Dearth of woman columnists is puzzling

It’s always nice to be in a class of one’s own, right?

Looking over the new ranks of News columnists, I don’t feel so sure. To my surprise, I find myself to be one of only two regular female columnists out of the 11 new ones. What’s more, my column appears a day after Dara Lind’s. For a brief two-day period, the gender ratio on the page is even. I can only hope for female guest columnists to even out the score during the remaining eight days of the column cycle.

I would do better to identify myself purely by my Saybrook affiliation — we boast five new columnists, a much more solid record. While this clearly bears testament to the intellectual power of Saybrugians, I can’t say that I would find it particularly distressing to find myself the lone representative of my college on the op-ed page. Gender is another story.

What makes this more confusing is that women are not underrepresented in campus activities. If anything, we tend to flood organizations, from publications to community service groups. A quick glance over the YDN masthead tells me that the number of male and female editors for the 2008 Managing Board is about even. So what is it about the op-ed page that doesn’t appeal to girls?

Not to get all Larry Summers on you, but anyone on this or any other college campus can see a gender difference in the way that male and female students approach extracurricular activities. Girls tend to feel guilty if they can’t cram their schedules as full of activities as possible. I’m sure I’m not the only girl who feels that college life is one crazy juggling show of adding and sustaining activities. By the time we find out what we like, it’s hard to drop other commitments that we may have accumulated along the way.

Girls also tend to be more eager to pursue off-campus academic opportunities, such as going abroad. This was certainly true in high school, when summer programs were seriously skewed toward female enrollment. Apparently things haven’t changed too much in the interim years. A friend of mine is one of only six male students spending his fall semester in Paris as part of a Boston University program. The 35 other students are all women.

Of course, this is not to say that male students don’t keep busy, too. After all, Yalies are over-committed any way you figure it. To their credit, boys are less likely to feel guilty for not doing enough outside the classroom, and to focus instead on what really interests them. Then there’s that old stereotype that boys are the vocal, outgoing sex, while girls are quieter and more thoughtful. Ridiculous, of course, but maybe some part of this theory can help to explain this year’s male-centric op-ed page.

Like all other op-ed writers, I like the op-ed form because I have ideas that I think other people should read, an admittedly arrogant premise. But no op-ed columnist writes for the glory of ideas alone. There is that boon of seeing one’s name publicly attached to one’s writing, a statement of accountability and ownership that is more wonderfully arrogant still. This kind of public boldness tends to be more in keeping with the idea of the vocal male. Another great advantage of the op-ed form is the ability to address one’s detractors by debunking their arguments, knowing that they can’t respond directly — at least until the next day’s paper. This power can be easily abused, and op-ed writers have the responsibility to consciously address any counter-arguments in their own columns. Still, the power is there, more typically male than female.

I don’t wish that there were more female columnists to give the page some kind of vague “feminine perspective” that it lacks. Rather, I wish more Yale women felt compelled to write regular columns, if only to prove that girls can be just as outgoing and aggressive as boys in publicizing what they have to say and in standing by it. This page would benefit enormously if more women felt compelled to pursue a column of their own.

Alexandra Schwartz is a sophomore in Saybrook College. This is her first regular column.