She Said What?

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Thirteen women newspaper columnists are included in this significant book: Mary McGrory, Erma Bombeck, Jane Bryant Quinn, Georgie Anne Geyer, Ellen Goodman, Jane Brody, Dorothy Gilliam, Judith Martin (Miss Manners), Mona Charen, Joyce Maynard, Merlene Davis, Anna Quindlen, and Molly Ivins. All are nationally syndicated or nationally distributed newspaper columnists with the exception of Gilliam and Davis, chosen to represent the contributions of African American women columnists. Maria Braden profiles each columnist and then reprints representative columns to illustrate the points she highlights in her individual profiles.

In her introduction, Braden notes that writing a column has typically been one of the most desirable assignments in print journalism because of the fame, independence, and special relationship with readers that columnists enjoy. After offering an historical overview of women in journalism— including women columnists Fanny Fern, Dorothy Thompson, and Sylvia Porter—Braden observes that women syndicated columnists share certain attributes: taking risks, valuing independence, and walking the tightrope between consistency (a quality that binds readers to a column) and predictability (a quality that turns readers off). She concludes her introduction by observing that the range and variety of women’s columns underscore the diversity among their voices, echoing a description of Dorothy Thompson’s columns in the NEW YORK TIMES: “She gave herself her own assignment, which was no less than the whole human situation.”

The “whole human situation” is indeed explored in the columns included in this collection. Especially noteworthy are the accomplishments of Jane Brody, who was the first to get the term “sexual intercourse” on page 1 of the NEW YORK TIMES; of Georgie Anne Geyer, who was the first to interview Saddam Hussein, nearly twenty years ago; of Pulitzer Prize-winner Anna Quindlen, who is the only regular woman columnist on the NEW YORK TIMES opinion pages; and Molly Ivins, who proclaims her belief in Robert Sherrill’s motto of “sustained outrage.” Taken together, the thirteen voices in Maria Braden’s book are courageous and creative, and they reflect the diversity of women’s voices, best described by Virginia Woolf, who said that a woman’s writing cannot help being feminine: “At its best it is most feminine. The only difficulty lies in defining what we mean by feminine.”