Friday, July 11, 2008

Print Journalism May Be Dead, But Sexism is Not

My mom e-mailed me this articulate and interesting article that explores the subtle sexism that pervades the lives of women in the media, particularly in regards to print journalism. Jessica DaSilva wrote a rather inspiring post on her personal blog discussing a staff meeting that covered the logistics of the layoffs at her paper, The Tampa Tribune, and highlighted why, despite the long hours and vicious paycuts, her boss continued to work for a paper that "wasn't even in the black last year." Her insights provide a compelling look at the industry, and I see a lot of myself in DaSilva's excitement and enthusiasm over journalism. I moved to New York hungering for a byline, but was immediately greeted with the startling fact that Print Journalism Is Dead. I've also heard a lot about sexism in the industry recently, and in her article, Chris Nolan shines a light on the dynamics between young female journalists and their older, primarily male, bosses. One of the commenters on DaSilva's post, who goes by "Jamie," is wrought with condescension and unnecessary criticism, even stooping so low as to say, "What, praytell, young lady, would you like them to do?" Young lady? Oh, fuck no! Jessica may have fucked up the spelling of "laid off," but minor spelling errors like that don't necessarily threaten the future of her journalism career; and subtly chalking it up to her youth and her gender is not only sexist, it's outrageous.

Though the response has been overwhelmingly positive, I've still been catching a lot of flack for the mistakes I made in regards to the whole Jezebel thing. One of the things I noticed was how shocked everyone was at my age. I admit that I am young and have much to learn, but it gets frustrating when people assume I can't think critically because I am young, or that I make mistakes solely because I am 20 years old. I completely relate to Jessica (we do have the same name, afterall). Young women are capable, strong and articulate, and just because one person says something does not mean it applies to the entire subset. Because I made a point of conveying how much I admire(d) Tracie and Moe, suddenly there was a ton of hooplah declaring that all young women who read Jezebel admire Tracie and Moe. I do not intend to speak for my generation. If people relate to my opinion, as a young and budding feminist and journalist, then that's something I'm really proud of. I'm simply trying to figure out things for myself, and honestly, I have a long way to go. But hey, I have my entire life to do so. I just think that young women like myself, and Jessica DaSilva, should be held to the same high standards as our older male counterparts. I've been lucky in that - for the most part - I've been held to that standard. Young people may fuck up more because we haven't garnered a lot of experience yet, but to assume that we can't be capable and successful journalists because of our age or gender is antiquated and false.

Below is the conversation I had with my Mom about the article.

JESS: i really like that journalism article you sent me from Spot On. it was depressing but really good
MOM: yeah, wasn't it? goes to show that sexism isn't dead as so many would have us believe
MOM: also interesting that they were giving her shit because she's young--sound familiar?
JESS: what really got me was the condescension of "praytell, young lady"
JESS: so fucking obnoxious
MOM: exactly!
JESS: yeah, it does
MOM: get used to it, unfortunately. it's the way of making you be "less." and there they can combine being a woman with being young. like how could you possibly know anything?
MOM: of course they're 50 year old dinosaurs who can't change, but god forbid we should say that
JESS: they're insecure and feel threatened by people who are younger and smarter
MOM: exactly
JESS: meanwhile they may know that it's "laid off" but they'll never be as tough as jessica desilva because they don't have to go through the shit that she does, which will ultimately make her a better writer
MOM: right--and focusing on that kind of ridiculous detail does not take away from her overall argument
JESS: yeah it's a way to undermine her self confidence so that she'll doubt what she's writing. And THAT is something I can totally understand.
MOM: again it's a classic tactic
MOM: i know--it's hard to stay focused on the bigger picture in those circumstances because it immediately makes you feel stupid.
MOM: did you see how she responded to it though?
MOM: she said in comments "thanks, I sometimes mess that up" or something to that effect. like taking it at face value and moving on
JESS: right
MOM: very effective way of making the person look like a jack ass without calling him one
MOM: something to remember if/when it happens to you
JESS: yeah
JESS: i have a hard time not taking things straight to heart. if one person says something remotely mean i completely take it personally and it will ruin my entire day. and anything good that happens is immediately overshadowed by that one comment
MOM: yep—I struggle with that too.

Right now I'm really working on changing the way I field and cope with criticism; because as Jessica DaSilva demonstrates, people in the media world - but perhaps especially young women - face a lot of it.



Chris Nolan said...

Oh, dear. I am not a man an despite having lived in San Francisco for 10 years, I have no plans to become one.

As I think Naughty Nicky Denton would attest.

Thanks for the very kind words, however. I'm very flattered that your MOM reads me!


Sara Benincasa said...

Jess, your mom sounds rad. Also, this bloggering thing can be rough going sometimes. Ultimately, it's great because it makes you write every day and is a venue for you express your feelings and thoughts to a world that occasionally actually takes notice (or, well, a tiny subsection of it does, anyway).

The pitfalls, of course, are that when you do something that you later deem to be a mistake (even if it really wasn't!), embarrassment takes hold in a major way. Also, as the commenter reactions to Tracie and Moe have demonstrated across the inter-Webbings, the pile-on that ensues can be fiercely nasty.

My boyfriend, who writes a syndicated comic strip and gets the nicest fan mail and most insane hate mail (and death threats!), put it to me this way: "When people send out an email or leave a blog comment for someone they've never met, they think they are shouting into a void, so they say things they would never say in person. Usually, when you respond with some grace and politeness, they back down. But once you put your work out into the world, it's theirs. And when they tell you they hate you, it's never really about you as a person, because they don't know you as a person."

It is possible that he says this so well because he is an old man, but it's likelier that after ten years of writing for newspapers, TV and the Inter-netses, he's built up a thicker skin than have you or I.

If it counts for anything, I'm seven years older than you and still learning to grapple with some stuff you're addressing. You're doing a beautiful job.

Fucking Christ, this is a long comment.

Jess and Josh said...

Chris - Sorry about that! Gender fixed. Thanks for writing such a great article.

Sara - Thank you so much for the advice. Seriously, I need all I can get at this point. Your boyfriend sounds like a catch. I think it's really apt to consider the fact that they don't actually *know* you. I remind myself constantly that the way I write in this blog is an exaggerated version of myself. It's me at my most hyper-honest, but I also only write about things that I'm comfortable writing about. I censor myself so I don't give EVERYTHING to people, despite how inclined I am to overshare.

PS I'm still waiting for your bro to friend request me, jeez...

Jess's Mom said...

Sara, I don't know if it's that your boyfriend has a "thicker skin" or if it's that men in general don't tend to take things as personally as women do. It's been my experience (and I'm an "old" woman), that we females always take criticism more to heart than men, who grow up saying the most incredibly nasty things to each other and then laughing it off. Can't tell you why that is, but it seems that women definitely are more sensitive to criticism than men, which makes this whole blogging thing tougher for us to navigate sometimes. Reminding yourself that they don't really know you is some great advice.

Sara Benincasa said...

Great point, Jess's Mom. I am tickled that you answered my comment! I think we ladies are raised to believe that others' views of us are of the utmost importance. We are supposed to make nice with all the boys, and some of the girls (but we are supposed to step on the girls who threaten us in some way, hence girl-on-girl nastiness and that most curious of creatures, the woman who professes to 'hate women.'"