
Monday is also the anniversary of the 1970 women’s march for equality in New York, which almost no one expected to be a very big deal. The New York Police Department had only given the marchers permission to use one lane of Fifth Avenue. “Then more people came and more people came and we spilled over, and we took over the entire avenue,” recalled Robin Morgan, the feminist author and activist. “And that was the moment your heart really sang. People were hanging out windows. I kept yelling: ‘Join us!’ ” And some of them, Morgan said, did just that.
Parades are great. For a long time, the drive for suffrage was seen as a depressing slog of petition-gathering by middle-class clubwomen. Then the parades started, and the movement belonged to everyone.
“We did not eat our little lunches in lobster palaces, but out in the street in front of lobster palaces. We stand for plain living and high thinking, that’s it,” a marcher told The New York Times during the equality parade in 1912.
That comment does seem a tad reverse-snobby, but the mixture of socialites and factory workers, marching for one cause, sent a message. It also sounds as though it was a lot of fun. After the march ended, a woman The Times identified as “Miss Annie S. Peck, the mountain climber,” stood on a chair, “waved a Joan of Arc flag, and told her audience that this was the banner that she had planted 21,000 feet above the sea on one of the highest peaks of the Andes.”
There don’t seem to be a lot of parades planned for Monday, which is probably all for the best. Once a parade becomes an annual institution, it becomes less about a political point and more about the afterparties. But we are going to have one heck of a time in 2020.
YEARS ago, while producing the hit TV series “The Shield,” Glen Mazzara noticed that two young female writers were quiet during story meetings. He pulled them aside and encouraged them to speak up more. Watch what happens when we do, they replied. Almost every time they started to speak, they were interrupted or shot down before finishing their pitch. When one had a good idea, a male writer would jump in and run with it before she could complete her thought.
Sadly, their experience is not unusual. We’ve both seen it happen again and again. When a woman speaks in a professional setting, she walks a tightrope. Either she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive. When a man says virtually the same thing, heads nod in appreciation for his fine idea. As a result, women often decide that saying less is more.
Some new studies support our observations. A study by a Yale psychologist, Victoria L. Brescoll, found that male senators with more power (as measured by tenure, leadership positions and track record of legislation passed) spoke more on the Senate floor than their junior colleagues. But for female senators, power was not linked to significantly more speaking time.
Suspecting that powerful women stayed quiet because they feared a backlash, Professor Brescoll looked deeper. She asked professional men and women to evaluate the competence of chief executives who voiced their opinions more or less frequently. Male executives who spoke more often than their peers were rewarded with 10 percent higher ratings of competence. When female executives spoke more than their peers, both men and women punished them with 14 percent lower ratings. As this and other research shows, women who worry that talking “too much” will cause them to be disliked are not paranoid; they are often right.
One of us, Adam, was dismayed to find similar patterns when studying a health care company and advising an international bank. When male employees contributed ideas that brought in new revenue, they got significantly higher performance evaluations. But female employees who spoke up with equally valuable ideas did not improve their managers’ perception of their performance. Also, the more the men spoke up, the more helpful their managers believed them to be. But when women spoke up more, there was no increase in their perceived helpfulness.
This speaking-up double bind harms organizations by depriving them of valuable ideas. A University of Texas researcher, Ethan Burris, conducted an experiment in which he asked teams to make strategic decisions for a bookstore. He randomly informed one member that the bookstore’s inventory system was flawed and gave that person data about a better approach. In subsequent analyses, he found that when women challenged the old system and suggested a new one, team leaders viewed them as less loyal and were less likely to act on their suggestions. Even when all team members were informed that one member possessed unique information that would benefit the group, suggestions from women with inside knowledge were discounted.
Obviously, businesses need to find ways to interrupt this gender bias. Just as orchestras that use blind auditions increase the number of women who are selected, organizations can increase women’s contributions by adopting practices that focus less on the speaker and more on the idea. For example, in innovation tournaments, employees submit suggestions and solutions to problems anonymously. Experts evaluate the proposals, give feedback to all participants and then implement the best plans.
