I Analyzed a Year of My Reporting for Gender Bias (Again), Cont'd

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

A reader dissents:

Adrienne LaFrance’s article is a prime example of why I am fond of The Atlantic. I really appreciate the level of introspection and intellectual rigor that many of your writers display. I may not always agree with his or her conclusion, but I can be reasonably assured that the ideas explored are of sufficient quality and nuance so as to be worthy of a place at the discussion table.

With that said, I would caution Ms. LaFrance to ensure that she doesn’t overcorrect in her attempts to seek out women as sources of information for future articles. Also, she has to find balance in terms of using the best source for the story vs. finding a female source. This dichotomy won’t exist in every circumstance, but she will definitely encounter it at some point.

Lastly, I do find her statement about the “pipeline problem” somewhat troubling. Her answer to the lack of women is that degree programs aren’t “inclusive.” I find that answer dissatisfactory because her narrative doesn’t give women agency. Her narrative presumes that women don’t have the power to make their own rational choices, and instead concludes that some institutional programs are actively preventing women from joining. Rather than empowering women, she undermines their power as free-thinking humans. The lack of agency in many narratives has become a systemic problem throughout the media and grossly distorts our understanding of the world.

Thanks to those who have taken the time to respond with such civility. Overcorrection won’t be a problem. The primary goal I have for my stories is to report and write to the best of my abilities. That isn’t going to change.

Here’s another way to think about improving diversity: The challenge I face is to take the extra time to find sources who aren’t necessarily the first to come to mind. I suspect that the result of such an exercise won’t just be that I’ll find more qualified women to mention in my stories, but also that I’ll get away from institutions I rely on, perhaps too heavily.

This isn’t about meeting quotas. Not at all. It’s about appreciating the complexities of the topics about which I report by looking outside of the familiar frameworks I’ve used to explore them.

I’m not sure where this reader got the idea that I suggested women don’t have free agency. Of course women make their own rational choices, which is why so many of them choose to leave programs and fields where faculty members favor male students, or where women are perceived as less talented (even by other women), or where women are paid less for doing the same job as their male colleagues, or where women are harassed or assaulted.

It’s seems as though this person is suggesting the “pipeline problem” isn’t a problem at all, or that perhaps women are to blame for it. (All this reminds me a bit of the study that analyzed comment sections of online articles about sexism in science, and how many people either justified gender biases or claimed they didn’t exist. The Washington Post wrote about it last year.)

I’ve never worked in science, but I can tell you about my own experience. I spent almost a decade in journalism before I ever worked in a newsroom run by a woman. Did this ever make me want to leave the industry? No. I worked with some exceptional editors, who happened to be men, during that time. But in newsrooms where all of the bosses are men, I have at times questioned how that hierarchical structure reflects the organization’s editorial output and cultural values. And I’ve noticed that many of the women, sooner or later, decide to leave.