How to write like a man

by Steve, January 5th, 2009

Or: How to govern like a woman

On the day that Portland’s seventh-ever woman city commissioner was sworn in, Anna Griffin ran a non-apology in The Oregonian for once (or was it twice?) having called then-candidate Amanda Fritz “shrill.”

Fritz objected to this, naturally, as sexist (how many times has an Oregonian columnist called a man shrill?).

In Griffin’s completely insubstantial column Saturday [warning! Oregonian link; will be dead within two weeks], she begins with “an apology” but goes right on to repeat the original offense:

Fritz can be shrill, in the dictionary sense of the word. Her voice rises to a sharp and sometimes scary point when she’s irritated. Her tendency to nitpick and parse every last syllable and statistic might prove beneficial for taxpayers but can be… an obstacle to building consensus.

Griffin goes to some length to show her feminist cred, but in the end, she can’t rise above her own glee in thinking she’s getting away with it just one more time.

Give ’em hell at City Hall, Commissioner. Just don’t be too shrill about it, OK?

That’s right, folks, on this historical day for women in government in the state of Oregon and the City of Portland, a columnist for the biggest daily in the state called Amanda Fritz “shrill” not once, but twice, in a column ostensibly intended as an apology for having called her shrill in the past.

Hey, why not go ahead and call her hysterical, too?

I can appreciate that Griffin is trying to be humorous, in the mold of old-boy newspaper columnists paid good money to crank out 15 column inches of pablum a couple times a week.

But even if she were any good in that role, what purpose does it serve in the age of electronic media? Her column won’t even be easily available after 14 days, so who cares what Griffin writes in the rapidly declining Oregonian? (This blog entry, gods and goddesses willing, will be available in the archives as long as there is an Internet.)

Fortunately, Amanda doesn’t care what they say in the ol’ fish wrapper. She didn’t want me to write this. She thought it best just to let it go. She’s probably right, but there are a number of lessons here.

One lesson is about the waning relevance of the Big City Daily and the limited range of voices they publish.

A more important lesson is about women of substance, especially those unafraid of appearing feminine, who seek and attain power, and the higher standards by which they are judged when compared to men (or to women who act like men). Griffin clearly doesn’t get this, or can’t articulate it if she does. She mumbles through a few paragraphs about Condoleezza Rice and Hillary and Oregon’s political women, but somehow fails to say anything of substance vis-à-vis Amanda Fritz’s election as a woman who did not play the good ol’ boy game to get elected.

She got elected on her own terms, with massive popular support in a very crowded field of men — all without acting like a man.

I supported Amanda in part because she is a woman, and because she thinks like a woman. We need her attention to detail, and I want her to take stands on principle, even if it blocks consensus. If you call that kind of passion, conviction and steady ferocity shrill, you need a better thesaurus.

5 Responses to “How to write like a man”

  1. Comment from Lelo:

    I read Anna’s apology column and came away with an entirely different reaction: I thought it was honest, human and thoughtful. I think it’s easy in the professional world (including old school journalism) for women to succumb to stupid old boy ways, comments and thinking, even when we don’t recognize it. This shit is so embedded into our lives that sometimes we ourselves end up participating in it. I think it takes guts to admit when you’re wrong, to put it out there like Anna did, and to have a little humor about it. I found it refreshing.

  2. Comment from Steve:

    I’ve learned something in life, which I try to teach my children: Don’t repeat the insult when apologizing for it.

    Imagine it in the voice of a child: “I apologize for calling you a butt head. But you really can be a butt head. Anyway, sorry I called you a butt head. Just don’t be a butt head, OK?”

    That’s pretty much what Griffin is saying. It’s a non-apology, completely lacking in substance and humility.

  3. Comment from Lelo:

    Good point.

  4. Comment from Anna Griffin:

    Actually, I think I had that very talk with my child before dawn this morning:

    “I’m sorry I called you a butthead. Mommy used poor language, because sometimes she’s an idiot. But please don’t repeat that behavior.”

    That doesn’t seem insubstantial or disingenuous to me. Rather, it seems like a conversation both sides can learn from.

    I like Amanda. I voted for her. As a taxpayer and as a woman, I want her to succeed. I should have used more precise, less gender-loaded language. But I also believe she needs to recognize that at times what you accurately term her “steady ferocity” can, at its most extreme, work against the very causes she’s trying to support. There’s a difference between being an activist and a leader, and bringing her activist’s skills into a leadership role — learning to challenge and push and prod while also building consensus — is the task ahead of her.

    Personally, I think she can do it.

    Also: Oregonian columnists — even those of us who mumble and lack substance — have permanent websites so our stuff doesn’t disappear after 14 days.

    Thanks for reading. Love the blog.

  5. Comment from Terry:

    Geez, Steve, I gotta read your site more often.

    Just today I wrote a piece saying Anna Griffin impresses me, and used her latest column (about Sam Adams and education) as an example why. I like her style. And her clarity. (She doesn’t mumble.)

    I tend to agree with Lelo. But what the hey. Everyone has an opinion.