She Said What?

She Said What?: Interviews with Women Newspaper Columnists

Copyright Date: 1993
Edition: 1
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    She Said What?
    Book Description:

    No longer relegated to reporting on society happenings or household hints, women columnists have over the past twenty years surged across the boundary separating the "women's" or "lifestyle" sections and into the formerly male bastions of the editorial, financial, medical, and "op-ed" pages. Where men previously controlled the nation's new organizations, were the chief opinion givers, and defined what is newsworthy, many women newspaper columnists are now nationally syndicated and tackle the same subjects as their male counterparts, bringing with them distinctive styles and viewpoints.

    Through these frank and lively interviews, Maria Braden explores the lives and work of columnists Erma Bombeck, Jane Brody, Mona Charen, Merlene Davis, Georgie Anne Geyer, Dorothy Gilliam, Ellen Goodman, Molly Ivins, Mary McGrory, Judith ("Miss Manners") Martin, Joyce Maynard, Anna Quindlen, and Jane Bryant Quinn. Pofiles describe how these writers got started, where they get the nerve to tell the world what they think, how they generate ideas for columns, and what it's like to create under the pressure of deadlines. Representative columns illustrate their distinctive voices, and an introductory essay provides a historical overview of women in journalism, including pioneering women columnists Fanny Fern, Dorothy Thompson, and Sylvia Porter.

    Braden finds that today's women columnists frequently raise issues or use examples unique to their gender. Because they are likely to have a direct personal connection to current social issues such as abortion, child care, or sexual harassment, they are able to provide fresh perspectives on these provocative topics. In doing so, they are helping to define what is worthy of attention in the '90s and to shape public response.

    A unique addition to the literature on women in journalism, this book will interest general readers as well as students of journalism, literature, American studies, and women's studies. Aspiring writers will find here role models and practical guidance.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4796-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Business, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. 1-23)

    Dorothy Thompson strode into Madison Square Garden on the evening of February 20, 1939, where thousands of people had gathered to oppose American military involvement in European problems. She took a seat in the press section at the front of the hall and listened as a speaker accused the Jews of trying to drag America into the war. Then Thompson, a passionate opponent of fascism, did something that stopped the show: She laughed, a loud whoop of derisive laughter. It caused an uproar. Amid angry cries of “Throw her out,” Thompson left under police escort—but not before she had...

  5. Interviews and Columns
      (pp. 25-35)

      Mary McGrory is known as an astute observer of the Washington political scene, a sharp-tongued critic of Republican administrations, defender of the English language. But her first love will always be dog stories. “I will drop anything to read a dog story. I love dogs, I love to read about them. I like dog rescues. I like eccentric dogs,” McGrory says. “I just find they never fail you.”

      Dog stories were the assignments no one else wanted when McGrory started out in journalism as secretary to the book editor of the old Boston Herald. So she took them on, along...

      (pp. 37-47)

      Some have waited in line more than an hour to ask Erma Bombeck to autograph her latest book. Even after six hours of nonstop signing at a book fair, Bombeck is zinging one-liners at her readers like sparks from a forge. Her laugh, a heh-heh-heh like a creaky hinge on a gate, bubbles up over the murmur of other voices. Three hours remain until closing, and all 750 of her books on hand have already been sold; but people are still waiting in line to meet her, so she signs her name on slips of paper.

      “You get a lot...

      (pp. 49-59)

      Personal finance columnist Jane Bryant Quinn says she’s so bad at arithmetic that it’s a joke. But that’s the point. “Numbers are absolutely unnecessary” for managing money, she says. Her column, “Staying Ahead,” preaches the importance of using common sense. “I want people to think about the nut of the problem and not just think it’s numbers that have to be manipulated. The numbers are utterly incidental to the nut of the problem,” she says, “and the nut of the problem is a common sense thing. Common sense is not hard and everything has it-almost everybody.” It sounds simple, but...

      (pp. 61-75)

      She was the first to interview Saddam Hussein nearly twenty years ago; she has talked into the early morning hours with Yasser Arafat and Fidel Castro, and interviewed the Ayatollah Khomeini. She has infiltrated and written about most of the major guerrilla movements in the world, and her life has been in jeopardy more than once. But Georgie Anne Geyer says that in some ways writing a column is harder than being a foreign correspondent.

      “It’s the pressure of having to give opinions three times a week. It’s much tougher and it’s much more independent,” Geyer says. “I love it,...

