In the scramble to pinpoint the reason for Jill Abramson's unceremonious ouster from The New York Times earlier this month, pundits floated countless theories about the players involved. Many of them included descriptions of Abramson tinged with sexist undertones. Her colleagues found her "unpopular." "Unreasonable." "Pushy."
Despite the media's eagerness to paint Abramson as a victim of sexism (a claim the Times vehemently denied), Nic Subtirelu, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Applied Linguistics and ESL at Georgia State University, wrote on his blog Linguistic Pulse that he was "suspicious of the possibility that these descriptions had an element of gender bias to them." Using the Corpus of Contemporary American English, a database of more than 450 million words of text taken from two decades of fiction, newspapers, magazines and academic texts, Subtirelu found hundreds of examples of certain words being used to describe people -- pushy, brusque, stubborn and condescending -- and looked at whether they were applied more often to women or men.
Women, he found, are labeled "pushy" twice as often as men.
"Women were already saying they're called 'pushy' more than men. It's not that I came up with that idea," Subtirelu told The Huffington Post. "It's a principled way of providing [statistics] for the naysayers out there."
Men, on the other hand, are more likely to be described as "condescending" -- but, as Subtirelu writes, that does not suggest a "balance has been struck." Implicit in condescending is an acknowledgement that the person is in power, looking down. Pushy carries no such connotation.
Whatever the reasons behind Abramson's firing, she has since become a stand-in for all female leaders who face specific challenges simply because they are women -- including lower salaries and a sense that they can either be seen as likable or competent, but not both. As Subtirelu's analysis suggests, female leaders in the workplace are often subject to their own brand of scrutiny. Here are just a few of the names powerful women have been called.
View interactive here.
Interactive by Alissa Scheller for The Huffington Post.