Don’t think that the rude, demeaning and sexist comments and actions that prompted the #MeToo movement have somehow sidestepped journalism in the Chippewa Valley.
I overheard a conversation in the Leader-Telegram newsroom recently about an experience a female reporter had while on assignment. She was covering an event and approached two men to get their opinions of the activities. When she lost her train of thought and paused during the interview, one man said to his male companion, “They just sent her out here to look pretty to make the paper look good.” After the man was quoted in the newspaper story about the event, he sent her a follow-up email — we list reporters’ email addresses at the end of stories — complimenting her on the article. He then added: “I forgot to tell you that I especially liked your outfit; modest but still very feminine and attractive. Too bad we live so far apart or I'd take you fishing on my boat!”
When I asked other female members of the Leader-Telegram reporting staff if they had ever been subjected to uncomfortable situations or comments doing their jobs in the community, they were quick to give me anecdotes.
One said she was interviewing a man in his small office when he paused during the interview so he could tell her how beautiful she was.
Another said she gets comments like, "You look prettier/younger/hotter than I expected."
“On another occasion, I was out reporting on a funeral,” one reporter said. “I approached a random person to ask if he could point me toward a woman I needed to talk to. He pointed her out, and it was quite obvious to whom he was pointing. He offered to introduce us and put his hand on my lower back as we walked over to her. He kept it there even when I walked diagonally to put some space between us.”
Multiple reporters said males often don’t believe a woman is capable of comprehending “man” things. A reporter pointed out she hears "man-splaining," which she described as a male feeling the need to explain something he is sure a woman wouldn’t understand because she’s not a man. “I was interviewing a car show judge about a local man whose revamped car had won the show. That judge went on to explain to me that there's a difference between a truck and a sports car.”
Another reporter said she’s heard various versions of "You'd understand this better if you were a guy/man/boy."
Female reporters sometimes find themselves in unnerving situations. “In many cases, especially at festivals/events, it's the feeling of walking alone as a woman, and knowing eyes are on you — whether or not people interact,” a reporter said. “It's a comment, or a double-take, or the realization you're suddenly the only female in a small space. Your presence has a weight, a dangerous weight, that I'm not sure male reporters ever feel in the same way on the job.”
And the most egregious incident was when a female reporter once met a man who had a story idea at a downtown office. After sharing his idea, the man started talking about his erections. When the reporter got up to leave, he hugged her tightly.
"I was stunned and scared at this point," the reporter recalled. "I just pushed him away and left and returned to the office to tell my editor what happened."
Reporters — male and female — are hired for their curiosity, talent and intelligence. They do their jobs at early-morning gatherings and late-night meetings — and all hours in between — to write stories that impact our community. They inform, educate and entertain thousands of readers each day. They’re simply doing their jobs.
Like any other worker who deals with the public, female reporters shouldn’t have to worry about being put in uncomfortable positions or harassed on the job because of their gender. That’s not acceptable. Every day they go to work, women in all walks of life should be treated with the same respect shown to their male co-workers — nothing more and nothing less. And that includes journalists.
— Gary Johnson, editor