Jill Abramson, Framed by Gender

Published: 19 May 2014

Region: Worldwide

Jill_AbramsonJill Abramson was the first female executive editor of the New York Times in the paper’s 160-year history. When she was unexpectedly fired last week by the paper’s publisher and chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr., some speculated, including New Yorker, that was because Abramson raised an issue about getting lower compensation than her male predecessor.

Sulzberger has denied the sacking of Abramson was due to gender bias, and listed ways in which she was a bad manager. This story is still unfolding, but one fact remains unchanged – women are paid less than men.

“Despite passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which requires that men and women in the same work place be given equal pay for equal work, the “gender gap” in pay persists. Full-time women workers’ earnings are only about 77 percent of their male counterparts’ earnings. The pay gap is even greater for African-American and Latina women, with African-American women earning 64 cents and Latina women earning 56 cents for every dollar earned by a Caucasian man”, states the White House.

Was Jill Abramson less paid than her male predecessors and was she fired because she confronted the management over not being paid equally? New York Times’ publisher Sulzberger denies it. “It is simply not true that Jill’s compensation was significantly less than her predecessors,” Sulzberger wrote in a memo. The only reason he fired her, as he explains, is “some aspects of Jill’s management of the newsroom”.

Abramson has been described in the media, especially in the magazines Politico and Newsweek , as “bossy, pushy, high-handed, impatient…and obstinate” nature. Sulzberger was quoted as calling Abramson “brusque” in that feature. But as Emily Bell from Columbia’s School of Journalism points out in the article for the Guardian, “Abramson worked at the New York Times for more than a decade before she ascended to the top job. There was nothing mysterious or unknown about her personality …. Yet the tacit expectation was clearly that Abramson’s personality would somehow bend to accommodate those who would not accommodate her”.

“She broke the clubhouse rules. She never became that mythical female boss who is assertive but not aggressive, nurturing but not mothering, not so strong that it bothers the men, but never weak like a woman”, writes Bell.

Abramson herself appeared in public for the first time since leaving the New York Times. She addressed Wake Forest University’s graduating seniors telling them she drew inspiration from several other women who endured and overcame sexist discrimination.

“President Hatch suggested I speak to you today about resilience, and I am going to take his wise counsel. … Very early last Thursday, my sister called me. She said, “I know dad would be as proud of you today as the day you became executive editor of the New York Times.” I had been fired the previous day, so I knew what she was trying to say. It meant more to our father to see us deal with a setback and try to bounce back, then to watch how we handled our successes. “Show what you are made of,” he would say”, Abramson told graduates.

After Abramson was sacked as the New York Times editor, several female columnists and authors wrote the articles on her significance for the future generations of female reporters.

“Abramson’s presence allowed a new generation of women at the Times to begin to see a possible future in leadership at the paper, but it also helped disrupt the paper’s masculine approach to news coverage—and allowed the paper to benefit from scoops it wouldn’t otherwise get. Under Abramson, some of the paper’s biggest stories over the past three years were narrated by women”, wrote Amanda Hess for Slate.

Another journalist and former deputy editor of American Prospect, Ann Friedman, wrote in the Cut:”Women never know whether they’re being met with a hostile reaction because of their performance — something that they can address and change — or because of both male and female colleagues’ internalized notions of how women should behave”.

Related MDI articles:

Sexist Narrative in Media

Fight for Equal Pay in the US Newsrooms