Lily Sieradzki | Media Junkie
Published: Thursday, October 24, 2013
Updated: Thursday, October 24, 2013 08:10
Women make up 59 percent of Tufts’ International Relations program. I’ve seen this strong female presence reflected in every IR-related class I’ve taken, and throughout the school, we have plenty of intelligent, out-spoken, high achieving ladies. As someone who would consider myself one of the above, it feels empowering. But the unfortunate truth is that this isn’t reflected in the real world, where women make up less than 30 percent of top foreign policy positions.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, in her recent book “Lean In,” is appalled, and rightfully so, by the lack of women in leadership positions across the board. She argues that the issue is an “ambition gap” — women are socialized to try to achieve less than men. They need to dream bigger, reach higher and “lean in” to reach their goals and gain equality with men.
So maybe it’s that the women need to overcome their own mental barriers towards achieving leadership positions. But how much is it our fault as women for aiming too low — and how much of it is limits imposed by society? I see no shortage of ambition, at least at Tufts, and I’m not so sure that lack of trying is what’s causing this disparity of leading women out in the real world.
According to Anne-Marie Slaughter, former director of policy planning for the U.S. State Department, this disparity stems from the demands of family. In her watershed piece in the Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” she argues that balancing a successful professional career with raising a family is extremely difficult, and requires sacrificing one or the other, because of workplace conditions and societal expectations.
The idea that women can “have it all” and strike the perfect work-family balance is a myth, she maintains, unless structures start to change. One of the changes she recommends is reversing the mentality that taking time off to be with family is a cop-out to being a serious professional. Instead, we should admire and respect the decision — a Michelle Obama.
So what does this mean for me, as someone who’s seriously considering going into a journalism or media-related field? My experience at the Tufts Daily bodes well for my prospects as a woman: the three current managing editors are (strong, smart) women, as were the editors-in-chief for the past three semesters. But, of course, things are not so sunny in the real world.
According to a CNN article published on Sept. 18, 2012, between 70 and 76 percent of journalism and mass communications graduates have been women over the past 10 years. But men continue to dominate the news. In 2011 the New Yorker had 242 female bylines and 613 male. At Newsweek, which is run by a woman and has a 39 percent female masthead, men wrote 43 out of 49 cover stories. This isn’t particularly promising, but there is hope in the numbers of women in top editor positions, with Jill Abramson at the New York Times and Nancy Gibbs as the first ever female editor of Time Magazine.
For me, then, this is fundamentally a feminist question and must not be casually dismissed the way feminism often is in our “post-sexist” society. Personally, I don’t want to be made to feel guilty for not having high enough career aspirations — because I have them, and so do most of my peers. But I’d also like to be a mother someday. I can see certain tough decisions in my future, both personal and professional, that men aren’t necessarily faced with.
So the question becomes, how do we move forward from here? While I don’t have all the answers, I think what we as women can do is face the existing realities and strive to change them into better ones.
Lily Sieradzki is a junior majoring in English. She can be reached at Lily.Sieradzki@tufts.edu.