Women in media, sexism and the threat of burnout

I was never really interested in women’s issues and feminism until I entered college. I thought I’d been fortunate in my life and thought I had never experienced sexism or discrimination based on my gender. But as I spent more time in college I began realizing little ways in how I was being treated differently because I am female — the catcalls I’d receive when driving in my convertible, the men on the street who would tell me to smile, the older men (often residing in positions of authority or who were sources I was interviewing) who would call me “a nice, local girl,” when they learned that I’m from Missouri.

Before college, I never thought of myself as a feminist. I thought sexism was largely a thing of the past and I wasn’t interested in the topic. Now, I go on tangents about women’s issues and the patriarchy and male gaze. I listen to Beyoncé’s “Flawless” at least once a week on full volume and have a Rosie the Riveter poster hanging in my room. Last night I was watching “National Treasure” with my roommates (don’t judge) and it bothered me that someone like Diane Kruger was cast as Nicholas’ Cage’s love interest — because, really, when would that ever happen?

Today I went to the Women in Media panel as part of the Missouri Honor Medal celebrations and classes. I was immediately interested in the topic and as soon as I heard that Jacqui Banaszynski was the moderator, aka a goddess badass journalist and everything I want to be, I made the decision to skip my Ancient Western Philosophy class and go.

Jacqui immediately threw out a statistic that terrified me — she said, about 70 percent of journalism students are women, but there are only about 25 percent of women in newsrooms.

So, what happened to all the women?

The answers vary. Sexism, internet trolls, and the demands of the job tend to drive women away. The panelists talked a lot about how journalism isn’t a regular, nine-to-five job. “Journalism is your life,” they said, and that demand is hard on a lot of women.

Burn-out is something that worries me. I can see how women are especially affected, since many women want to have families and it can be difficult to be married and have children while you’re working a job as demanding and unpredictable as journalism. Personally, I don’t know if I want to get married and have kids, but one thing I have always been adamant about is that I refuse to let a job rule my life. I don’t want journalism to be the main focus of my life. And sometimes it worries me that it will be.

A fellow student asked the question that has been burning in my mind for the last year — when your career is affecting your personal life in a negative way, what can you do?

The answer: “Cry and drink.”

Tbh that’s how I coped with the stress of journalism and personal issues all last year, and I can’t say it worked out well for me. Yes, journalism is a hard job, but I think that I and other women can find that balance. (Insert obnoxious: “Can women have it all?” question. What the heck is “IT”?).

Finding the Courage to Speak

I wrote Why #YesAllWomen is the Most Powerful Hashtag I’ve Ever Seen on my iPhone.

I came across the trending hashtag Sunday evening and spent over an hour scrolling through the thousands of tweets from women all over the world. These brave women were tweeting about their personal experiences with harassment, gender relations, abuse, rape, and living in fear.

Reading through these tweets, I began thinking of the sexism I’ve witnessed firsthand. The cat-calling, the objectification, the sexist jokes, the unwanted groping and grinding frat parties. The more I thought about all the times my friends and I were randomly grabbed at parties and yelled to from cars as we walked down the street, the more frustrated I became. I wrote down these experiences and submitted it to Thought Catalog, where, hours later, it was published.

I was surprised, excited, and completely flattered. Somebody at Thought Catalog actually thought my little article was good enough to publish. I was thrilled. Every positive emotion you could think of was running through me (I may or may not have been dancing around my living room).

I was elated. That is, until I read the first comment.

My article hadn’t even been published for fifteen whole minutes before men began leaving anonymous comments, ripping not only into the article, but into me. Fifteen minutes and I was already being ridiculed for “blaming men for everything” and “stereotyping” and “man hating” and I was being called a “joke.” And it wasn’t just my article — men were responding to other women’s tweets, telling them that it’s their fault that they feel victimized, telling them that “you should be flattered that men give you attention” when women would talk about being groped and cat-called, telling them that they are being “too sensitive” and shaming them for turning the shooting massacre at Santa Barbara.

I got pissed.

The #YesAllWomen movement may have begun as a response to Elliot Rodger and those men who defended his actions, but it became something so much more. It was about raising awareness and creating a discussion about the reality women face every day, and how dare these men try to tear these women down over the internet.

I was fuming. Ultimately, these men who were belittling me so relentlessly on Thought Catalog motivated me to do something that terrified me — put the post on Facebook.

