Saturday, May 30, 2009

Relegating brilliant women to the Style section

I didn't write a post about my mother earlier this month (I thought Josh's should stand alone), but I am so happy that I get a chance to talk about how awesome she is today, because she had a kick-ass letter to the editor published in the WaPo this morning. A couple of days ago, a story was published about Brooksley Born, an attorney and co-founder of the National Women's Law Center, who foresaw the entire financial mess we're in right now with credit default swaps and over-the-counter derivatives. But this was all ten years ago, when the economy was in great shape (or so we thought), and she was laughed down by some men with pretty big names - men like our eternal favorite, Larry Summers, or, I don't know, Alan Greenspan. This woman was obviously important and amazing, not to mention the fact that she predicted our current economic disaster, but the Post decided that it wasn't necessary to treat this like real news - and here's the kicker: they talked about Born's penchant for carrying handbags.

Now, let me just say - do we think it's relevant to mention men's ties, or cufflinks, or briefcases in a profile in a major newspaper? Or describe them as "dainty"? My mother's letter to the editor took the WaPo to task for its blatant disrespect for this incredible woman, but sadly, this isn't an unusual phenomenon. Last fall in my intro to gender studies class, we read an article about female genital mutilation which the NYT for some bizarre and fucked-up reason decided belonged in the style section. This is something that we can't let newspapers get away with, and I'm so glad my mother didn't! She's an amazingly articulate woman, so I've posted her letter in full below.

"On May 26 The Post relegated to the Style section an important story about a courageous, brilliant woman who was far ahead of her time ["Credit Crisis Cassandra"]. Manuel Roig-Franzia wrote of Brooksley Born's fight in 1998 to regulate those disastrous investments known as derivatives when she chaired the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Her efforts were beaten back by, among others, Larry Summers, Robert Rubin and Alan Greenspan.

This principled, insightful woman foresaw one of the financial disasters that would bring down our economy. She broke through glass ceilings at Stanford University's law school, in private practice and in public service.

She spoke her own mind, facing down the political powers that be when she warned presciently of the dangers of unregulated derivatives.

And, yet, The Post consigned this story to the Style section, lumping it with the comics and advice columns.

The story also included passing references to her handbag, thereby reminding us that women are still to be judged by their clothes and their accessories.

The Post demeaned Born's legacy. Such stories should be placed in the news section, where they belong, whether they are about men or women."

- Vivian Thomson

Charlottesville, Va.

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