I’ve learned a lot of things during my time in the journalism world. City council members will not return your phone calls. Don’t bury your lede. Heels are a nice thought, but should often be avoided. You get one mistake in your entire career, and that’s it. And if you’re a woman, you will always walk an uncomfortable line.
It’s an uncomfortable feeling wondering if you were given a position because of your qualifications, or because of your legs. And journalism, unique from many other trades, leaves that line slightly blurred and confusing. Women, who make up 38% of the average American newsroom staff, belong in the features and style sections, and the men leave them alone. That is female journalist territory—we write the feel-good pieces, the community profiles, the fashion columns and the dating advice.
But when we walk into the center of the newsroom, the tension begins.
I’ve faced sexism wearing a variety of masks. I’ve had an interviewer from a national news source refuse to consider me for the position I was interested in, and instead insisted I apply to a glorified news anchor internship. I’ve been denied positions that have gone to under-qualified males. I have had offensive, sexual comments made towards me. I have felt myself hesitate to apply to internships, because I feel that I cannot handle the stress, something I’m sure very few of my male counterparts worry about. And then on the other side of the coin, I have been hired for positions—not because of my qualification, but because of my gender and appearance. I have been spared “difficult” tasks because they might be too taxing. I have been hired to check a box.
It’s a back and forth game, and never before have I been so acutely aware of how I look and how I dress. I’m a tiny blonde girl— busty but petit, not gorgeous but certainly cute. On the job, I dress in slacks and button downs, favoring menswear over skirts and heels. And whether my interviewers and bosses realise it or not, that shapes the way they interact with me.
I have never been hired for a writing position while wearing pants.
I have decided to attach myself to a dying breed: the old boys club of print journalism. They’re on the way out, and as a result feel no need to change. Online publishing, the world of the blog is dawning.
And yet even in this comfortable world where classy women and geek chic alike rule, there is still a line. We are held to the lifestyle blogs—home decor and dating advice. But leave the political commentary alone—unless it involves women’s issues. Tech writers or video game reviewers need not apply—unless you have a penis. Even in a world that many consider female-dominated, we are put in a very narrow niche, which we are expected to not deviate from.
I promised myself a long time ago that I will not make my career by doing the easy thing. I will not apply to positions unless I know I am one of the best qualified. I will not put myself in a position to fail. I will work tirelessly to ensure that even if I stumble, I can fall back on a pad of experience and pride, knowing that I have made a name for myself entirely of my own accord. I will always be challenging myself, because that is the only way to learn.
And so I decided that I would pay my dues in the real world of professional journalism, and then later in life find my niche on the Internet, in the female-dominated world of online publishing. I would bring my hard-earned expertise with me, and if I wrote lifestyle articles it would be solely because I wanted to, and not because my gender dictated that I could do nothing else.
But that’s exhausting.
Beating against the gendered tide of professional journalism is a losing battle. I don’t have the energy to fight my way to the top of the politics beat. I’ve dreamed of bylines my entire life, from the time I was hand drawing issues of The Racine Gazette. But I’ve watched this profession rob people of families, of happiness, of stable relationships and personal health. When you meet one deadline, there is always another.
Saying no is not an option. Turning in subpar work means you can’t handle the stress. Family birthdays or your child’s school play somehow become less important, because in the hustle of the newsroom everything is do or die. It’s full court press, 24/7. Strange as it sounds, journalism can become an addiction, one as dangerous and harmful as any substance.
To be a female in journalism, you must be ballsy. You have to be driven. You have to be the Lois Lane, diving in the line of fire. But you have to be coy and flirty, you have to be soft. If not, you become Jill Abramson, labeled “pushy.” You have to be content that you will be paid significantly less than your male counterparts (though let’s be honest, all women have to deal with this unfortunate aspect). Be strong, but not too strong. That’s called being a bitch.
It took me a long time to realize that just because I can be this person, doesn’t mean I should. If the newsroom beat exhausts me and makes me re-evaluate my path in life, is it really the path for me? I am repeatedly facing comments like, “Couldn’t they send someone a little older?” or “Can I please talk to Rob?” or “Oh, I’ve never met a female news editor. That’s a new one.” I am scared to publish this article, because a future editor may see it. And I think that speaks for itself.
I am in awe of female journalists. The ones who stick it out and fight the fight so that other women, like myself, can enter the newsroom proudly and not second guessing our ability to cover local politics or the economy. But I can’t be one of them.
But I don’t have to be Christiane Amanpour or Katherine Graham to make a difference. I won’t be Hannah Arendt or Nellie Bly. But I think that’s okay. I’ll fight the fight in my own way, in my own terms. Realizing the newsroom is not for me does not equate to letting down all female journalists or leaving behind journalism. The field is changing, and as scary as that is, I’m willing to welcome it. Because anything has to be better than this.
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