      (pp. 77-89)

      At first, newspaper editors didn’t know exactly what to do with Ellen Goodman’s column. It didn’t seem to belong on the op-ed page, but it didn’t fit the feature section either. Seventeen years later, more than 400 newspapers run her syndicated twice-weekly essay, and Goodman’s personal/political column has become the standard to which many newer columnists are compared. “Newspapers divided up life into these artificial segments because they had to section the paper…. It was a ludicrous segregation,” Goodman says. “When I was first syndicated, it was a real issue in terms of sales because people didn’t know where to...

      (pp. 91-109)

      When she was four, Jane Brody told her father she wanted to be a veterinarian. Fine, he said, Cornell has a college of veterinary medicine. That was 1945, and Brody grew up believing she could do anything she put her mind to. “If you wanted to do something, you did it,” says the author of the nationally distributedNew York Times column, “Personal Health.” “I never had the feeling that things were not appropriate for me to do. There were never those kinds of barriers, either emotionally or intellectually.”

      Brody describes her father as a “women’s libber” who helped shop,...

      (pp. 111-123)

      When she graduated from the Columbia Journalism School and got a job as a reporter at theWashington Postin 1961, Dorothy Gilliam was determined to avoid being stereotyped as a black reporter. But the hot stories of the 1960s involved civil rights, freedom marches, and welfare issues—and Gilliam soon plunged in. Now she purposefully tries to give her readers the perspective of an African-American woman. “That voice is enormously important because there are so many pressures for persons to be more conservative, to be anti–affirmative action,” she says, “to be more white.”

      Her weekly column appears on...

    • JUDITH MARTIN (Miss Manners)
      (pp. 125-135)

      The picture with her column shows the formidable Miss Manners in a high-collared blouse with a brooch at her throat, her hair piled up like Queen Victoria. But the real Miss Manners, Judith Martin, has no desire to return to the past. “The assumption is that if I like good manners I must want to go back in time. Well, I have no desire whatsoever to go back in time,” Martin says. “I’m trying to order the future.”

      She is annoyed by people who think she’s a dinosaur, but she doesn’t convey her displeasure with raised voice or bad words....

      (pp. 137-147)

      A case of teenage insomnia and a late night radio talk show influenced Mona Charen’s decision to become a conservative political columnist. Growing up in a family of Democrats in a liberal New Jersey community, she listened to a show hosted by a conservative Jew that reinforced her conservative leanings. “It was significant to me because it made it okay to have those views and be Jewish,” Charen says. “The Jewish community does tend to be quite liberal…. In those days it came with mother’s milk that you would be a member of the Democratic Party.”

      Instead, Charen has forged...

      (pp. 149-161)

      Joyce Maynard wears vibrant colors—an apricot top, matching espadrilles, and pants splashed with bright flowers. Her hair is short. The New Hampshire house where she now lives is quiet. Gone are the blue jeans, the home-cut shoulder-length hair, the children clinging to her legs. “Some people don’t recognize me,” says the author of “Domestic Affairs,” a syndicated column on family life. She wears her hair short as a symbol of newfound independence.

      As a homemaker questing for pefect motherhood, Maynard wrote a weekly column about the small details of life in a nuclear family. But after writing the column...

      (pp. 163-173)

      When Merlene Davis toldLexington(Kentucky)Herald-Leadereditors that the paper didn’t have the guts to hire a black columnist, she never thought she would be tapped for the job. But two hours after she made the comment in a staff meeting, she was offered a column. “There’s no newspaper that moves that fast, so it was scary as all outdoors,” she says. “I didn’t do it for myself personally. I had no desire to do it.”

      Because her editors made the offer so quickly, she figured they knew she would fail; then they could say they tried a black...

      (pp. 175-187)

      The picture that runs with her column shows a soft-eyed young woman with dark swinging hair and a mischievous smile. Anna Quindlen looks too young to have secured a regular place on the op-ed page of the venerableNew York Times. “It drives me nuts,” she says. “When I get in trouble, I never can figure out whether they’re saying ‘that stupid woman’ or ‘that stupid kid.’” Hers is the only regular column by a woman on one of the most influential opinion pages in the country, and it is different from other columns on the page. Quindlen’s columns are...

      (pp. 189-204)

      As one of the first woman journalists to cover Texas politics, Molly Ivins went out of her way to let people know that being female played no part in getting stories. Tall and athletic, Ivins was accepted as “one of the boys” by the mostly male Capitol press corps and state legislature. She even played on the press corps’s basketball team. But one day she knew she had gone too far.

      As Ivins tells the story, she was covering the Texas Senate, where the pages are all young women, when she was elbowed by a male colleague, who said, “Look...

    (pp. 205-208)