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Expert status less important than insightful context

by Shari Graydon

I have no legal training or experience in the sex trade. No one would ever mistake me as a candidate for the corner office of a large corporation. I am not a celebrity and have never been pregnant.

And yet in recent months, major daily newspapers have published my commentary about:

Two of the three op eds were not even my ideas, but written in response to emails from newspaper editors looking for someone to weigh in on the topics.

Was I the most authoritative person to offer commentary and analysis? Clearly not. But I’m a writer who knows how to find and assimilate authoritative information, and enliven it with attitude and accessible context. And I’m a woman whose life experience in related areas influenced my perceptions and ideas about the issues.

At dinner parties and book club meetings, many of the women I know regularly offer interesting and thoughtful insights on issues of the day, regardless of how relevant their day-job is to the topic at hand.

We should feel equally empowered to massage our insights into commentary that adds to the public discourse – even if we’re not “the best person”.

Last week, Kate Heartfield, a volunteer mentor-editor with both Informed Opinions and the US-based Op Ed Project, who also holds down a demanding day-job as Acting Editorial Page Editor with the Ottawa Citizen (while raising children and writing fiction in her spare time), tweeted her need for more submissions.  Then she emailed me to say that all the ones in her pipeline happened to be by men.

For the record, this is probably the case at most newspapers across the country, almost all the time. And it’s why Informed Opinions exists. Because in a world full of complex, intractable, social, economic and environmental problems, we need a rich diversity of analyses reflecting as broad an array of perspectives as possible.

The good news ending to this particular story is that in response to my own email encouraging Informed Opinions’ grads to submit to Kate, Equal Voice executive director, Nancy Peckford wrote and had published a great piece on female premiers, my own op ed about Kate Middleton’s “bravery” ran the day after, and my colleague Ashley piqued interest in her proposed commentary on the abuse of internships. Three other Ottawa-area grads also emailed to say that, thanks to the reminder and incentive, they would be pitching Kate soon.

I hope they do. Because my piece, published in the Ottawa Citizen, the Montreal Gazette and the Calgary Herald, was the only female voice on each of the pages where it appeared.

What if I hadn’t bothered? What if you don’t?