The New Yorker Profiles Jill Abramson and Wonders About Her Brusqueness

What Women Really Think
Oct. 17 2011 4:26 PM

Jill Abramson and the Old Problem of Bitchy Female Bosses

By and large, Ken Auletta’s  profile of Jill Abramson does not commit the sin carried out so many journalistic accounts of hard-charging women—in which behavior that would be considered permissible and even expected in a powerful man is deemed bitchy in a woman. Yes, the profile does perhaps focus a little much on her “brusque” manner—as one writer notes, Auletta uses that adjective twice—but I think he inoculates himself from charges of sexism by comparing Abramson to another brusque (former) New York Times executive editor, Howell Raines. This comparison implies that the problem with being a critical, interrupt-y and perfectionist editor is that it can be demoralizing to staff, regardless of the editor’s gender.

But the key difference between Raines and Abramson, Auletta quotes staffers as saying, is that “unlike Howell, she is not mean.” Abramson is portrayed as not entirely aware of her effect on people. If she is “fierce” and “resilient,” in the words former food critic Frank Bruni, she can also be exacting. “There is some reason that when I am being probing it is seen as criticism,” Abramson says, adding that her children used to tell her to “stop yelling!” even when she wasn’t. “Her negativity is unintended,” an editor tells Auletta. These days Abramson says she’s working to temper herself, to be seen as more approachable to her staff.

Jill Abramson, editor of the New York Times.
Jill Abramson, editor of the New York Times.

Photo by Matthew Peyton/Getty Images

Advertisement

All of which brings us back to that old puzzle, so difficult to answer without the benefit of university studies complete with a large sample sizes and control group: Is not the bar for being seen as “brusque” considerably lower for a woman than it is for a man? Auletta quotes one reporter describing Abramson’s political skills as those of a "''black belt’ infighter." Another reporter described her as the paper’s Washington bureau chief: She was “a loyal friend, someone you’d want in the trenches with you. But if you didn’t meet her high professional standards you were not on her team.” Really, isn’t that what you expect—not to mention what you want—in an executive?

Libby Copeland is a writer in New York and a regular Slate contributor. She was previously a Washington Post reporter and editor for 11 years. She can be reached at libbycopeland@gmail.com.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

Even by Russian Standards, Moscow’s Anti-War March Was Surprisingly Grim

I Wrote a Novel Envisioning a Nigerian Space Program. Then I Learned Nigeria Actually Has One.

The Best Thing About the People’s Climate March in NYC

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

John Oliver Debunks the Miss America Pageant’s Claim That It Gives Out $45 Million in Scholarships

Trending News Channel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
The World
Sept. 22 2014 12:30 PM Turkey Just Got Forty-Six Hostages Back From ISIS. How Did That Happen?
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 12:44 PM The U.S. Is So, So Far Behind Europe on Clean Energy
  Life
The Shortcut
Sept. 22 2014 12:31 PM Down With Loose Laces A simple trick to tighten your running shoes for good.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 12:29 PM Escaping the Extreme Christian Fundamentalism of "Quiverfull"
  Slate Plus
Science
Sept. 22 2014 8:08 AM Slate Voice: “Why Is So Much Honey Clover Honey?” Mike Vuolo shares the story of your honey.
  Arts
Behold
Sept. 22 2014 1:10 PM One Photographer’s Beautiful and Devastating Response to Climate Change
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 12:14 PM Family Court Rules That You Can Serve Someone With Legal Papers Over Facebook
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 22 2014 12:15 PM The Changing Face of Climate Change Will the leaders of the People’s Climate March now lead the movement?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.