Jill Abramson. (AP Photo/Evan Agostini)
Feminists put up with a lot: the mainstream media constantly announcing the movement’s death, mansplainers, stereotypes about Birkenstocks. The whole pervasive political and cultural sexism thing is no picnic, either. But there’s one thorn in this particular feminist’s side that beats all others—the inability of some men to believe and trust women when they say something is sexist.
Dylan Byers is a perfect example. Early this week, Byers wrote a Politico piece alleging that New York Times editor Jill Abramson was “on the verge of losing the support of the newsroom.” Using anonymous sources, Byers claimed Abramson was “condescending,” “difficult to work with,” “unreasonable” and “uncaring.” Staffers, Byers writes, “question whether she has the temperament to lead the paper.”
Critics pointed out that a similar piece would probably not have been written about a male editor, given that the qualities described as problematic in Abramson are almost always seen as a positive or unremarkable in men. After all, is it really news that a boss can be bossy?
It didn’t help that Byers included a reporter’s description of Abramson’s voice as a “nasal car honk”—shades of calling Hillary Clinton’s voice shrill or cackling—and wrote that a male editor driving his fist through a wall was looked upon “fondly,” while Abramson telling a staffer to leave a meeting to work is somehow monstrous.
Byers responded today to critics in much the same way that some of my more whiny sexist Twitter followers do—defensively and without much new to add. He seems to believe those who thought the piece was sexist simply can’t stomach criticizing a woman: “The idea that women who shatter the glass ceiling should be immune to criticism of their leadership style is itself a dubious double standard.”
No one—especially not the editor of The New York Times—should be beyond critique. But the characterizations of Abramson weren’t criticisms, they were complaints. There hasn’t been a spate of firings or high=profile departures to link Abramson to, and the paper just won four Pulitzers; without any substance to back up Byers’s claims, the piece comes as a well-worn caricature of the bitchy boss.
Byers also writes today that he “did not see it as fitting to interject gender into a story that was, as I saw it, not about gender.” He says because his sources assured him their grievances were not about Abramson’s being a female boss, the article couldn’t possibly be sexist. Leaving that head-scratcher aside—even if the hurt fee fees over Abramson’s “brusqueness” aren’t about her gender, the only reason this handful of complaints constitutes news is precisely because of her gender. As Emily Bell at The Guardian wrote, “When was the last time the approachability of a male editor made for copy?”
Here’s the thing. I understand not giving a ton of weight to the opinion of randoms on the Internet, I really do. But when your peers, writers who specialize in gender issues and Pulitzer Prize–winning journalists are all telling you the same thing, perhaps you should momentarily take you fingers out of your ears. And maybe, just maybe, these people are better judges of what is sexist than someone who seems to have a penchant for writing questionable pieces on prominent women.
I imagine that like me, the other women who criticized Byers’s piece are exhausted by all of this. We spend so much time explaining over and over to people why something is sexist that we barely have time to actually fight said sexism. So to all the well-meaning men out there, please consider giving women the benefit of the doubt. We know sexism when we see it better than you do. Do us a favor and trust us.
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