21st Century Feminism

One of the week’s big news stories was the firing of Jill Abramson as Executive Editor of the New York Times. Given how the Times is doing, her departure should be neither a shock nor much of a news story. Male executives in struggling companies, and sometimes in successful ones, are replaced all the time.

Yet Abramson’s firing has provoked a firestorm of publicity, most of it over whether she was paid less than her male predecessor, and whether she was seen as “pushy.” The New Yorker reported that Abramson was paid less than Bill Keller, whom she succeeded, and the Times has furiously demanded a retraction. It’s too sweet: a fight between the New York Times and the New Yorker! All I can say is, plague/houses. Also, both Keller and Abramson were paid way, way too much.

This screen shot gives some sense of the intensity of feminist investment in Abramson’s firing. Note some of the headlines: “Was Jill Abramson fired because she is a woman?” “Jill Abramson’s firing shows women that we still must be more than…” “Abramson bests Times in PR fight.” “Why Jill Abramson’s departure will ricochet.”

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Note, too, that a simple Google News search on Abramson’s name produced over 90,000 entries. Amid all of the feminist uproar over the upheaval at the Times, this small item went almost unnoticed: Jill Abramson, ousted New York Times editor, pulls out of attending Brandeis commencement. It turns out that Abramson had been slated to receive an honorary degree from Brandeis at the university’s commencement day after tomorrow. She decided it would be best to withdraw:

Jill Abramson, the recently ousted executive editor of The New York Times, has backed out of attending Brandeis University’s commencement.

The Justice student newspaper reports that Abramson told the university’s president she won’t be present Sunday to get an honorary degree she had been scheduled to receive.

A Brandeis spokesman confirms that Abramson informed the Boston-area university that it was “not my year to be there.”

This is, of course, the same Brandeis commencement at which Ayaan Hirsi Ali, one of the world’s most courageous women, had also been scheduled to receive an honorary degree. But Brandeis canceled the invitation after deciding that Ali’s writings are inconsistent with the university’s “core values.” The Associated Press explains, helpfully:

The university earlier withdrew its offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Muslim women’s advocate who has made comments critical of Islam.

Well, yes. As an infant, her clitoris was cut out with a knife pursuant to Islamic custom. As a young girl, she was contracted by her father to marry a man whom she did not know. After she fled to Amsterdam, her friend and collaborator Theo Van Gogh was murdered on a city street by a Muslim who stuck a note to his chest saying that Hirsi Ali was next. Under constant threat of death, she has devoted her life to trying to improve the condition of women living under Islamic rule. In another world–a sane world, one might say–Ayaan Hirsi Ali would be the ultimate feminist icon.

But today, that’s not how it works. A Google News search on Ms. Ali produces a mere 3,220 results–down, admittedly, from when the story was more current. Ironically, the first item that appears is from the New York Times editorial board’s blog, supporting Brandeis’s cancelation of Ms. Hirsi Ali’s honorary degree and explaining that she was not “silenced”:

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All of this paints a revealing picture of 21st century feminism. Two women, both scheduled to receive honorary degrees at the same university. One had her invitation withdrawn, the other pulled out voluntarily. Compare and contrast. Had your clitoris excised? Been married off as a child to an old man? Threatened with murder for sticking up for women’s rights around the world? Yawn. American feminists couldn’t care less. You have nothing to do with them.

On the other hand: Been the top editor at the New York Times, paid a high six-figure salary? Been replaced due to the company’s poor performance and an inability to manage the news room? Perceived as “pushy”? Allegedly paid less than another executive editor at the same paper? OMG!!! America’s feminists swing into full attack mode. This is what they really care about!

Could a political/social movement–or, rather, interest group–possibly be more irrelevant to America’s women, or the world’s?

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