February 17, 2005,
Here's one for the No Good Deed Goes Unpunished file: On Feb. 13, the Los Angeles Times published a special Sunday opinion section featuring exclusively women writers in the first few pages. Two pieces were from the left: Science writer Deborah Blum regretted that that there are too few women scientists, while academics Caryl Rivers and Rosalind Barrett coauthored an argument against the notion that men are generally attracted to young, pretty women over high-achievers. Two were from the right: I suggested that perhaps women shouldn't be pushed against their will toward science careers (a longer version of this is up now at the Independent Women's Forum), and IWF coeditor Charlotte Allen lamented that feminist ideologues have replaced public intellectuals who happen to be women.
In response, USC law professor and Fox News pundit Susan Estrich sent an angry mass e-mail the next day to her rich and powerful contacts; she urged them to complain to Times editors and boycott Times advertisers until the paper includes more women in the opinion section. "For the last three years, my students and I have been counting the number of women whose opinion pieces appear in the Los Angeles Times, and the record is worse than dismal," she wrote. "Things have gone from bad to worse under the leadership of the new opinion editor, Michael Kinsley, who replaced an African-American woman..."
At this point you might be wondering: How, exactly, is a special all-female editorial package an affront to feminism? Apparently because the most prominently featured piece in Sunday's section was by Charlotte Allen, who, as Estrich explained to her e-mail list, is "a feminist-hater I have never heard of...her only book was about Jesus and religion" ergo, she's obviously a wacky redneck fundamentalist. Actually, Charlotte Allen is a pretty well-known religious scholar. Early Christianity is not exactly one of my areas of expertise, but even I had heard of her book The Human Christ: The Search for the Historical Jesus, years before I started writing for IWF.
What's more, Estrich continued, Charlotte works for the dreaded IWF, "a group of right-wing women who exist to get on TV and get in newspapers attacking the likes of us...a lot of them turn out to be the wives of guys you see on right-wing talk shows." As opposed to the wives on Susan Estrich's Hollywood-heavy mailing list like the ex-Mrs. Jerry Bruckheimer, Mrs. Larry David, Mrs. Jonathan Dolgen, Mrs. Peter Norton, Mrs. Richard Riordan, Mrs. Haim Saban, and the ex-Mrs. Bud Yorkin every one of whom is of course fiercely independent of any income or name recognition provided by men.
"There are more wonderful women writers in L.A. than anywhere in the country; none of them are asked to write for the Opinion section," Estrich continued. Hey, what am I, chopped liver? (O.K., technically, I wasn't asked, I invited myself. Story of my life!) Obviously, what's really bugging Estrich is that not enough of the right kind of women were asked, and by this I don't think she just means her own syndicated column, which doesn't appear in the Times. "Ms. Magazine is based here, [editor] Elaine Lafferty finds phenomenonal writers, neither she nor them is in the Times," Estrich complained.
Now the Ms. situation is actually kind of noteworthy, because I can't think of any other brand name that remains so well known while representing a product that practically no one ever sees or even realizes still exists. A few years ago, Feminist Majority Foundation president Peg Yorkin tried to revive the fading magazine by moving it from New York to her home base of L.A. Media coverage of this was practically nil, but I was interested and tried to interview someone from the FMF for Reason magazine. A spokeswoman nixed that idea, saying she'd found some articles on the Reason website "anti-feminist."
Such Big Nurse control-freakism is typical of party-line feminists, who've developed a habit of excommunicating anyone who dissents from their received wisdom. When Susan Estrich complains that there aren't enough L.A. women writers in the Times, I doubt she'd be appeased if, say, they began running columns by KABC talk radio host Tammy Bruce, author of The Death of Right and Wrong: Exposing the Left's Assault on Culture and Values. Bruce, whom I admire as a true feminist because she's always valued women's welfare over general loyalty to the Left, was head of the National Organization of Women's L.A. chapter in the '90s. But she fell out with NOW's national leadership for making "racially insensitive" remarks on the air about O. J. Simpson's being a wife-beater.
But back to Susan Estrich, and her rather lapidary view of the male-to-female opinion ratio at the Times. At this point her rant becomes so enraged it shifts to upper-case: "THIRTEEN MEN AND NO WOMEN" on Iraq, she complains. "TWENTY-FOUR MEN AND ONE WOMAN IN A THREE-DAY PERIOD." Whenever I read this sort of thing, that old '60s song "Counting Flowers On the Wall" always begins to play in my head ("Watchin' Captain Kangaroo, now don't tell M-E-E-E... I got nothin' to D-O-O-O") but actually, Estrich seems to have turned much of this research over to her students.
"If you knew how hard my students and I have been fighting to have women's voices included," she sadly informs her mailing list. Over at the IWF, Charlotte Allen had an apt response to that part of Estrich's letter: "Your 'students,' Susan? I thought you were supposed to be teaching law over there at USC you know, torts, contracts, that kind of thing not lining up young people to do free research for your pet ideological projects."
Meanwhile, this week the D.C. Examiner has (along with Susan Estrich's e-mail and Charlotte Allen's blog post) a response from Michael Kinsley, who observes: "I'm sorry that [Estrich] has 'never heard' of Charlotte Allen, but I think it may be possible to be a woman even if Susan Estrich has never heard of you." And: "If Susan wants to boycott media institutions that don't adequately reflect her progressive feminist values, maybe she should start by resigning from Fox News."
The Susan Estrich e-mail bomb highlights a big problem with the women's movement now: Its spokeswomen just don't sound very smart, and haven't for a long time. A few years ago Boston University journalism professor Caryl Rivers, railing against the notion of liberal bias in the media, complained in a Boston Globe opinion piece that NOW and FMF leaders don't appear on talk shows or in newspaper opinion sections as often as those from the relatively tiny IWF. Rivers made a good point, even if it wasn't exactly the one she was trying to make. Mainstream media are generally sympathetic to the NOW and FMF platforms, so if feminist leaders aren't appearing on op-ed pages very much, the likely reason is they're failing to come up with fresh or convincing arguments.
Frankly I'd miss these girls if they disappeared, though, because they are such entertaining characters. Not everyone agrees, at least not at first. An irritable friend of mine, watching the news at my house one evening, yelled to turn the TV down whenever Susan Estrich came on her voice does make Carol Channing sound like a lyric soprano. But after a while he began to soften.
"It's interesting and kind of a shame," he said thoughtfully, watching Estrich (volume lowered) on Fox News, "that for all the many opportunities open to a woman of such accomplishment and background editor of the Harvard Law Journal, TV pundit, etc. that one is forever closed to her: phone-sex operator."
Catherine Seipp is a writer in California who publishes the weblog Cathy's World. She is an NRO contributor.