SINCE most work cannot be done anonymously, leaders must also take steps to encourage women to speak and be heard. At “The Shield,” Mr. Mazzara, the show runner, found a clever way to change the dynamics that were holding those two female employees back. He announced to the writers that he was instituting a no-interruption rule while anyone — male or female — was pitching. It worked, and he later observed that it made the entire team more effective
The long-term solution to the double bind of speaking while female is to increase the number of women in leadership roles. (As we noted in our previous article, research shows that when it comes to leadership skills, although men are more confident, women are more competent.) As more women enter the upper echelons of organizations, people become more accustomed to women’s contributing and leading. Professor Burris and his colleagues studied a credit union where women made up 74 percent of supervisors and 84 percent of front-line employees. Sure enough, when women spoke up there, they were more likely to be heard than men. When President Obama held his last news conference of 2014, he called on eight reporters — all women. It made headlines worldwide. Had a politician given only men a chance to ask questions, it would not have been news; it would have been a regular day.
As 2015 starts, we wonder what would happen if we all held Obama-style meetings, offering women the floor whenever possible. Doing this for even a day or two might be a powerful bias interrupter, demonstrating to our teams and colleagues that speaking while female is still quite difficult. We’re going to try it to see what we learn. We hope you will, too — and then share your experiences with us all on Facebook or in the comments section.
“It’s none of your damned business!”
I’ve been told that. Just about anyone who wrote for The Times before June 20, 1986, was told that. So we learned to save the demeaning question for last when interviewing women: Are you a Mrs. or a Miss?
Before June 20, 1986, one could not be a Ms. in the pages of The Times.
“The top editor had persuaded the publisher, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, that the usage was a passing fad,” Betsy Wade wrote for an exhibition at the Manhattan borough president’s office. “Grace Lichtenstein, a successful and aggressive reporter, shouted at that editor in the city room one day that it was not a fad. She said that the newspaper’s style barrier to ‘Ms.’ was a big problem for all reporters. When writing of a woman, the lack of a title like ‘Mr.,’ which does not bespeak marital status, forced the reporter to ask a news source flat out: ‘Are you married?’ Frequently, a reporter was told, ‘It’s none of your damned business!’ ”
Ms. was scarcely a passing fad. It had been proposed at the dawn of the 20th century as an alternative to Miss and Mrs. In 1971, it was adopted as the name of a new magazine edited by Gloria Steinem. (“Ms.,” The Times explained to readers, was “the form of address preferred by feminists.”) In 1972, it was accepted as a courtesy title by the American Heritage School Dictionary. In 1973, it was in such common use that the novelist Jean Stafford objected, saying she would reject any first-class mail addressed to “Ms. Stafford” — after first slitting open the envelope to make sure there wasn’t a check inside.
In 1974, protesters gathered outside The Times’s headquarters, then at 229 West 43rd Street, carrying signs like “Miss, If She Chooses; Mrs., If She Chooses; Ms., If She Chooses” and “Form Follows Function — Ms. Now!” and “We’ve Come to M-ESS Up The Times.” Two photographs of the event, by Diana Mara Henry, are part of the exhibition. In the second photo, police are breaking up the demonstration.
Despite the unhappy ending to the protest, some Times executives were listening, as Richard F. Shepard described in “The Paper’s Papers: A Reporter’s Journey Through the Archives of The New York Times.”
Max Frankel, who was the Sunday editor in 1974, favored adopting Ms. “‘Miss’ and ‘Mrs.’ — as perceived by a fair number of women — are not simply neutral titles that some no longer like,” he wrote in a memorandum that year. “They define women entirely in terms of marital status, when that standard is not applied to men.”
But A. M. Rosenthal, the managing editor to whom the exhibition refers obliquely, was opposed. “The Times should use the best-accepted usage,” he wrote in a memo, “and not be in a position of coining usage or giving undue acceptability to usages of the moment by formalizing them in its style.”
After Mr. Sulzberger vetoed “Ms.” in 1974, he began facing questions at shareholders’ meetings posed by Paula S. Kassell, a feminist writer and publisher, who had asked the Women’s Caucus at The Times how she might be helpful. Ms. Wade, a founder of the caucus, said its members suggested that Ms. Kassell buy 10 shares of Times stock to secure a spot for herself and “pester the publisher about this sexism in print.”
At the April 1986 meeting, Ms. Kassell challenged Mr. Sulzberger to convene a debate among language experts and then reach a “rational” decision. He agreed.
