October 5, 2008

The OpEd Project, take 2

Category: Politics,Wholesome — Biella @ 2:48 pm

I just got back from the OpEd project/workshop. In short, it was worth every penny and if you are interested in writing an OpEp and riding the public debate bandwagon, this is the perfect place to start. Why? Well, first because the world of punditry and debate needs more diversity and women and this project is fundamentally geared toward getting more women into the system and in a no nonsense, accessible, inspiring, and yet utterly pragmatic fashion.

First, if you don’t know the stats concerning women, they are depressingly dismal. For example, 9 out of 10 submissions are from male writers and 88% of published pieces are from male authors (and this is matched by all sorts of other disturbing figures about the lack of women non-fiction writers, TV producers etc). In the OpEd field, the main problem, in short, is that women are not even trying.

Today’s full-day workshop was enlivening and engaging. Catherine Orenstein, the founder and dynamic leader of the project, dusts away a lot of the mystery of this writing genre and equips participants with some basic skills and tactics to get you started (then, in my opinion, it takes a fair bit of work and persistence to master, just like any type of writing but it is not rocket science either).

What I like most about the project is its utter pragmatism. Cathy knows that once there are enough women in the system, the project can close shop, for it will be other women who will take over the reigns and inspire other women to write them (and informally mentor them as well). It is well known, for example, that once there is a critical mass of women, let’s say in the work place, then these women are the point people for recruitment so that the company does not need to actively recruit women.

I have heard this argument before and have had a number of personal experiences that confirmed this fact. Last year, for example, a student from my department was organizing a conference and he could not, for the life of him, find any female speakers or discussants, despite asking a number of them who declined because of other commitments. He had ran out of options, that is, until he talked to me. In less than a minute, I rattled off like 5-7 other possible choices and within a day, we had 2 on board. It is clear that women know other women (and many are friends) so the best person to go to to tap into are other women.

In terms of the actual writing of an OpEd, I am not sure I will be writing one anytime soon in so far as I need to really pump out a few more academic articles as the future of my jobs depends on them. But I may write a draft version of one that I will hammer into finer shape if a timely news event arises. Otherwise, I look forward to spending more time on this genre, especially once my book is done and know that if I am going to stay in academia, I will for sure make space for this type of thinking and writing.

Finally if you are interested in attending one of the public, women-only seminars and you know me, let them know you learned about the project through me, and you will get discount.

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