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Why women don't write: time, fear, and society get the blame for lack of letters from women writers. Still, the Courant took steps to make editorial pages more inviting to women. (Symposium).

Although the Hartford Courant had long known that men wrote the majority of printed letters, we decided to investigate why.

The project is part of a long-term effort to promote diversity and make the opinion pages more appealing to women.

We began last year with a content analysis, which showed that two-thirds of published letters are from men. Editors then counted all incoming letters by gender to determine if what we published reflected what we received. The count confirmed that, indeed, almost exactly two-thirds of all letter writers were men.

We had some theories about why, but wanted to get feedback. So, in a Sunday Commentary cover story, we asked readers to tell us why more women don't submit letters. The response was spirited. We received about 150 letters, all but about 10 from women. The biggest reason was summed up aptly by the woman who wrote a two-word response: "Too busy:'

Many women said they were stretched to the limit, and the last thing in the world they had time for was writing letters to the editor.

The next biggest reason was fear. Several women related instances of having written letters and then having received harassing phone calls at home, even though the Courant does not give out letter writers' telephone numbers. A dozen respondents said they would write letters to the editor only on condition that their names and towns not be printed.

Other women said they had submitted letters that had not been published and, therefore, they had stopped writing.

Many responses could not be placed into neat categories because they involved perceptions about the role of women in society and about how women view themselves.

Some women said they assumed that letters from men would get preference, or that a woman's opinion would not be taken seriously, or that they were raised to think their opinions don't count as much as men's do.

A few men wrote to say that the Courant has no business categorizing letter writers by gender. Catherine B. Schmidt of Wethersfield also found the question offensive. "What's next, a survey of readers' nationality, religion, or marital status?" she asked.

More than two pages were devoted to the responses in a subsequent Sunday Commentary section. A summary follows:

The time factor

A working mother from a suburban town sent eight pages detailing her busy day, minute by minute, from 6 a.m. ("alarm sounded") to 11:08 p.m. ("get ready for bed"). She said that she had no time left over to write letters.

Others wrote that it is difficult trying to balance the demands of work and home.

Some evidence shows that lack of time genuinely prevents women from writing. During the Christmas shopping season, which begins on the day after Thanksgiving and ends on December 31, the rate of letters sent by women dropped substantially last year. Barely 11% of the letters received came from women, a sign that women bear a major share of the responsibility for holiday preparation.

The drop-off was all the more startling because it occurred at a time when the total volume of letters increased substantially because of the Courant's endorsement of George W. Bush for president and the extended delay in counting the votes in Florida.

A plea for anonymity

Some writers urged the Courant to change its policy against printing unsigned letters. One anonymous writer said, "If you printed only our first or last names and no town, you might be inundated with our letters."

Another woman wrote, "The one and only time I did write, I received an anonymous reply at my home address. I felt vulnerable. I will not again expose myself or my family to unwanted harassment and potential harm."

From time to time, the Courant has reviewed its policy of identifying all letter writers by their full name and town, and for now has opted to stick with it. The primary reason is credibility. People tend to be more responsible when they are accountable for the information that appears over their names.

Societal influences

Many women addressed themes about the different ways men and women communicate, and the general perception that women's views are not as important as men's.

"Our society still raises women to be less assertive than men and to uncritically accept the opinions of established authority figures. In contrast, society encourages men to state their views, often and loudly," wrote Heather Munro Prescott, chair of the history department at Central Connecticut State University.

Some writers said the newspaper's content generally appeals more to men.

"Most articles are about business, crime, politics, and sports. Men are usually more interested than women in those types of articles," one woman wrote.

This theory may have some validity. News topics that are more likely to involve women, such as abortion, the shortage of nurses, or sexual harassment, generate more letters from women. Still, reader surveys show that the Courant's editorial pages are read by as many women as men.

Some women suggested that women communicate better orally. One writer said women are more action-oriented and would rather do something about a problem than write about it.

At first, more wrote

For a few months after the Commentary section was published, the proportion of letters from women increased slightly. Then the numbers settled back to women writing about one-third of letters.

Nevertheless, the project was useful. It sensitized us to be more aware of the imbalance and to continually make sure we're not doing things that discourage women from writing letters.

