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May 15 2014

The Firing of Jill Abramson is a Scary Wake-Up Call For All Working Women

By at 1:18 pm

NYT

Somewhere buried in my archive of VHS tapes is a video yearbook of my graduation class from college. I have never seen it, but have promised myself that I will watch it next year, at my (gulp) 20th reunion. In it somewhere is a video interview with me at a black-tie formal, sitting on my then-boyfriend’s lap, holding a glass of champagne. “Where are you going to be in 20 years?” the videographer asked me. “Happy and editor of the New York Times,” I confidently replied.

Well, at least I’m happy. And it sure looks like being executive editor of the New York Times is no good way to get to “happy”–if you’re a woman. Jill Abramson, the paper’s first woman executive editor, was unceremoniously and suddenly fired from the paper this week–and it’s entirely unclear why.

In The New Republic, Rebecca Traister’s piece titled, “I Sort Of Hope We Find Out That Jill Abramson Was Robbing the Cash Register,” exemplifies what most women, particularly women journalists, are thinking right now: hopefully there was another explanation for her firing, other than the fact that Abramson reportedly had the audacity to demand equal pay with what her male predecessors received. Equal wages for women, ironically enough, is a cause célèbre of the Times editorial board.

As Traister wrote, however, there’s no denying that regardless of the reasons behind her dismissal, calling Abramson’s firing unceremonious is actually nothing short of euphemistic:

Abramson’s firing was among the most harsh and humiliating I’ve ever seen play out in the media’s recent history. Within minutes of the editorial meeting at which the turnover was announced, Abramson’s name had been scrubbed from the masthead of the paper she’s run for the past two and a half years. A Times spokeswoman told Buzzfeed that Abramson would not be remaining with the paper in any professional capacity and would have no involvement in the transition of power. Sulzberger made no pretense that this was anything other than an unceremonious dump. When staffers reportedly expressed concern that Abramson’s firing would be a blow to women, he helpfully explained that that women in top management positions are just as likely to be fired as men in top management positions.

But don’t worry! Maybe it wasn’t about her asking for equal pay, the Atlantic conjectures, maybe it was because people found her “pushy,” “aggressive,” and “overly aggressive.” Having been (and arguably, still being) a journalist, all of those attributes are desirable in the people you want to find out the hidden, covered-up truths of stuff. You know, like Watergate.

Personally, I’m willing to bet that if Abramson had been a man, all of those qualities would be part of what made that man “The Boss.” But, since she’s a woman, it’s easy to see where those qualities would be part of what would make her instead be perceived of as “The Bitch.”

No doubt, the Times would go into a digging investigative frenzy if, let’s say, Marissa Mayer or Sheryl Sandberg were summarily canned. But here, Abramson’s dismissal is deemed “an internal matter,” and all lips are sealed.

So we have to remain in suspense as to whether Abramson was fired because she was a woman acting like a man, or a woman who wanted to be paid like one. And I’d argue, sadly, that we are at least a generation away from either of these points no longer being an issue in the workplace.

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