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Weekend Roundup: Jill Abramson is out at the Times

In the few short days since Jill Abramson’s surprise firing from her post as executive editor of the New York Times, much has been written about her ouster. There are many questions still unanswered about the reasons behind such an abrupt dismissal: Was it a pay dispute? Her “bossiness”? And, as Ken Auletta asks, “Why did the Times, which so heralded the hiring of its first female executive editor, terminate Abramson in such a brutal fashion? With the details of these events so under wraps, it’s difficult to do anything but speculate about these details. However, as Amanda Hess writes in Slate, Jill Abramson was enormously important to female staffers at the Times as a role model and patron of woman writers. Her rise was closely watched and admired by women everywhere. Though we can only guess what went on behind the scenes at the Grey Lady, we can begin to think about it in terms of feminism, women in power, and female stereotypes. Here is a roundup of some of the most thoughtful, probing pieces about Abramson’s departure, the gender politics surrounding her, and what this means for women, journalism, and the Times itself. 

Amanda Hess, Slate:

The New York Times is a newspaper where mostly male reporters cover industries—politics, media, sports, the military, the courts, the arts—that are also overwhelmingly run by men. With Abramson’s appointment, the Times cemented a female perspective at the top of the masthead for the very first time, and young women on the staff responded instantly. “Among the women here, there was a deep appreciation that another woman was high up at the Times. It symbolically had an impact,” one young female staffer told me. “We felt possessive and proud of Jill, and [appreciated] her stories about [New Yorker reporter] Jane Mayer and her other female friends in journalism,” said another. “We loved that she had all those tattoos,” she continued, referring to the Times’ T on Abramson’s back. “We were curious about her and how she got to where she was in a way that [we weren’t] about senior male editors. This might have been just my imagination, but I felt like I related to and empathized with her in a way I hadn't with male editors.”

Soraya Chemaly, Ms. Magazine:

Women in leadership, the relatively scant few, learn to adapt to the double bind that necessitates them rejecting much of what they were learned to think and be as females. Most girls, even those with egalitarian-minded parents, learn to put others first, to defer to dominant male speech in the public sphere, to cede physical space, to not be disruptive. These are not valued characteristics or behaviors in most competitive, male-dominated work places. Women who do transcend their gender socialization and exhibit confident authority are inevitably penalized. Lack of deference is a woman is so unattractive.

Mary Elizabeth Williams, Salon:

It’s entirely possible Abramson was just a bad boss. Women can be bad bosses too. The most horrendous person I ever worked for, in fact, was a woman – an incompetent, paranoid, sabotaging woman. If you’ve ever worked, there’s no way you haven’t had awful supervisors and it’s likely some of those supervisors were female. That’s not a sexist observation; that’s the reality of work experience. And men can be on the receiving end of unflattering assessments too – imagine if instead of “pushy” Abramson had been described as “silly” and “bland” – words that have been applied to former Times editor Bill Keller.

But the way we judge male and female leadership differently, and the language in which our conversations about male and female workers is framed – still matters tremendously. And if you really want to boil the New Yorker piece and the visceral outpouring of reactions to it that ensued to one word, it’d be that single adjective: “pushy.”

How to cite this page

Metal, Tara. "Weekend Roundup: Jill Abramson is out at the Times." 16 May 2014. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on October 31, 2014) <http://jwa.org/blog/weekend-roundup-jill-abramson-is-out-at-times>.

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