In Summary
  • The main reason is that editors have not done enough to look for or nurture these women.
  • To craft a convincing argument you must know your subject well. Columnists can never miss a deadline.

Recently, the Nation’s public editor, Peter Mwaura, sought an explanation for why there is a dearth of female columnists in this newspaper and why the few there are tend to stay clear of topics such as politics or the economy and focus mainly on the so-called “pink” issues, such as fashion and relationships.

There has been some discussion on social media and elsewhere on why this might be the case.

Some people believe that female columnists stick to “soft topics” because they are too thin-skinned to handle the criticism that strong or controversial opinions generate. (I don’t necessarily buy this view because women have been at the receiving end of criticism for centuries, regardless of whether or not they are controversial or opinionated.)

The main reason why there aren’t more female columnists in the Kenyan print media is that editors have not done enough to look for or nurture these women.

And the reason women do not write about “hard topics” is because in the male-dominated newsrooms they are given few opportunities to do so.

Editors just assume that women are not interested in issues to do with politics, the economy, war, foreign policy and the like.

Male columnists are also taken more seriously than females. The BBC recently interviewed a man who discovered that when he used his female colleague’s name to communicate with clients, they tended to respond negatively to what he said, but when he used his real name, the response was generally favourable.

He concluded that it was not what was being said that mattered, but the sex of the person saying it.

In the 19th century, female authors who wrote under male pseudonyms were more likely to be published.

The writer Mary Anne Evans, more popularly known as George Eliot, and the Bronte sisters adopted male names because in those days publishers tended to reject female authors.

Even today it is hard for women to have their voices heard. Women with strong opinions are often viewed as being unbalanced or slightly mad.

Former President Daniel arap Moi, for instance, described the late vocal environmentalist, Prof Wangari Maathai, as a woman with “ants in her head”, who made too much noise.

When women are repeatedly told that what they say or believe is wrong or invalid, they begin doubting themselves. This could be one reason why there are so few female columnists.

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