Keep Your Paper

Image

It is Sunday morning and I am drinking coffee and waiting for the New York Times to arrive on the porch. I open my computer to see what’s happening on email and Facebook. A friend from high school has posted another article about the firing of Times editor Jill Abramson and I am reminded of a conversation I had last night with my husband about this topic. When the Abramson story first broke I reserved judgment thinking there’s always more to it than the simple narrative. But days later and with lots of journalists keenly interested in finding out what really happened, it doesn’t seem like much more than those old boys just didn’t like her.

It really probably is as simple as that. They didn’t like her for reasons that are deeply embedded in who they are and how they see the world. They can justify it with examples, but I think the truth is they didn’t like a strong woman who is competitive and doesn’t care if people like her. This is something that liberal progressive politics cannot talk them out of.

I could just say, damn that’s sexism. If she were a man they wouldn’t hold her to the same standard. And then I’d move on to the next story. But this morning waiting for my newspaper, suddenly I feel sick about it.

Walking to the porch to see if the paper is there, the girls in Nigeria come to mind. Somehow this seems related. The men kidnapping them as though they were objects to be stolen. News media and politicians rising up in protest. The slogan: Bring back our girls. I heard a story on NPR recently about people in Nigeria feeling glad that the world was suddenly paying attention to their plight with Boko Haram, but also wondering why it took this incident with the girls to get them to notice. A report last November from Human Rights Watch showed that Boko Haram routinely abducts women and girls and uses children as young as twelve to fight as soldiers. The group has been terrorizing and killing people in the region since 2009.

I am glad the world is paying attention to what is happening in Nigeria and like everyone else I am horrified at what happened to the more than two hundred girls. I hope sincerely that they are returned safely to their families and communities. When I first heard about it, I thought of their parents and my heart sank with fear and grief.

I wonder if it were a group of boys kidnapped to be soldiers, would the world respond in the same way? I have two boys and their innocence and hopefulness for the future is no different than any of the terrific girls we know in our community. Last February, an attack by Boko Haram in the middle of the night at a boarding school killed twenty nine boys, many of them burned to death. We didn’t hear much about it.

Why do we make this distinction? It cuts both ways. On the one hand, being female can cost you the job of your dreams, the one you worked for your entire career and devoted your life to. On the other hand, being female can save your life and maybe turn around the fate of an entire country.

In Buddhist writings about feminism, the interesting topic of essentialism is raised. In this short article in Tricycle magazine, the author quotes Nancy Baker, a professor of philosophy at Sarah Lawrence College. “There’s a strong streak of anti-essentialism in feminism, just as there is in Buddhism,” says Baker. “It is the understanding that something like gender is not fixed or absolute, that not all women or men have some masculine or feminine essence that defines us. To put it in Buddhist terms, gender has no ‘self-nature.'”

Wouldn’t it be better if we could let Jill Abramson do what she does well (the paper won eight Pulitzers under her leadership) and let her be herself without fear of losing her job? And wouldn’t it be better if we felt the call to action as much for those young school boys who lost their lives in Nigeria as much as we do for the girls who are missing? How are we serving ourselves or each other with these notions of gender? Maybe I’ll think about that today instead of reading the newspaper. Which, by the way, never came.

Advertisements

About jubuhoo

I am a writer and editor in Seattle, Washington. I live with my two children, my husband, and our surly cat. View all posts by jubuhoo

3 responses to “Keep Your Paper

  • Jaymee Lundin

    Love this, Stace.

  • gawain kripke (@niawag2011)

    nice one, stacey. I see a lot of complexity in both the Chibok girls case and the NYT case. In both, I see a benefit to the robust – nearly excessive attention paid. The idea that girls – or boys – can be killed or abducted en masse with so little attention is horrifying to me. So, if the girls bring that political attention and hopefully some constructive solutions to the situation, then great. The fact that they were abducted rather than simply murdered has given the world some hope for their recovery – and that is part of the difference between the boys’ massacre (which I did read about at the time) and the girls’ abduction.

    There are still a lot of rumors on abramson, and the story is spooling out. But it’s hard not to think this fits a broader pattern/problem. And a lot of the details tend to confirm this rather than refute. I start with a presumption of guilt by the publisher – and to some extent the newsroom – of treating her differently and prejudicially than they would have for a male editor. That doesn’t mean she didn’t do things wrong. She made enemies and had allies. That would be true for anyone in her position. But that they were firing offenses probably reflects her gender and innate sexism of those in power. If you haven’t, read susan glasser’s piece on this also: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/05/editing-while-female-jill-abramson-106782.html#.U3wzCMfkPqM

  • jubuhoo

    Gawain, I agree entirely with everything you said in your comment. Regarding the situation in Nigeria, I mentioned the possible scenario of kidnapped boys to be soldiers as a way of thinking about how we might respond differently were the situation essentially the same. I think you are right that the hope of saving the girls is a huge motivator for action.

    I also agree with what you said about Abramson. I have also heard that she could be acerbic. An old U.S. News colleague of mine made the point well that we should be expecting all editors to be civil and respectful rather than trying to make it okay for both genders to be jerks. Still, the point you made about who gets fired for being difficult to deal with and who doesn’t goes to the heart of the problem.

    Thanks for sending this link. Very interesting read on this topic.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: