The Troubling Reality of Women in Journalism

Like most professions, journalism has not always been welcoming to women. Even with women breaking through the professional barriers, they still face many obstacles in the male-dominated field. While times are progressing and strong women nationwide are bringing about change in their industries, women continue to face harassment from the public.

A constant slew of sexual harassment reports are coming from Fox News Network, which is opening the conversation for sexual harassment in the workplace. As a result of several sexual harassment suits being filed against Bill O’Reilly and the controversy surrounding his employment, many publications are calling attention to the sexual harassment and misconduct taking place in newsrooms.

Newsweek recently published an article highlighting the issue, where over 50 women who experienced sexual harassment and even sexual assault shared their story with writer Lucy Westcott in a web-circulated Google form. Westcott highlighted six women of differing ages and specialties in the journalism field.

Westcott’s reporting elucidated a serious problem in journalism: not only is sexual assault an obvious issue, but corporate case management of reported assault cases is equally as bad. Many of the victims indicated a fear that reporting their respected assaults would lead to undue professional consequences like firing or industry blackballing. Unsparingly, those who did report their incident saw no action taken against the perpetrator. The article names no specific media outlets or attackers, but does indicate that there are many more unreported cases of harassment and assault.

A 2013 study from the International Women’s Media Foundation found that nearly two-thirds of women journalists have experienced some form of harassment or abuse in relation to their work. The IWMF survey includes behavior ranging from verbal sexual harassment to more severe behaviors such as intimidation and sexual and physical violence.

The majority of the 822 women polled didn’t report what happened.

“The ever-changing nature of the media industry, including lack of job security, absolutely leads to fewer women telling their managers or other authorities about sexual harassment due to the fear of retaliation,” says Elisa Lees Muñoz, executive director of the IWMF.

With the rise of Twitter and Facebook and the ability for the public to easily reach journalists, this harassment is no longer contained to the newsroom. ESPN recently released a PSA featuring women sports reporters and writers during which they featured men reading some of the mean tweets that women received.

The segment reveals the troubling tweets that are riddled with sexism and an alarming amount of violence. Comments like “One of the players should beat you to death with their hockey stick like the whore you are…” or “this is why we don’t hire any females unless we need our c*** sucked or our food made.” As the video continues, the men grow more and more uncomfortable reading the tweets and even refuse to read some tweets to the women.

ESPN later held a panel of women sportscasters and writers that shared their experiences as women in a male-dominated field. The women discuss the very real threats that they received from public spheres such as Twitter. These tweets consisted of body shaming, threats of violence against the women both physical and sexual, and even death threats.

In the panel, Kavitha Davidson, a writer for Bloomberg, details a series of tweets where a user threatened to rape her and even went as far to tag the location of her offices in the tweets. The event scared her to the point that she was eventually provided with an armed escort to her home by Bloomberg.

During that same panel, Kelly Carter, a senior entertainment writer at ESPN’s The Undefeated, discusses her experience with body shaming and how she had to build up an armor to deal with the comments. Jemele Hill, co-anchor of popular show His & Hers, explains how she no longer gives young female journalist the advice to develop a thick skin because that implies that this type of behavior is acceptable.

Tweets like these are not only found in sports journalism–female journalists across all genres face these types of tweets from the public spectrum. In 2015, The Guardian created a video of women reading abusive comments and tweets that they receive. The video showcases tweets that make sexist remarks like “I think someone needs a vibrator” and “Go have a smoke or something” to discredit their statements and others wished horrible deaths on the women, expressing hope that they would die in a “gasoline-explosion-induced car crash.”

A study from the American Society of News Editors shows that men make up about two-thirds of American newsrooms and 65.4 percent of supervisors. This staggering difference in demographics points to a troubling reality that women must face. The fear of retaliation and inability to be employed is a real concern that women face.

A Slate article written by Amanda Hess, a David Carr fellow at The New York Times, documents the experience of women in media. She explains a fear of retaliation and that, “there are few outlets we can run to where we will not be forced to work with these men, or their friends and supporters.”

“Calling out these men publicly (and submitting ourselves to a “he said, she said” situation with a more powerful colleague) means that reporting the abuse could become a defining aspect of the accuser’s professional life, very likely wrecking it,” Ann Friedman, a freelance journalist, said.

We need to look internally at the news industry and start making work environments safer for women. Networks and publications need to take a more proactive stance in ensuring that women feel safe reporting issues that they might face both within the office and from the public and in making the workplace a more cohesive and safe environment for all.

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