Witch hunt: the Toronto Standard talks gender bias

The Toronto Standard kicked off its first publishing week by
wading into one of journalism’s most of-the-moment discussions: gender bias in
the media. In this case, the lack of female bylines in the opinion pages.

Denise Balkissoon quotes from a recently released study by
the Washington-based International Women’s Media Foundation. According to the
study, the glass ceiling in Canada is still shatter-resistant, if not

The op-ed pages are particularly discouraging adds
Balkissoon, with the Toronto Star doing the best — 12 of its 24 news columnists are
women. Sadly, she says, the low number of female bylines in the opinion pages isn’t even remotely shocking.

However, Balkissoon adds:

“What is surprising is that despite this disparity, the
majority of Canada’s most famous, most followed, and certainly most
controversial columnists are women. And, after taking a quick look at recent
offerings by our national pundits, it’s clear that female columnists attract
far more bulk — and far more bite — in the comments section.”


“Things get personal when women write,” Balkissoon
argues. “Male columnists might have their arguments soundly and rudely
disagreed with, but rarely does that disagreement include personal attacks.
Virtually all female columnists get condescendingly insulted. Chantal Hébert
has spent decades authoritatively and reasonably reporting on politics for the
Star, but still attracts YouTube comments on her looks. And nothing attracts
virulent commentary like the magic formula of combining unabashed opinionating
with forays into one’s personal life.”

This isn’t always a bad thing. “It’s more fun to be
argumentative,” Margaret Wente tells Balkissoon. “It’s a way to make
your voice heard among the wise old men.”

When those arguments are driven purely by anecdotal
evidence, though, “it inevitably causes a whack of Canadian readers to blow
their tops,” writes Balkissoon. And while that may get people talking
about the column, it may also cause the columnist’s trust rating to sink for

Balkissoon argues for a middle ground between
wild-but-untrustworthy and factual-but-dry:

“Here’s the Canadian column landscape I’d like to see.
The elder statesmen (and women) would jazz up their vocabs, so that reading
1,000 words is enjoyable for people other than dedicated policy wonks. The
feisty ladies (and dudes) would always ensure that their offerings weren’t just
jazzy, but watertight and reliable, too.”