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Gee, Katie - just noticing this now, are we?

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January 19th, 2007

Gee, Katie - just noticing this now, are we?
By Guest Blogger Anna Clark

Something was “a little disconcerting” about the Big Time White House Meeting for top journalists that Katie Couric attended last week, immediately before George W. Bush’s recent speech on Iraq.

On her CBS News blog, Couric finally noted what feminist watchdogs have decried all along:

“As I was looking at my colleagues around the room—Charlie Gibson, George Stephanopoulos, Brian Williams, Tim Russert, Bob Schieffer, Wolf Blitzer, and Brit Hume—I couldn’t help but notice, despite how far we’ve come, that I was still the only woman there. Well, there was some female support staff near the door. But of the people at the table, the ‘principals’ in the meeting, I was the only one wearing a skirt…

“…That meeting was a reality check for me—and not just about Iraq. It was a reminder that all of us still have an obligation to ask: Don’t more women deserve a place at the table too?”

Yes, Katie, they most definitely do. Women belong in top-level journalism and government. And I’m grateful that a woman whose reached the top of her field has put the question out there. Why haven’t we yet seen gender parity in either of these fields?

Now, Couric never goes so far as to speculate why it might not be a mere coincidence that she’s the only female with enough clout to be at the Big Meeting. She utters nary a word about sexist habits, policies, and assumptions that quietly cut women out of serious reporting and elected positions–creating a society with a 75 year gap between when women got the vote and when a woman was finally entrusted as Speaker of the House, or as broadcaster for major network news.

Still, Couric’s observation about the lack of women in journalism and politics was enough for her to be soundly bludgeoned by the public.

We get these little gems from the 80 responses Couric got within 72 hours of her post:

“Yes, the characature (sic) of many female managers being particularly more defensive and standoffish with female coworkers is true. Yes, the catty, ‘just HAVE to get it in there’ comment by women is true. And, yes, there IS a reason why there were more men at that table,” writes GHGore, only to be matched by rlbaker0000: “Perhaps Ms. Couric would have been satisfied had a few women been selected at random from the Washington phone book and invited to attend.”

Commenters whipped themselves into a frenzy as they blamed women for the fact that there’s a single woman at the table: women haven’t earned they’re place, they’re not as qualified as the “august group” of men Couric listed, they’d rather stay home, and other such blather.

Antillo99 put it most bluntly: “Historically, though, women were excluded for two reasons. The positions are highly intelligent and stressful.” Once they prove they can take the heat, Antillo99 argues, then men will deign to elect them into high-level office.

It’s frightening that even the mere observation about the lack of gender equality in politics and journalism can stir up such ugly sentiments. And it’s not just Couric’s post where we see it. With Chris Matthews’ going-ons about how women’s voices are too “grating” to hear, and the easy slapdown of “bitch” thrown at assertive women in leadership roles, it’s time we point out were the responsibility really lies. It is not a woman’s fault if she’s discouraged at every turn from taking on top positions. It is not a woman’s fault that she–and not any of those men who shared the table with Couric–still operates under the expectation that she must take top responsibility for keeping house, making dinner, and caring for her kids; as if any career ambitions she might have are nothing more than a hobby or a lark.

Such assumptions can only be countered by an onslaught of reason, from the continued good work of Women In Media & News, Womentk, the Women’s Media Center and smart feminists everywhere. And it can be counteered by examples–by spotlighting the accomplished women already out there, succeeding in a hostile environment. Women–from Laurie Abraham to Amy Goodman to Sonali Kolhatkar, from Nancy Pelosi to Debbie Stabenow–are performing at the absolute highest level of journalism and government.

They are what’s possible. We are what’s possible. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

BIO: Guest blogger Anna Clark is a fiction writer and freelance journalist living in Boston, MA. She maintains the literary weblog, Isak and is a live-in member of the intentional community at Haley House. She earned her MFA from Warren Wilson College.

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