Female Journalists Take Different Career Trajectory than Male Counterparts

maeve-headshotMAEVE LAZOR, CO-EDITOR IN CHIEF | December 15, 2016

Everyone knows it is a difficult feat for women to break the glass ceiling. Time and time again, men who are less qualified and less experienced are chosen over their female counterparts for any given job. They are taken more seriously and are often granted a head start. We’ve seen this phenomenon in every realm of the working world—education, business, politics, and journalism—and the 2016 presidential election has proven that no matter how hard a woman works, a man is considered more deserving of the position. 

Last month Bard College held a discussion panel with mostly conservative Republican speakers as part of the college’s commitment to freedom of expression and an endeavor to broaden the viewpoints of students in the liberal “Bard bubble.” The speakers answered questions about their reasons voting for Donald Trump and the president-elect’s proposed policies, ranging from healthcare to immigration. Amongst the panel members was Larry Kudlow, a former CNBC contributor, host of the “The Kudlow Report” and reformed cocaine addict.

Kudlow is an expert on finance, economics, Wall Street, and tax policy. He is also a former democrat turned conservative Trump voter. Kudlow immediately caught my attention with his political viewpoints and high standing in the world of media. I didn’t know much about him before the panel, so I Googled his name while he answered an audience question; I found out that he initially opposed Trump’s plan to register Muslim immigrants prior to the Paris attacks, but now agrees with the idea.

“Why did you change your mind?” I asked him after the usher called on me and handed me the microphone. He gave me an extensive answer involving gun laws, ISIS, and jihadi recruitment that I jotted down in a black notepad on my lap.

“Thank you,” I said.

When all the audience questions were answered, a few students went up to the speakers to introduce themselves and ask further questions. I was the first student to walk up to Kudlow; I shook his hand firmly and introduced myself as a co-Editor in Chief of a Bard news publication. I told him bluntly: “I’m looking for an internship this summer, is CNBC offering anything?” He smiled and told me he would send a list of internships to me, and I was ecstatic. Soon, a few of my male classmates realized Kudlow was approachable and came over to introduce themselves.

The following weekend, I was in New York City having brunch with Andrea Stanley, the Editor in Chief of Seventeen Magazine. My dad is an architect and had designed a house for her in upstate New York, and had mentioned he I was an aspiring journalist, so Stanley offered to interview me for an internship. I liked her immediately: she ordered coffee and asked for it spiked and told me about the magazine’s re-imaging efforts. She has worked with teen girls in the United Nations and is taking a more feminist stance on article topics, deviating from the “sex and fashion” appeal and drawing attention to arguably more important issues like college, career, and health. I am not an avid reader of Seventeen, but I understood the stance Stanley was looking for from her interns: a stance that encouraged young girls to believe in themselves and to pursue their education.

Stanley asked me a bit about my aspirations: I told her I wanted to attend Columbia for grad school and work as a journalist in New York City. Eventually the check came and I thanked her for her time, and she said she would be in touch.

Seventeen is a teen girl’s magazine—I get it. But I couldn’t help but wonder: what are my male peers doing? How are they treating their career trajectories? Are they starting out at Seventeen or Cosmopolitan? Or are they going straight to the newsroom at CNBC with Larry Kudlow?

As a young girl, my interpretation of becoming a journalist in New York City was formed off of the movie, The Devil Wears Prada starring Anne Hathaway, who plays Andy, a college grad student from Northwestern who puts her journalistic aspirations on hold to work for a renowned fashion magazine, Runway. Meryl Streep plays Miranda, the “devil,” because she is a successful businesswoman who has the same level of ambition as any man. Andy is a frumpy journalist girl who looks at her internship with Runway as a gateway to her journalism career: she cares about topics like divestment, not Dolce and Gabanna.

Since I was young, because of films like The Devil Wears Prada, the message that female journalists must start their writing careers writing about fashion, beauty, and culture has been drilled in my head. We can start at a name brand publication, like Seventeen, make connections in the writing world, get an excellent recommendation and be sent on our way to our next job or internship, wherever that may be. The American Dream is based on the idea that people have to start somewhere and work their way to the top. We can achieve anything as long as we work hard and use our talent to make professional connections in the adult world.

As a female student journalist, I have already encountered much implicit sexism, from some of my high school teachers and male peers especially. My past boyfriends have made jokes about me hypothetically working my way up in the media world by initiating affairs with senior editors to obtain higher level positions. I understand it’s a joke, but it’s also an idea ingrained in the minds of American youth.

It’s something we’ve all see on TV, perhaps most famously demonstrated by House of Cards character Zoe Barnes, who plays a starving journalist for the Washington Herald. She uses her good looks and talent in order to gain access to White House information through the politician Francis Underwood. In high school, one of my male teachers said I was like Zoe. “She was thrown under a train!” I exclaimed, laughing but somewhat uncomfortable since he said it in front of my entire history class.

But there are things I admire about Zoe’s character: she’s smart, hard-working, and doesn’t take no for an answer. She is not intimidated by the world of politics, which is arguably run by men. Right out of college, she decides to work for a major publication and covers stories the chief political correspondent is too slow to cover.

Yes, these are fictional characters from movies and TV shows. But they are also shaping the way female students, like myself, think about their career trajectories. There is this implicitly sexist idea that when your journalistic ability doesn’t come through, you can always fall back on your physical appearance and charm. And this is one of the main reasons why female journalists are taken less seriously than male journalists. It’s why female anchorwomen are caked up with makeup on TV. It is why female journalists have to initially write about soft topics like culture, arts & entertainment, and fashion coming out of college or grad school while their male counterparts are given topics ranging from economy to international affairs right off the bat.

Of course, some journalists aspire to write mainly about culture and entertainment, and that’s perfectly fine. My question is: why does society consider it a starting point for young female journalists who want to write about politics, finance, or international affairs? Why do some still consider it the norm for women to begin journalism careers at fashion magazines?

As of now, I don’t have any fancy journalism degree and I am grateful for all of the opportunities that have come my way, but I also want to start my career track at the same line as my male classmates: in a newsroom  

 

To respond to this article, or to submit an op-ed, contact bardwatchmanaging@gmail.com. 

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