Journalism While Female

Reporting live from the front lines of the journalism industry.

"You’re a little too intense"

I was working as an editor at my campus paper when a former editor-in-chief (who had previously edited my work) came into the office to share a tip. While describing the potential story to me, she suggested that a young, pretty reporter would win over some of the male sources who might have been involved.

She then proceeded to call over one of the female science editors, jokingly asking her to use her looks to get to the bottom of the story. Uncomfortable but playing along, I said my personality might be a little too serious. She then gave me a withering look. “You’re a little too intense,” she said, the to be a journalist clearly implied.

I went on to do investigative reporting. She’s working in arts, culture and entertainment commentary this summer.

As I learned from my cozy street corner catchup session with two guys who work outside of my industry, it’s not just within journalism that women have to journalism while female. We have to defend our right to exist in the field even with people who are outside of the field, especially if we do “girly” kinds of journalism. If I wrote about US-China relations or about derivatives markets, for instance, I’d certainly have to contend with the idea that women don’t know the first thing about international relations or about Wall Street. But when you write about gender, sex, body image, pop culture, and the other things I write about, the sense that you’re unserious is compounded; not only are you a woman, but you write about frivolous feminine topics.
— WAM!mer Chloe Angyal (Senior Editor at Feministing) at Thought Catalog

When I gave my notice at one job where I was working as a senior editor, my boss joked that he and another male editor would “have to gang-bang you and get you pregnant” to prevent me from taking a better job in another city. We were alone together in the building at the time. I remember thinking at the time that I was glad I could probably kick his ass if he tried anything.

Fired after refusing a hug

I was 17 and had been hired after a story I wrote while in high school about a cultural event I’d attended in another city. I quit school for this job. The owner of the paper, who was already sleeping with the secretary, would constantly ask me to look at his dick to tell him if it was too small, because apparently she’d told him it was. I didn’t even know what sexual harassment was - this was 30 years ago - but I avoided being alone with him. One day I was upset about something and he hugged me tight to “calm me down”, he said. I shoved him away by breaking free with both elbows into his ribs, and walked out. The next day the editor, who had never stood up for me and just laughed at everything, called me in to fire me because of my inexperience. I always felt the timing was suspicious to say the least.

I’m a crime reporter, so I spend most of my time walking up to strangers in bad neighborhoods asking what happened. Even just walking down some of these streets, I’ll get cat called, whistled at and sometimes worse. If I walk up to a man, it’s almost guaranteed that he’ll give me a look up and down, hold my handshake a little too long and ask me if I’m married. Usually I just try to smile and laugh it off without engaging. I’m not sure if that’s the right way to handle it, but if I’m looking for information, I’d rather have them friendly and borderline creepy than hostile and mean. Just this week, I was talking to a guy who wouldn’t give it up. Memorable line: “This is my domain … but I’d like to know where your domain is.” A male intern was with me for this conversation and was shocked. As we walked away, he asked if that happens often. All the time, I said.

Arranging Marriages

I ran into a source at a luncheon, and sat down next to him to catch up and chat. He started telling me how his son, who’s about my age (late 20s), and also a journalist, was newly single. Then he suddenly shifted the conversation and asked if I was married—he picked up my hand to look for a ring. 

I said no, I wasn’t married, but I wasn’t interested. He looked at my rings, nothing fancy, just some pretty gemstones. He said something like, “This is trash, you can meet my son and then one day I will buy you a real diamond! You deserve a beautiful diamond!” 

It was all supposed to be a compliment, that I was worthy of marrying into his family. But mostly it was just uncomfortable. 

I am not your ‘baby doll’

I’m 25 and never experienced sexism until journalism in college. To me, it was something older generations had endured and overcome. Something I wouldn’t have to deal with. But I was wrong.

The first time I experienced it was when I walked into the county attorney’s office as a cub reporter in college. He shook the hand of the male photographer who walked in before me. But when I extended my hand, he just looked at it, puzzled, and asked me to sit down. Not the best start to an interview. And I’ve always been proud of my non-limp-fish handshake.

A couple of years later, I had asked my economics professor to write reference letter for a journalism internship that I wanted very badly. He gave it to me in a sealed envelope, which I needed to scan in to submit online. I hesitated about reading the letter, but decided I should. It sang my praises as a student and leader of the student newspaper, but only after the phrase  “Her good looks notwithstanding…” I didn’t submit the letter. But I got the internship.

I’ve had sources call me the “cute little girl from the paper” and one source, as I patiently waited 30 minutes after our scheduled interview time, strolled into the lobby and said “Come on in here, baby doll.” I am not your baby doll. I’m nobody’s “baby doll.”

A local PR guy has asked me if I lost weight (I hadn’t). Others have said “Why aren’t you on TV? You don’t look like a newspaper reporter.” To which I always reply that I don’t feel comfortable on camera and real journalism requires more than a soundbite.

So the list goes on. And it will continue as we sit in quiet indignation. Because it’s apparently not acceptable to Journalism While Female.

l was freelancing at a sports network and one day my client said to me “That shirt makes your boobs look great.” When I looked shocked, he said “Oh, are we not close enough for that to be appropriate?” “That’s never appropriate.” I said.

Explicitly Explicit

I wrote a story about litigation over mold in an aging military housing development. I interviewed the tenants’ attorney over the phone, then met in person for a follow-up interview only after the story ran. He’d taken me seriously by phone, answered my questions, and liked the story.

Then we sat down in person for coffee, and were having a normal conversation about housing issues. I’m also a renter, and it was a natural subject that came up. Then he asked if I lived alone, and if I had a boyfriend. Then he just straight-up propositioned me for sex, mid-interview, and asked if I was free after work and if I would be willing to meet at my house.

When I said no he acted surprised. I asked if he did this to all of the women he interacted with professionally—and I reminded him, we were meeting in an exclusively professional setting—and he got all sheepish and said no, of course not.

He then went on to talk about how ever since they’d had kids, things with his wife had been tense, and he thought a little fling would just be for fun, no strings attached.

For future stories, I’ve avoided talking to him, asking only to speak to other attorneys in the firm.

A publisher I worked for owed me three months’ pay. When I finally refused to stop working until I received said payment, he pointed out that the company wasn’t doing well and he had a wife and family to support. He kind of trailed off waiting for me, I think, to put my right to get paid to the side to support him in his plight as a big manly provider. This illustrates one of my favorite recurring sexism at work themes: the idea that women work for fun, not for money.
— Libby Lowe at Ecosalon

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