Holding opinions in a treacherous business for a woman. Shrill! Silly! Imprecations and accusations lurk at the edges of life and female psychology, fueling prejudices and women’s own self-censorship. Feminist writer Naomi Wolf recently called attention to how little women’s opinions figure in our op-ed pages, journals, public affairs shows, and columns, all “strikingly immune to the general agitation for female access.” Gender socialization, suggests Wolf—both what men expect of women and what women expect of themselves—undermines the boldness and self-assertion necessary to a strong public voice.
Opinionated women, it is true, too often still register as in over their heads, presumptuous in proportion to how far they venture outside their proven expertise in matters of personal life. Reading any of the tiny number of female opinion journalists who have succeeded, you sense their difficulties in claiming full authority, the temptation to take refuge in a more palatable domestic identity. In Anna Quindlen, the most successful of the circle, the tendency to evoke the accoutrements of conventional femininity is chronic: the kids, the husband, the concern for the needy, the note of girlish pleading. But even in a tough, funny writer like Barbara Ehrenreich, the domestic voice has intruded over the years, the evocation of children’s foibles and a comic domestic chaos, as if Jean Kerr were a ghost that couldn’t be quite banished....
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