THE BLOG
09/21/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Boys Bite Beast

Traitors to white male privilege, there are quite a few unsung men of feminist values in the world. So why are the unsung not more "sung"? The patriarchy is a system that is a "beast" and doesn't reward the boys that bite the hand that feeds them. In a glaring exception to the rule, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert recently wrote a stunning anti-sexist piece. It's rare that a person with such valuable newspaper real estate will have the guts to out himself as a feminist -- or at least, feminist sympathizer. Essentially, Herbert trumpets a heartfelt clarion call for people to wake up to the mostly hidden, unarticulated misogyny in the U.S., using the incidents of mass slaughter of women and girls as proof of its pervasiveness. (Read Bob Herbert's op-ed piece here: http://tinyurl.com/l79ks8)

Herbert writes, "We have become so accustomed to living in a society saturated with misogyny that the barbaric treatment of women and girls has come to be more or less expected. We profess to being shocked at one or another of these outlandish crimes, but the shock wears off quickly in an environment in which the rape, murder and humiliation of females is not only a staple of the news, but an important cornerstone of the nation's entertainment."

Indeed. What makes Herbert's observations more credible than the hundreds, perhaps thousands of women -- journalists, self-defense teachers, scholars, professors, activists -- who have been saying the same thing for thirty years, in articles, books and sometimes even the media? He's a man!

Even Herbert's own paper, the New York Times, the so-called "Gray Lady" with its motto, "All the news that's fit to print," has a shockingly low number of regular opinion columnists who are female. Gail Collins became the first female Editorial Page Editor in 2001! Geez. She now has a regular column there. OOOOh, let's not get too modern, Gray Lady!

Don't you get it? Opinion pages are very, very powerful in shaping the national discourse. Although the NYT is criticized for being a liberal paper, for at least half of the population it can be predictably counted on to leave out women. As a news organization, you could say it preaches to the already male-dominant "choir." If you leave out half the choir -- sopranos, mezzos and altos -- you get a very odd bass and tenor tune that becomes the norm. If you have a dominant male world view, it's easy to be oblivious to the experience, concerns, fears, neglectful and often violent treatment of the rest of us. I say denying public voice to women is an act of neglect and creates an environment conducive to violence.

Besides Gail Collins, who is a tempered and thoughtful voice, there is only one other regular female columnist at the NYT: Maureen Dowd. Dowd is a very high soprano -- I can barely hide my contempt here, so I won't really try -- who is so strident, sharp and snarky, one wonders how she ever got a column anywhere, let alone the premiere paper of the U.S. If I had her tone as a feminist, I'd never be listened to anywhere, let alone in a national publication. But I believe, since she's rather predictably "anti-feminist," she gets to sing her song on a regular basis. (She's so anti-Clinton -- both of them -- that she comes off as a spurned lover in her hatred toward them. So odd.) It's shocking that the editors see Dowd's opinions "fit to print" sometimes: she often comes off more like a gossip columnist than an intellect.

So kudos to the NYT for running Gail Collins, Bob Herbert and Nicholas Kristof as regulars. Kristof especially is a voice for the largely voiceless women of the world. While I'd like to see him address domestic misogyny more, he's a true champion for women and girls of the developing world and really "gets" the tragic waste of treating females of the world as chattel and beasts of burden.

In some societies and in our own recent history, a woman's testimony in court counted for only half of what a man's did. Bob Herbert's "witnessing" of misogyny carries far more weight in modern journalism than any woman's. Just as the African slaves needed the voices of white privilege to help them win their freedom, women and girls need men and boys who are willing to articulate the injustice they see toward their mothers, sisters, daughters and wives. Please sing out, men. Louder. More often. Help the women singers get heard too.