Meanwhile, the Courant has taken steps to make the editorial pages more inviting to women, such as hiring more women on the editorial staff, adding columns by women, and writing more editorials on topics that appeal to women.

And the Courant continues to track letters by gender.

A matter of gender: Letters to the 'Courant'

Ask men to share the load

Hello! The Courant should be embarrassed to even ask! Who has time to write to the Courant, let alone read it, when most women hold down full-time jobs, go home to clean the house, go grocery shopping, cook dinner, take the kids to doctors' appointments, sports practice, religious school, and music lessons, and do several loads of laundry per day.

In addition, some women care for elderly relatives, volunteer for the PTO, run scout troops, and go to college part time.

The solution? How about if each of the men who are writing to the Courant volunteer to do some of these chores for one woman for one hour so that she could (a.) read the Courant and (b.) write a letter to the Courant?

Donna Blair Morrison

West Hartford

Women have strong opinions

It's not that we aren't opinionated. Of course we are, and we're usually not shy about telling our friends, family, and business associates what we think.

We're just too busy with family, community service, friends, and jobs to write letters that reflect our true feelings. In fact, many working women have told me they are too busy to read the daily newspaper. Because it's important to me, I make time.

However, when I'm extremely pressed for time, several days of newspapers pile up for reading later. When 1 do read the newspaper later, of course I have feelings, but any letters I would write then would seem outdated.

It could also be that most women are more concerned about letting their acquaintances know how they feel than telling their feelings to the readership of the Courant.

Kay Page Greaser

Barkhamsted

Question is offensive

The story "Wanted: An Answer To Why Fewer Women Write Letters To The Editor" was the most offensive article I have ever read. I am fascinated how the Courant can blatantly print verbiage that potentially casts it in the role of racist.

If the Courant believes that more men writing letters to the editor automatically constitutes an imbalance, then logically part of the remedy to correct this imbalance must be to choose to print letters based on the sex of the writer.

How can the Courant endorse a policy of exclusion?

I suppose, based on the fact that the Courant is trying to correct a disparity in letter writing, the odds of this letter being printed are severely diminished. That is fine with me, because after reading the article about the supposed diversity efforts, I have become ashamed to read the newspaper.

Joseph A. O'Donnell

Simsbury

It's an ego thing

Women are busier than men. We, in fact, enable men to find the time to sit on their butts and write to you. We have as many and perhaps more responses, but we do not feel compelled to see these in print. It's the male ego.

I do not presume that others want to hear my opinion. Men, on the other hand, feel a need to be in our faces, putting out their thoughts for the world to bear witness. I don't need that reaffirmation.

Andrea Volpe

Wethersfield

From the listserv

In state, out of state

At yesterday's Argus Leader editorial board meeting, one of the members asked about out-of-state letters. We have had a number submitted...on our Web site....My publisher asked me to send a query to the listserv, to poll editors who have online products, for policies on out-of-state letters.

--Shirley Ragsdale, former editorial page editor, Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, S.D., now editorial columnist, Des Moines Register, Des Moines, Iowa

We take almost no letters from outside our area. First preference goes to the people who live in Marion and Polk counties; then, if we have room, we take letters from three adjacent counties.

However, because we are a state capital we do allow people to write if they work in Marion and Polk counties.

Many Web-site letters are boiler-plate -- sent to every Web site they can think of.

--Dick Hughes, editorial page editor, Statesman Journal, Salem, Ore.

To be published...letters must meet at least one of three conditions:

1. They are responding directly to one of our local stories or our editorials.

2. The writer has a personal tie to the area.

3. A writer is commenting on something he or she saw or experienced while visiting the city or state.

--Karl Seitz, editorial page editor, Birmingham Post-Herald

We're a 40 thou AM/Sun in Ohio west of Cleveland. We usually publish only letters from local and regional sources.

--Richard D. Henrickson, editorial page editor, The Morning Journal, Lorain, Ohio

Bill William is an editorial writer and former letters editor and David Medina is letters editor of The Hartford Courant. E-mail them at bwilliam@courant.com and medina@courant.com
COPYRIGHT 2001 National Conference of Editorial Writers
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Medina, David
Publication:The Masthead
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2001
Words:1775
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