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Opinion

Voices too often missing in op-ed land: women's

It's up to women and editors to create a better gender balance.

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It's important to make this distinction between the writers a newspaper hires to give their take on the world and those people who may submit an op-ed or two a year on subjects in their area of expertise. [Editor's note: The Christian Science Monitor's Opinion page does not have columnists. Women account for 30 percent of oped contributors so far in 2008.]

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A publication's staffed opinion writers' pool is a better instrument to judge its fairness, its dedication to diversity. A paper's roster of staff writers reflects its assessment of who is qualified to interpret the world. Using that rule, we must deduce that mainstream media believe men to be far more capable of analytical, reasoned thought. The responsibility for hiring smart, gifted writers of both sexes and all colors and viewpoints belongs to the editors – and it is their failure when they don't.

But the problem goes beyond the bylines. The dismal representation of women on the op-ed pages is just the tip of the iceberg. Research from the Annenberg Public Policy Institute found that just 3 percent of the "clout" positions – the owners, publishers, and other ultimate decisionmakers – are women. The net effect of this is that almost everything we know about our world is cast through the male perspective. Women are just beginning to catch on to this fact.

This lopsided state of affairs was one of the reasons the WMC was created. Through our Progressive Women's Voices program, our participants are given rigorous training that enables them to write and place opinion pieces in major newspapers.

We're not the only ones. The White House Project's SheSource.org program, the dedicated OpEd Project, the National Women's Editorial Forum, and Women's eNews all also tackle the supply problem by equipping women with the tools and confidence to submit op-eds. These organizations also play an important role in reminding editors and executives of the importance of women's voices on the opinion pages.

As long as editors can look in their inboxes and see that the men are writing and submitting at a higher rate than women, they can avoid tackling the institutional imbalances that perpetuate at the highest levels of media. Women have a responsibility to write and submit to the op-ed pages, to be a part of the national political debate.

But that isn't the whole story. Until editors, publishers, and owners demonstrate that they value women's voices and perspectives by hiring women as top-level decisionmakers and regular commentators, women will continue to look at newspaper opinion pages as a medium that does not speak to or for them.

Carol Jenkins is the president of the Women's Media Center. She is an Emmy award winning former television anchor and correspondent, known for her tenure with WNBC-TV in New York.

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