I am not a brave person. I second guess a lot of the things I do, especially when it comes to my writing (“what if people think it’s stupid or annoying or what if I have typos that I’m just not seeing oh my god I’m so stupid what have I done this is the worst thing ever and now it’s all over the internet and people are going to laugh at me ugh I’ve made a huge mistake”). But I typed up a status, copied and pasted the link, and had a lengthy internal debate (“ugh should I post this that means people I know will read it oh my god my super conservative family is going to see this I don’t want my dad to know some guy told me to bend over ugh I don’t know about this what should I do”). Finally, my finger clicked “post.”

Over the course of the day, I had friends “liking” and sharing and tweeting the link. I was grateful and flattered and, I must admit, completely embarrassed (“oh my god this is stupid that point about being romantically frustrated is the absolute most humiliating thing why did I include it”).

But despite the positive feedback I was receiving from friends, the anonymous attacks kept coming and before I knew it, I had over 100 comments of heated debating at the bottom of my article. People were making death threats to each other and debating issues I didn’t even mention in the article, like mental illness and gun control and female genital mutilation (really, where did that even come from?). When I read something I don’t agree with, I shrug, close the tab, and move on. But these people were throwing themselves into the debate, armed with sarcasm, foul language, and threats. 24 hours later, I had long stopped reading the comments and I just wanted to move on and forget it even happened.

But then there were those who read my article and saw it for what it is — simply a list of truths from the life of one person, similar to the tweets women were posting on Twitter. The things I mention are things that happen regularly, which is exactly why the #YesAllWomen movement is so important. Rob Fee was kind enough to mention me in his own article on the subject. As of now, my article has been shared 1.1k times on Facebook, received 1.2k “likes,” and has been tweeted nearly 200 times.

I am incredibly humbled that there were so many people who related to my article. I wrote it for myself, to vent my frustrations with what I’ve experienced, and the fact that so many women were retweeting it with kind words like “THIS!” and “In a nutshell!” is incredible.

I’ve come a long way this past year. If #YesAllWomen had happened a year ago, I would never have had the courage to even write the article, let alone post it on Facebook for everyone to see. I’m very proud of myself. I wrote about a difficult topic. I sparked a conversation. I contributed to a powerful Twitter campaign that means so much to so many. I’m proud that I was brave enough to do so. Having the courage to speak out and be heard is important, no matter how much opposition you face.

In the words of Kevin Gnapoor, “Don’t let the haters stop you from doin’ your thang.”

Why #YesAllWomen is the Most Powerful Hashtag I’ve Ever Seen

Because when a guy wanted to dance with my friend, she had to tell him she had a boyfriend so he would leave her alone. When he moved on to me, my simple “No thank you,” wouldn’t deter him and I had to weave through a sea of people to get away from him. (Why should I have to lie about having a boyfriend to get men to stop their unwanted advances?)

Because, at a party, a guy my friends and I had never seen before walked up and said, “You’re gonna blow me, right?”

Because, at that same party, a guy told me to “bend over.”

Because I’ve had to ask my male friends to walk me somewhere through campus at night because I’m too scared to walk alone.

Because people give girls respect based on how much clothing they’re wearing — including one of my female friends, who regularly refers to girls at parties as “whores and skanks.” (People can wear whatever they want and that’s cool, dammit.)

Because my RA felt compelled to make a bulletin board about rape.

Because I receive police clery emails about rapes on campus — rapes in dorms.

Because a friend of a friend is struggling to get a restraining order against her rapist.

Because we tell little girls that the boys are mean to them “because he likes you.”

Because it’s not “men hating,” it’s courage and bravery to speak out about the reality women face every day.

Because no means no and women don’t owe men anything.

Because “Blurred Lines” reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100.

Because ignorant men created #YesAllPeople as a response.

Because I, a teenage girl, have been honked at and cat-called by middle-age men while walking down the street.

Because my friend has had suggestive racial slurs yelled at her from guys who slow their cars as they pass us when we walk through campus.

Because I’ve grown up in a society where I’ve been taught that only guys can make the first move, so I bite my tongue and swallow my feelings and grow used to being romantically frustrated while I wait for guys to text me first.

Because the high school I went to holds annual self-defense classes for only female students.

Because a man wrote an article about how women shouldn’t cut their hair short because it makes them less appealing, as if women should dedicate their physical appearance to pleasing the eyes of men.

Because I walk a little faster and look over my shoulder when walking home/to my car at night.

Because a man went on a shooting rampage because he thought women owed him affection.

Because of tweets like these.