In response to a letter from Kimberly Probolus, “A Woman’s Plea: Let’s Raise Our Voices!” in The New York Times, the paper asked readers why they thought men outnumbered women on opinion pages. Here is the response submitted by Jamie Allen Black and Stephanie Blumenkranz:
Sitting here to write this op-ed feels unnatural and against our very instincts of what we ought to be doing. We have multiple tasks that need to be tended to and numerous unread emails and voicemails to return. We are not complaining. We are proud to have our responsibilities and are privileged to do the work we do each day. As women professionals, it is natural to have high expectations of ourselves and even one another. We feel ultimately responsible to take care of everyone and everything around us in our work and personal lives, putting ourselves aside as much as possible while still tending to the ever-elusive self-care expected of us.
Taking the time to write this op-ed feels slightly selfish, and perhaps irresponsible. We grew up in a society where it is desirable to be as physically small and as perfect as possible. In responding to societal pressures, perhaps our voices and opinions have also become smaller. Even by sharing a byline we are taking up less space, not making ourselves as big. These feelings and ways of thinking are not unique to us. They are pervasive among women we come across on a daily basis.
Societal standards and expectations have led us, and many women, to write fewer letters. We also are less likely to seek board positions, apply to be CEO, or run for elected office. If we keep our voices out of the conversation and our bodies out of the way, we are meeting expectations. When we make ourselves bigger somehow, promote ourselves, it takes away from our small desirable persona and provides more ways for people to see our imperfections.
So yes, women need to write more letters. But, perhaps of equal importance, we have to look at the root cause of the problem. All people, regardless of gender or where they see themselves in society, have to analyze themselves and their way of thinking. Until that happens, our inclinations and priorities aren’t likely to change, and we will remain, well, small and perfect.