Who is Jack Abramson? Well, the one I'm referring to doesn't exist. He only occupies an alternate universe in which he, and not his twin sister Jill Abramson, was appointed executive editor of the New York Times in 2011.
Not everyone liked Jack. Everyone agreed he was talented and dedicated, but he had also been described as "polarizing" and "mercurial." He made unpopular management decisions. He pissed off some of the wrong people more than once. But, his supporters reasoned, if he hadn't been aggressive, ambitious, and risk-taking, he probably would have never been named executive editor in the first place, would he?
Jack's gotten himself in trouble over his almost-three-year tenure. He's been chewed out by the publisher and even ordered to revoke some of his more controversial decisions. But, in this alternative universe of which I speak, he's still there on the job. He didn't get fired so summarily that an emergency meeting had to be called to inform the shocked newsroom, and to advise the assembled reporters to just carry on as though nothing had happened rather than speculate about what might have actually happened. He wasn't told to clean out his desk and go, that his presence during the transition period wouldn't be needed, thanks. Just leave. Now.
I don't know any more than any other outsider about Jill Abramson. In fact, I didn't even know her name before this week. But today I read that her promotion to executive editor had inspired many young women at The Times, and that she had personally gone out of her way to promote qualified women to leadership roles at the paper.
Does this matter? I believe that it does. Her efforts remind me of something that happened to me a few weeks ago. I've described my Back-to-Back State Supreme Court Arguments From Hell, but I didn't mention that the previous week, I had an argument in the lower-level appellate court. Not nearly as big a deal, but still, it was the hurdle I had to get over before I could hunker down to prepare for the BBSSCAFH.
I walked into the courtroom that morning and sat down in a pew to wait for the day's calendar of arguments to begin. I looked around me. There were maybe fifteen or twenty lawyers arrayed around the spectator seats, and aside from me, only one of them was a woman. Almost every male attorney in the room was dressed in what I think of as the civil-attorney uniform: dark suit, white shirt, drab tie, close-cropped hair, grim facial expression. All of them radiated competitiveness, tension, self-importance. I felt conspicuous and slightly out-of-place in my blue dress and nonpower briefcase, although none of the other attorneys seemed to notice I was there. They were either talking to their colleagues or intensely glancing through their notes. The air around them thrummed.
Then, all at once, the door at the head of the courtroom opened, the clerk jumped up and called "All rise," everyone leaped to their feet, and the three-judge panel entered from chambers and walked to the bench. And - hallelujah! O happy day! All three of them were WOMEN.
I know I was grinning as I looked around at all those pompous-seeming men, up on their feet in deference to the court, and I thought: Ha! Hey, look, buddies! Who's important now??? And I looked at those three powerful women sitting up there in their robes, smiling and calm, and I felt great. And let's not forget - I've been a lawyer for 35 years.
So: yes. Yes, it matters for women starting their careers, or even halfway through, to look around them and see other women who have reached the top of their profession. And it matters for women who have gotten close to the top to reach a hand out behind them and help other women when they stumble or feel unsure. It really, really matters. And so no matter how impolitic Jill Abramson may have been in her role, no matter how little she might have tried to play the game, I'm still troubled by the feeling that her twin Jack could have gotten away with it. And I hate to see her go.
p.s. Here's a fascinating article on this subject: http://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/may/19/life-and-death-as-a-female-editor?CMP=twt_fd.