Guys Still Hog Role of Intellectual Heavy Weight

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Society has warmed up to women in many ways--but not in every way. Caryl Rivers says women are still shut out of the world of ideas. This month's news of all-male authors in Publishers Weekly's list of top 10 books for 2009 is the tip of the iceberg.

Editor's Note: The following is a commentary. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the views of Women's eNews.

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Caryl Rivers(WOMENSENEWS)--Is the world of ideas and information the last bastion of white male power?

Are men circling the wagons over this piece of turf? After all, a woman took over as president of Harvard, a woman leads Congress as Speaker of the House and a woman won a resounding re-election to lead Germany.

The space that used to belong only to men grows ever smaller.

However, the statistics about who is portrayed in the media as knowledgeable "talking heads," about who is credited with writing the most influential books and who gets bylines in the most respected intellectual magazines seem to change very little.

In a year that saw new books by Margaret Atwood, Louise Erdrich, Alice Munro, Jayne Anne Phillips, Helen Benedict and Barbara Ehrenreich, Publishers Weekly, or PW, came out with a list of top 10 books that was all male.

The PW list, which was released earlier this month, might not have the critical weight of the National Book Awards, but it does plug into the sensibilities of the commercial book market.

Author Louisa Ermelino, apparently one of the judges, writes on the PW Web site that they cast gender and politics aside in making their list. "It disturbed us when we were done that our list was all male," she said.

It disturbs me too, in a year when two of my favorite books were written by women and seem to offer far more interest and importance than many of the books on PW's top 10.

One, by Lise Eliot, takes an authoritative look at the science of children's brains in "Pink Brain, Blue Brain." The other, by Ellen Ruppel Shell, examines the consequences of our addiction to low prices in "Cheap."

Diane Sawyer Gains Anchor

Television news, meanwhile, defers to men in its own way.

Yes, it's great that Diane Sawyer will take over as network news anchor at ABC and joins Katie Curic at CBS in that prominent role.

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But look below the power surface and you'll still find that the purveyors and arbiters of "important" information on both networks and cable are still mainly white men.

The watchdog group Media Matters for America finds that on the Sunday "egghead" shows, men outnumber women 4-to-1. As Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz pointed out, the guests on these shows "have one thing in common. They don't wear pantyhose."

On cable, Media Matters found that of the 35 hosts and co-hosts, 29 were men, and all were white. Women did not make up at least half of the guests on a single one of the three cable networks, and on some networks they were as scarce as 18 percent.

Copyright 2009 Women's eNews. The information contained in this Women's eNews report may--with the prior written authorization of Women's eNews--be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.

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Two comments:
Margaret Atwood's "The Waterless Flood" is the best and most important book of the year, without exception. How could they possibly miss this?
In standing for women's accomplishments, what do you find is your reaction to the name "Florence Nightengale"? I imagine it is a reaction of amusement and pity, at the thought that she could possibly be an important woman in human history. In other words, we are all subject to our own version of demeaning women's accomplishments, and thus not learning enough about them to understand their importance.