A. M. Rosenthal, by then the executive editor, explained the new policy, which he had long opposed. “In less than two weeks, she got a note from the publisher saying that the debate would not be necessary because the editors were adopting the new style,” Ms. Wade wrote. “On the night it happened, Gloria Steinem, Mary Thom and other editors of Ms. magazine walked into the city room with a basket of flowers for the editor” — Mr. Rosenthal — “and the copy editors and reporters applauded.”
The Ms. episode is one of several covered by the exhibition, which Ms. Wade curated with Penelope Cox, the special events coordinator for the borough president, Gale A. Brewer. It will be on display through April 14 at the David N. Dinkins Manhattan Municipal Building.
Women in politics, notably Bella S. Abzug, are the principal focus of the show. But for every larger-than-life champion of women’s rights, the exhibition pinpoints those whose names are largely lost to history.
Emma Bugbee, for instance, was the first woman hired by The New York Tribune to cover hard news — hard being the operative word. In December 1912, she accompanied suffragists on a 12-day march from New York City to Albany, to make a public case for women’s right to vote. She was still working for The Tribune, which had acquired The Herald, when Ms. Wade was hired by that newspaper in 1952.
Ms. Wade, on the other hand, lasted little more than a year at The Herald Tribune. After marrying James Boylan, a journalist and historian, she was fired as an editor in the women’s news department when Eugenia Sheppard, the newspaper’s fashion editor, learned Ms. Wade was pregnant.
“Eugenia said: ‘Oh, dear — this is dreadful. I’ll have to talk to the managing editor,” Ms. Wade recalled to Nan Robertson, the author of “The Girls in the Balcony: Woman, Men and The New York Times.”
“The last person hired was the first person fired, and I went,” she continued. “You couldn’t get unemployment insurance in those days if you were pregnant. We were living up the Hudson River at Fort Lee, N.J. I was in a state of terror and confusion, sewing a layette. My career was washed up.”
In fact, it had just begun. Hired by The Times in 1956, she was the first woman assigned to a Times copy desk and, in 1972, the first woman to head a Times copy desk. In 1974, she was the lead named plaintiff in a federal lawsuit — Elizabeth Boylan v. The New York Times — charging the company with discriminating against women in pay, promotions and job opportunities. The case was settled in 1978.
Eight years later, the “Ms.” barrier fell. The first front page under the new policy carried an article reporting that the Supreme Court had ruled that sexual harassment of an employee by a supervisor violated federal law. The plaintiff was Mechelle Vinson, a former employee of the Meritor Savings Bank of Washington. The article referred to her as “Ms. Vinson.” It was edited by Ms. Wade.
Speaking While Female
New York Times - January 12, 2015
If Only Quoting Women Were Enough
by Amanda Taub and Max Fisher
We all know we should make an effort to quote more female experts. Women are underrepresented in news coverage — by a ratio of three-to-one, studies consistently show — which both reflects and deepens gender biases in who gets to be considered an authority.
Our perch on the International desk, where we write a news column examining global affairs through political and social science, should, in theory, grant us the perfect opportunity to correct this sort of bias. When we’re able to pull it off, as we did in a recent article on Afghanistan that quoted only women, the positive reaction from readers shows how wide the gender source gap remains, and how gratifying it is to see it briefly close.
But the truth — we are reminded every time we try to quote female experts — is that the gender balance of our articles is only the final step in a process of gender discrimination that begins long before we pick up a phone to begin reporting. We’ve learned to see our role as journalists as important, but also as just the most visible component of a vast social machinery that equates expertise with maleness.
For instance, Twitter is a valuable tool for finding research and researchers. But while it is open to both genders, women often face higher costs for using it, in the form of harassment, particularly sexual threats. Because men can use the platform more freely, their voices and work get a relative boost, making it even harder for women to break through.
Other biases are even more glaring. A 2013 study found that political science papers by women are systematically cited less than those by men. Sara McLaughlin Mitchell, a University of Iowa political scientist, found that women in academia are more likely to get stuck in less prestigious jobs or leave their fields entirely because of structural gender issues like citation biases, straightforward sexism and pressure on women to do committee work while men get to devote time to their research.
The result is that the highest echelons of academia, think tanks and research institutions are dominated by men. So if we go by seemingly objective criteria like seniority or citation counts, the “best” experts will overwhelmingly be men. We can’t fix those imbalances on our own, but we can try to correct for them in our own writing by ignoring seniority and deciding for ourselves whose work is worth quoting. We start by looking offline to find equally qualified — or, often, better qualified — women, by scanning academic journals and asking around for names.
That, unsurprisingly, can rankle people. It can rankle the men who believe we skipped over them unfairly and the institutions that wish to promote their most senior figures. Tellingly, some think tanks that publicize all-female panels also bar junior fellows from speaking to the news media, silencing the women in that role. And it can rankle readers, some of whom inevitably ask a variation of, “Isn’t that just more discrimination?”
This is the challenge of systemic gender bias. No one person can fix it, even with the benefit of a platform as powerful as The New York Times. But conscious efforts to correct for its effects can, at a glance, look unfair because the biases that privilege men, while far more systemic, are often less visible. Last November, over 200 women in national security signed an open letter warning that sexual assault, harassment and “environments that silence, demean, belittle or neglect women” were driving their female colleagues from the field. And a 2015 analysis by Micah Zenko and Amelia M. Wolf found that women were sharply underrepresented in think tank leadership and senior government positions relating to foreign policy and national security.
We haven’t undertaken the kind of rigorous accounting of our sources that Ed Yong and Adrienne LaFrance of The Atlantic have, though we suspect we’d be similarly disappointed by the results. But even if we’ve hardly closed the gender gap in our work, the act of trying isn’t just our responsibility: It has its own benefits. We, and readers, are exposed to ideas and research otherwise obscured by systemic bias. Articles exclusively quoting women register with colleagues, who tell us they will try it themselves. The most rewarding feedback comes from young professional women, who see encouragement amid the many obstacles they face.
These are only symbolic gestures. But perhaps they are a reminder that the gender gap, though so pervasive it can sometimes feel normal, is anything but.
Rebecca Hamilton, an American University assistant law professor, tweeted in response to our recent article, “Such a surreal experience to read a national security article so populated with the voices of female experts.”
It can indeed feel surreal to see women granted the same intellectual weight as men. But it doesn’t need to.
22 Female Senators Say, Enough
Over the past six months, Americans have come to understand the galling ubiquity of sexual misconduct and how often it is swept under the rug. Now, some of the most powerful women in the United States are saying they’ve waited long enough to address these issues at their own workplace.
All 22 female members of the Senate, Republicans and Democrats, are demanding the chamber’s leadership stop stonewalling an overhaul of Congress’s byzantine method of handling complaints of sexual harassment against members of Congress and their staffs under the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995.
“Survivors who have bravely come forward to share their stories have brought to light just how widespread harassment and discrimination continue to be throughout Capitol Hill,” these senators wrote in a letter to Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s majority and minority leaders. “No longer can we allow the perpetrators of these crimes to hide behind a 23-year-old law.”
Some of the procedures outlined by the 1995 law protect harassers more
than they do victims. Before those complaining of sexual harassment can pursue a lawsuit or an administrative hearing, the law requires them to undergo counseling that typically lasts about a month, followed by a roughly 30-day mediation process, then to wait at least another month. The reform bill before the Senate, which the House already passed, would streamline that process by eliminating the counseling and mediation requirements.
The female senators also complained that while the House passed a resolution in February under which it would pay for legal representation of harassment victims there, victims in the Senate would get that benefit only if the reform bill passed.
The reforms are apparently being held up because Mr. McConnell does not like a provision that would require lawmakers to use personal funds to settle sexual harassment complaints, rather than taxpayer money, as is now the case.
That’s right. For years, the American public has been paying for the misconduct of individuals on Capitol Hill. Between 2008 and 2012 alone, the federal government spent at least $174,000 to settle such claims in the House. Mr. McConnell reportedly formed his opposition to the provision, which he denied after the letter was released, after listening to the concerns of some of his Senate colleagues.
While Mr. McConnell once took a tough stance on sexual misconduct, including within his own party, he has also led congressional Republicans in closing ranks around President Trump, who has bragged about sexually assaulting women, and Mr. McConnell holds dangerously misguided views about the challenges women face in society.
“I could be wrong, but most of the barriers have been lowered” for women, he said in 2014. He was, in fact, wrong — women continue to face a wide range of inequalities, including a high likelihood of being sexually harassed at some point in their lives. That’s one reason Mr. McConnell should listen to his female colleagues and bring this bill to a vote.
The reform bill won’t solve the problem of sexual harassment in America, but it would help some victims and signal that the issue is being taken seriously by many of the nation’s most powerful people.
