Times firing a step back for female journalists

Helen Lee, Editor-in-Chief

The executive editor of The New York Times was recently fired after less than three years on the job.

Jill Abramson was a symbol of triumph for women in the journalism field, having broken the notorious “glass ceiling” several years ago when she was hired by the Times.

Although the details on why she was fired remain unclear, CNN reports that Abramson had previously confronted her employers about her salary, which was reportedly lower than her male predecessor’s, Bill Keller.

Times publisher and Abramson’s boss, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., rejected the argument and claimed it was “an issue with management” in a speech to the newsroom on Wednesday.

But what exactly does “an issue with management” mean?

When a male boss is pushy, uncaring, and demanding, he is perceived as a strong leader. It is widely considered that these are characteristics needed to make difficult choices.

A female boss who displays those traits, however, is usually labeled as “bitchy” or “temperamental.” But when a woman asserts herself in major decisions and holds her staff to certain standards, she’s not throwing a tantrum. She’s not even moody. She’s just doing her job.

This double standard defines professional images for men and women. 

In American society, women are expected to be kind, caring, and compassionate. But when female bosses show typically male-associated dominating characteristics, those women are viewed as harsh and unfriendly, not good leaders. 

Take a look at Natalie Nougayrède, editor-in-chief of the French newspaper Le Monde, for instance. She, too, was recently forced out of her position as a result of attacks on her personality.

Nougayrède was called “Putin-like” and “authoritarian,” which are strict leadership traits that probably would have won her respect had she been a man.

Such accusations reek of sexism.

If Abramson’s firing had been a result of poor leadership, it would be understandable. But the Times won eight Pulitzer Prizes, digital paywall readership increased, and the company’s stock doubled under her watch, according to CNN.

Clearly, it was not an issue of Abramson’s abilities. Setting the particular details of Abramson aside, cases such as this one are still disturbingly familiar and occur all too often.

Despite all the progress women have made so far, equality in perception and compensation for all genders in the workplace is still a long way off.

Helen Lee can be reached at [email protected]