“You come to expect the vitriol, the insults, the death threats,” Laurie Penny, a contributor to The Guardian, wrote in November. “After a while, the emails and tweets and comments containing graphic [rape] fantasies … cease to be shocking, and become merely a daily or weekly annoyance, something to phone your girlfriends about, seeking safety in hollow laughter.”
The new blog provides the same hollow laughter: funny only because it’s so true, so relatable to female journalists who’ve become all too accustomed to regular sexist affronts. They’ve become numb to the “feeling of being hunted,” as New Statesman writer Helen Lewis-Hasteley called it in an interview with The Guardian.
The Tumblr’s anonymous creator, whom Poynter identified as a West Coast U.S. newspaper reporter, said she was surprised by the overwhelming response the blog received. Its followers more than doubled to 1,100 after coverage on BuzzFeed, Poynter and The Huffington Post last week, Poynter reported.
“I think every female journalist has a story [of sexism],” the site’s creator said to Poynter. “There’s been a great response to it because people are realizing they’re not alone in having had these experiences.”
But perhaps the site’s creator shouldn’t have been surprised by how others connected with the Tumblr. The Women’s Media Center’s 2013 Status of Women in U.S. Media report referred to the lack of female representation in the news industry as a “crisis.” The report found that men’s front-page bylines covering the 2012 U.S. presidential election outnumbered women’s by a 3-to-1 margin. It also listed statistics from American Society of News Editors that show female presence in newspaper newsrooms has not changed since 1999, when they were only about 37% female. This grim reality makes complete professional treatment a pipe dream for many female journalists.
“There is not an hour that goes by that a comment is made about my race or gender,” ESPN.com’s Jemele Hill, who is African-American, told Columbia News Service. “It should not matter what I look like.”
The problem isn’t just in the newsroom. A Wednesday article from The New Republic highlights how sources also regard female reporters differently, sometimes treating interviews as dates.
Women journalists should thus receive specialized training to confront sexism, Garance Franke-Ruta, senior editor at The Atlantic, said to The New Republic.
“I think journalism schools should have workshops for young female reporters on managing old men who have no game and think, because you’re listening to them intently and probing what they think and feel, that you’re romantically interested, rather than conducting an interview,” she said. “Every female reporter I know has had this issue at one time or another.”
And it’s not just harmless flirting. The Committee to Protect Journalists interviewed more than four dozen journalists who were sexually assaulted while working or because of previous reporting. Statistics detailing the frequency of such abuses are not available because many journalists do not report the crimes.
“It’s embarrassing, and you feel like an idiot saying anything, especially when you are reporting on much, much greater horrors,” wrote Svenska Dagbladet reporter Jenny Nordberg, who was violently assaulted in Pakistan while covering the return of Benazir Bhutto in 2007. “But it still stays with you. I did not tell the editors for fear of losing assignments. … And I just did not want them to think of me as a girl. Especially when I am trying to be equal to, and better than, the boys.”
When Penny wrote that “the time for silence is over,” she didn’t mean it’s time now to laugh. Retweeting “funny” quotes from “Said to Lady Journos” does provide a much-needed reminder of the sexism that still thrives in the industry, but it’s not enough. Journalists should make use of the amplified voices their publications provide and echo the issue until it’s addressed.
Take a page from Alyssa Rosenberg and post your “threat of the day.” Follow Times Union sports reporter Jennifer Gish’s lead and publish inappropriate reader responses like “WOMEN DONT KNOW FOOTBALL.” Journalists should not delete inappropriate comments as if they are ashamed, but instead shame those who perpetuate the sexism. I don’t imagine they’ll continue laughing for long.
Feeling ill at ease? That’s a good thing, the site’s creator told Poynter: “The point of it is to make people feel a little uncomfortable when they’re reading it.” Here are a few of the most egregious quotes on the site:
- “You’re pretty smart, for a young lady.” — labor union representative to a City Hall reporter
- “Are you sure you know the game well enough to keep score?” — a father at a high school baseball game
- “What’s a pretty girl like you doing reading those?” — New York City Council candidate Ed Hartzog’s response to a reporter inquiring about his campaign contributions
- “But I’m sure your husband could explain all this to you.” — U.S. State Department official to the Kabul bureau chief of an international news agency, discussing strategy at a military base in Helmand province
- “Is this your glamorous assistant?” — British politician to a male journalist standing next to a young female reporter
- “They let you carry that big lens?” — TV photographer to a female photojournalist carrying a 400mm lens at the scene of an accident
- “Are you here on a date?” — to a female reporter standing with a male reporter at a press conference
- “If you dressed like this at work, you’d get better stories.” — veteran journalist to a rookie reporter at an industry event
- “It’s kind of dirty in that field. You can wait behind, if you want.” — Nebraska landowner to a female journalist, while giving a tour of his property to her and a male colleague
- “You might want to cover your ears, young lady.” — a male broadcaster discussing the details of a murder trial with a female newspaper intern covering that trial