It is a truth universally acknowledged that smart women have ideas to contribute to the public dialogue.
And yet … somehow we continue to underutilize this valuable resource.
A new study shows a significant lack of women’s voices and perspectives on foreign policy in the op-ed pages of the four largest U.S. newspapers – The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and the Los Angeles Times.
Foreign Policy Interrupted, an organization that aims to increase female voices in the foreign policy arena, studied foreign policy op-eds in those publications in the years 1996, 2006, and 2016.
FPI identified 3,758 foreign policy op-eds across the three one-year periods. Among the topics addressed were: global affairs, national security, nuclear war, development, human rights, defense, global trade and commerce, and bilateral and multilateral issues.
Only 15 percent of the op-eds – that’s 568 – were written by women.
“We’re trying to even that imbalance by saying there are women out there,” says Bayrasli. “It’s just a matter of how can we get them on the op-ed page and get them on television talking about this on a level equal to that of men.”
The FPI review – with support from Bard College’s Globalization and International Affairs Program – showed that the share of women’s bylines overall has increased only by about 7 percentage points each decade. Across the four publications, the proportion of op-eds written by women increased from 8 percent in 1996, to 15 percent in 2006, to 19 percent in 2016.
As the editors note, at that rate there won’t be gender parity until 2056.
Why should we care?
Because op-eds are a uniquely powerful vehicle for establishing values, influencing public opinion, and shaping policy. Recent research confirms that op-eds really do affect how people think about issues of the day.
In a study published this spring in The Quarterly Journal of Political Science, researchers asked participants to read op-eds arguing for various political policies, then tested the participants on their views. The researchers measured a distinct shift in support of the arguments made in the op-eds.
“The main finding was a large increase in agreement based on the op-eds—something on the order of 10 to 15 percentage points,” says Yale political scientist Alexander Coppock.
A shortage of female contributors to the op-ed mix means the absence of a valuable pool of talent, knowledge, and insight. When women’s expertise is not in the mix, our culture, our society, and our world are all the poorer for it.
As Bayrasli and Bohn point out in The New York Times: “When you incubate diverse voices, you incubate diverse ideas and diverse approaches to foreign policy challenges — and ultimately cultivate more opportunities for solutions.”
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