I don’t know Joanne Lipman, whose op-ed in the New York Times asks the salient question: was 9-11 bad for women? Maybe she is a cagey humorist, a sly provocateur who seeks to remind us that for some victimologists, it’s always about their peculiar gripe. But I suspect Ms. Lipman is serious.
She solemnly recounts the many slights and hazards that recently have befallen women (except those who in much greater numbers than men kept their jobs during the recession and those who populate high positions in government). Got it? Things are bad for women. Bad. She finds a significant cause for this sorry state of gender affairs in the 9-11 attack:
Everyone’s life was reshaped by 9/11. Like many New Yorkers, I experienced that day in an intensely personal way: I was in the World Trade Center with a colleague when the first plane hit. And we were just outside the second tower, making our way through burning debris, hunks of airplane seats and far worse when the second plane came in directly over our heads.
In the aftermath of the attacks, Americans pulled together. Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair, famously declared it was “the end of the age of irony.”
He was right.
And then he was wrong. Because, as so often happens in the wake of a traumatic event, the pendulum swung to the other extreme. The war in Iraq tore America apart. The Internet gave everyone a soapbox. The louder, the more offensive, the better.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that exactly at this moment, women began losing ground — and not just in measurable ways, like how many women make partner or get jobs as chief executives.
You can hunt in vain for the connective tissue between “women are getting the short end of the stick — again” and 9-11. You won’t find it. As an aside, I must confess that at some level I suspect this column is part of a dastardly plot at the New York Times to run inane columns by women (one of whom memorably dreamt of Obama in the shower) and thereby suggest that all those stereotypes about my gender’s innate logical-reasoning abilities have some merit. But let’s get back to Ms. Lipman’s column. After raising the 9-11 point she sends us down the rabbit hole of feminist angst. Women shouldn’t have to be so “good” and then women need to take risks. And so on. But what happened to the 9-11 point? I dunno.
She wraps up with a blinding insight: women are different! Well, yes. And she then makes a final plea for respect:
Certainly, when you look at the numbers, women have made tremendous strides over the past 25 years. But in the process, we lost sight of something important. After focusing for so long on better jobs and higher pay, maybe the best thing — the enduring thing — we can do is make sure respect is part of the equation too.
Here’s the thing, Ms. Lipman: respect is earned. And you’re not going to get it writing columns that recycle every cliche in the 1970s feminist playbook. You’re not going to get it by suggesting 9-11 was responsible for some women not getting everything they want. And you’re not going to get it by using the New York Times to explain why the magazine you headed failed because of some ongoing conspiracy by chauvinists.
Let’s be clear (one of us should be): 9-11 was responsible for ending the lives of many women in fiery infernos and leaving their widowers and children grieving. Only in that sense was it “bad for women.” (But really, had the plaintiffs’ bar only known Ms. Lipman’s theory, we might have had a really innovative class-action gender-claim against al-Qaeda.)
I think we actually will know when we reach that state of true and perfect gender equality: when the New York Times won’t run columns like Ms. Lipman’s. Then we’ll know the gender-discrimination mongers and their enablers have moved on.