Where are the female op-ed columnists?

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By Akola Thompson

A FEW DAYS AGO, I came across a column written in 2013 by Stella Ramsaroop in Stabroek News asking, “Where are the women columnists?” She wondered why newspapers were so reluctant to hire women to write upon “political, business and social issues,” and closed with an ardent wish to see more women in the column pages. Fast-forward three years, Stella is no longer a columnist and the representation of women in the columns section in Stabroek has virtually remained the same.

Currently, the majority of journalists in Guyana are women. Despite this, not one woman serves as an editor-in-chief at their respective media houses and a small amount of women ever make it into the column pages. In that small amount of female columnists, there’s even a smaller amount of ones who write op-ed. With this in mind, I would like to take Stella’s question one-step further and ask, where are the female op-ed columnists?

I must say now that I do not think the problem lies only in the male to female ratio with op-eds. Diversity in columns, I believe is not only measured by race, gender or age, but content as well. While many news papers have more than four men writing about politics and societal ills, women are seen as a ‘special interest,’ in that one is enough, the same way one colored person in a club filled with Caucasians might be seen as enough for token representation.

I am not sure whether editors-in-chief believe that no one in possession of two X chromosomes has the analytical powers to comment upon their society, but most of the women they do choose to employ as columnists can be seen as mere tokens as they rarely, if ever, cover issues which are not traditionally ‘feminine’ such as fashion, health and make-up.

I wonder if the visible small number of op-ed female writers has anything to do with women being more liberal than their male counterparts. I believe this may have a small part in it, as the media these days often tends to be conservative in an effort to not to offend Guyana conservative readership.

Currently, there are six weekly female columnists at the Guyana Chronicle, of which only one, yours truly, is op-ed. In Stabroek News, there are three weekly female columnists. Of the three, only one, Mosa Telford whose column is actually more recent than mine, is op-ed. I am not quite sure how many weekly female columnists currently write for Kaieteur News, but what I do know is that none of them are op-ed.

Female commentators I believe, threaten editors, as they do not fit into easily marketable niches and often, editors believe women should fit into their ideals of who women are and what they think.

When I applied to be a columnist at the Guyana Chronicle, while the relevance was lost on me at the time the editor most likely realised that I would have been the youngest columnist in the country and asked me to write on youth issues. While it was slightly different from the way female columnists are asked to fit into an ideal for their editors, it was telling.

Women remain on the back burner when it comes on commenting upon their country’s issues, be they social, cultural, political or a mixture of all. Reasons for this evident gap includes but are certainly not limited to sexism, reluctant women and resistance to change by editors.

I know that there are many women who shirk away from op-ed because they want to be liked or simply do not believe it to be their cup of tea. They choose to remain silent because they know that if they dare step out of their predetermined ‘roles’ they may be attacked. I can understand this fear. Since I have begun writing, I have had my intelligence, analytical skills and mental capacity questioned. I don’t necessarily see these instances as bad ones but satisfying in that I am upsetting those so comfortable in their beliefs and opinions that they cannot see or feel anything else. That being said, I also know that there are many women who have highly analytical skills and who want to write but are hindered by society’s preconceived notions about their gender.

Trying to place us into tidy boxes and reducing us to hoary subaltern stereotypes are not giving female op-ed writers the chance to properly contribute to public discourse. With more than half of our population being given no substantial voice, it is not surprising that not many realize the still patriarchal society in which we live and not surprising that hardly anyone asks, where are the women?