On Wednesday, Illinois became the 37th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.
You probably have questions.
Didn’t the E.R.A. die in the ’80s?
Technically, yes. Congress, which overwhelmingly approved the Equal Rights Amendment on March 22, 1972, set a seven-year deadline for three-quarters of the states to ratify it. The deadline was later extended to 1982 but that deadline passed with only 35 states on board. They needed 38.
More about that in a moment. But first …
What would the amendment do?
The proposed amendment has three sections but the first is the main clause: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
In 1972, supporters believed the amendment would invalidate widespread discrimination, including laws that restricted a woman’s right to buy or sell property and employers’ policies that denied unemployment compensation to pregnant workers.
What is the origin of the E.R.A.?
It started with Alice Paul, a pioneering women’s rights activist in the United States who relentlessly fought for equal rights and helped lead the battle for women’s suffrage. She was even forcibly fed in jail after she went on a hunger strike.
After she worked to push through the 19th Amendment in 1920, which allowed women to vote, she waged a larger battle for equality for women in everything. She wrote the first draft of what became the Equal Rights Amendment.
Who fought it in the ’70s and ’80s?
Some of the most vocal opponents were women, notably Phyllis Schlafly, an influential conservative activist who warned that the amendment would backfire on women.
They would be drafted by the U.S. military to fight on the front lines in wars, she said, and forced to use unisex restrooms. A poll in 1982 found that a majority of Americans supported the Equal Rights Amendment, but Ms. Schlafly’s opposition was effective at the state level.
Don’t men and women already have equal rights?
There are more protections against discrimination based on sex and gender today than there were in 1972. Many states have also approved their own versions of the E.R.A. into their constitutions.
But supporters of a federal approach say that broad, inclusive protection could only come through the Equal Rights Amendment, which would cover all United States citizens against sex discrimination.
What brought the E.R.A. back to life?
Something unexpected happened with a different amendment in 1992.
First, some history: Six months after the Constitution went into effect, James Madison offered 17 amendments to the founding document. Congress ultimately approved 12. By 1791, the states had ratified the first 10, which became known as the Bill of Rights.
One of Madison’s amendments continued to slowly work its way through the states more than 200 years after congressional approval. In May 1992, Michigan became the 38th state to ratify, making it the 27th Amendment, which says that salary increases for members of Congress do not go into effect until the term after they were approved.
Supporters of the E.R.A. saw this happen and thought: Wait, why did our amendment have a deadline? Let’s push for more states to ratify it and then see what happens.
President Trump and #MeToo also helped.
You probably know this part: The election of President Trump in 2016, and the defeat of Hillary Rodham Clinton, the first woman nominated for president by a major party, galvanized many American women.
Hundreds of thousands of women marched in protest in Washington and other cities around the world a day after he took office in 2017.
Then came the revelations that coalesced into the #MeToo movement, as new reports revealed widespread accusations of sexual misconduct against powerful men like Bill O’Reilly of Fox News and the producer Harvey Weinstein. Many ordinary and famous women said they, too, had experienced harassment, abuse and discrimination.
All of this breathed new life into the Equal Rights Amendment movement.
How many more states need to ratify it?
In theory, just one. But perhaps not, because of the missed deadline.
In 1972, supporters thought the amendment would be ratified almost overnight. The Hawaii State Legislature did so 32 minutes after Congress approved it. But it drew opposition in other places, and only 35 states in total ratified it by the 1982 deadline. (To ratify an amendment, state lawmakers must approve it within the same legislative session.)
Then last year, Nevada ratified it, followed by Illinois on Wednesday.
What happens if 38 states ratify the E.R.A.?
Expect a legal showdown, intense lobbying and constitutional fireworks.
Supporters say that the 27th Amendment shows that Congress should not have imposed a deadline on the E.R.A. Since 1992, they have argued there are several ways to make the amendment viable, which they wrapped into something called the “three-state strategy” before the votes in Nevada and Illinois.
There are 13 possibilities for the final state: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia.
After that, the organizers would lobby Congress to recognize the 38 total radifications. How would that work? A 2013 report by the Congressional Research Service, a policy research branch, said that Congress could simply vote to change the old deadline.
It could also pass a brand-new amendment, which would most likely require states to ratify the E.R.A. again.