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The New York Times Praises Women Senators By Using Gender Stereotypes

Win McNamee/Getty

In Tuesday's paper, New York Times reporters Jonathan Weisman and Jennifer Steinhauer have a story on the female senators who have tried to find a debt-ceiling bargain. They include Susan Collins, Barbara Mikulski, Kelly Ayotte, and Lisa Murkowski. I don't envy hard news reporters who can almost never express their opinions, but that is no excuse for their decision to slobber all over the subjects of their story. To wit:

More than two weeks into a government shutdown, Washington is now two short days from a possible default on federal obligations. The women showed pragmatism as negotiators in the midst of fierce partisanship and a level of frustration with the leaders of both parties that reflect their constituents and the nation.

The problem here, as elsewhere, is the reporters' idea that "pragmatism" and negotiation are by definition helpful. They supposedly felt licensed to make this judgement since it is not "partisan." But certainly people on the right and left would make distinct arguments about why negotiation is not best for the country. (I would argue that negotiating with hostage-takers is not always such a splendid idea, for example.) Then there was this:

In a Senate still dominated by men, women on both sides of the partisan divide proved to be the driving forces that shaped a negotiated settlement. The three Republican women put aside threats from the right to advance the interests of their shutdown-weary states and asserted their own political independence.

I didn't realize it was the job of news reporters to say what was in the interests of any state. Anyway, the rest of the story devolves into a bunch of ludicrous quotes (the piece actually ends with Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski uttering the words "politics be damned"). The only marginally interesting question that remains is what we attribute this female action-taking to:

The women are hardly in lock step politically. But their practice of meeting regularly and working on smaller bills together, even in a highly polarized Congress, set the stage for more significant legislation. Ms. Ayotte and Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, hosted an informal get-together for women in the Senate last Monday evening.

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that women were so heavily involved in trying to end this stalemate,” Ms. Collins said. “Although we span the ideological spectrum, we are used to working together in a collaborative way.”

This is just the sort of silly comment that, if made by a man, would be borderline offensive. We are only a short step away from saying that women are more collaborative because men are hunters. If any of these female senators are impressive legislators, they don't deserve to be reduced to their gender.