Where the women stand

My Women and the Media class is probably one of the most unique classes I’ve ever taken. It meets for two hours once a week, consists of about 18 females, and – although we have readings, quizzes and other assignments – is mainly just discussion of women’s issues in journalism and society at large. It’s very interesting and sometimes intimidating to learn about the history of women in this field and to hear everyone’s opinions on these topics.

We started the semester discussing how far women have come in the field of journalism. From the days when females had to disguise their gender in writing and were told to write like men, we now have women anchoring major network news. There seem to be just as many women reporting and writing as there are men. It seems that we’ve made it.

However, women still have a long way to go. Women have been working in the field of journalism since the 1800s and maybe earlier, but equality has not yet been achieved. The statistics are staggering. The percentage of women in the field, what they are paid, how often they are promoted, how many hold positions of authority (and the list goes on) all show that it’s still very much dominated by men. That’s something my class has also learned from interviews and anecdotes in our readings. Even in the last 20 years, and probably still today, women in both print and broadcasting deal with harassment on the job, including mooning, cat calls and snapping of bra straps. Some are still relegated to “women’s issues” like childcare and education. There’s still pervading domestic pressure: some bosses expect women to stay home once they have kids, some expect them to wash the dishes in the office. Women have to be tough and never to cry, even though they struggle with a greater balancing act than society ever asks of men.

Learning all of this has been rather shocking to me, I guess just because of my own experiences. I was raised in an environment that never discouraged females from pursuing whatever they wanted and never implied that a man could do something better than I. I grew up with a stay-at-home mom, but that was out of her choice and desire to raise her children. I respect my mom immensely for that, but I’ve never felt a requirement to do the same. So it was shocking to learn that magazines like Time still function in boys’ club environments, that female reporters in the capitol face harassment, that there’s an overwhelming lack of women in media power positions. It’s discouraging because I’ve never thought things like that would stand in my way.

However, it’s also empowering and inspiring because women are still out there doing it. All the women we’ve heard from have faced these barriers and broken through them. Even in telling their stories of struggle and sometimes failure, they exude a strength and perseverance that I hope to emulate. They have accomplished so much in the last few generations, to the point that my magazine classes are overwhelmingly female. They have paved the way for girls like me to set for ourselves lofty goals in the media industry and to see no realistic reason not to achieve them.

So hearing their stories makes me that much more determined to succeed. And it makes me realize that it’s a more profound calling than I ever realized, being a female in journalism. I have big shoes to fill in honor of the women who came before me, and I have big strides to make for the sake of those who will come after. But judging from the ladies in my class, I have no worries about my generation’s ability to meet every demand we encounter.

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