Who Speaks for Women?

As our nation slouches toward election day, I join in a collective weariness of campaigns and candidates, pundits and polls. Good grief, those polls: I can’t help myself, checking every day at several different sites, just to see what the polls divine.  I consult Nate Silver’s 538 political blog so often, the New York Times asks me not to come back until I’m ready to pay for their services. (Nate Silver is a genius, by the way, even when his interpretation of the polls makes me nervous.)
So we are weary of the election. And because of this, I feel compelled to say this post is not about the election. Mostly not, at least. This post is about who should get to speak for women, and about women’s issues.
We all know that in some strands of the Christian church, women are not allowed to speak at all, given an understanding of the Bible suggesting that God gifts women with silence and submission. More specifically women are not meant to speak especially if what is said ends up teaching a man something about the nature of God, Jesus, the church, humanity.
Oh, there are caveats: Women are allowed to speak, but only if their utterances are intended for other women and children. And for folks in other cultures, including men, who apparently are not on equal standing with men in our own society. Else why would evangelicals be okay with sending missionary women to harvest the fields, but not speak from their own pulpits?
The opportunities for women to speak in churches, about their own condition or that of any other, is limited. This we know.
But how about in the real world, where feminism has had more of its influence, corrupting and otherwise, and where women have more apparent opportunity to speak about issues affecting them?
A friend recently sent me this graphic, produced by the 4thEstate.netand published on PBS.org, which suggests that in secular realms—as in the church—women’s voices are not often heard.
In an election year when abortion, rape (legitimate or otherwise), contraception, and equal pay legislation have been hot topics, media outlets still prefer to let men’s voices dominate.
And we’re not even talking about pundits here, which might (but only might) be more excusable, given the preponderance of men in the punditry business.
No, in a season when women’s issues have been an important campaign issue, media outlets are still turning primarily to men for source quotes, in ratios that are nauseating. (I’m a girl, and no good at math, so can’t tell you for sure what those ratios are.)
Look. I think men should be able to speak into these issues, too; abortion, contraception, equal pay legislation also affect the lives of men. And some people might argue the failure to use women as source quotes reflects journalistic laziness more than it does sexism. Perhaps journalists need their own binders full of women, just to find a few more qualified sources.
But allowing men to pontificate about topics important to women a majority of the time suggests, again, that women have nothing much to say about their own lives; that men’s opinions matter much more than do women’s; and that a woman’s best role is one of silence and complicity.
And, more than elections and polls, this kind of inequity—in the media, in churches, and elsewhere—makes me very weary indeed.