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Sexual harassment in the newsroom: An oral history

By Alexandria Neason, Meg Dalton, and Karen K. Ho, Columbia Journalism Review

What’s come to be known as the #MeToo movement gained momentum through a series of celebrity takedowns, starting with Harvey Weinstein, then ricocheted throughout the media and entertainment worlds.

Late last fall, CJR set out to explore the problem beyond the household names, turning the spotlight on the everyday experiences of (mostly) women in journalism. We asked our readers to tell us their harassment stories.

More than 300 people responded—men, women, queer and straight people, from every corner of the country and abroad. Forty-one percent of respondents said they had been subject to harassment in their newsrooms or as freelancers, but only one third had reported those incidents. Many of the respondents were young and new to their jobs, and many of the events described were contemporary. (We also asked nearly 150 companies to detail for us how they handle sexual harassment in their newsroom; exactly zero of them had responded by the time we published our findings.)

The results of our limited survey reflect the aching banality of harassment in journalism—that too-familiar notion of feeling uncomfortable at work, the expectation that the office will be a boy’s club, the fact that this happens daily and in every job, throughout entire careers. They also show how people can adapt to the situations in which they find themselves, whether outright harassment; assault; or the gray area of unwanted comments, romantic advances, flirting, bullying, and other types of work-related obstructionism. Determined to do their jobs, the subjects of harassment lower expectations, make concessions, work around it, and—most often—work through it.

We want to provide a space for all respondents to tell their own stories. Here, we are publishing the written statements of every respondent who has granted us permission to do so. We’ve removed identifying language and edited statements accordingly, with approval from the authors.

This is what they told us.

“I’ve had a coworker make inappropriate comments in a joking way…that made me uncomfortable.”

“I had a generally misogynistic boss who would just yell comments out the window of the office that were demeaning and inappropriate.”

“I was once told by a manager that I would most likely get a job because I was nice to look at. Not much later, I heard the same manager comment that an intern had great legs. The station had a real old-boys’ culture, though nothing physical ever happened to me.

A couple years later, I was working on a joint venture. During a training event at our headquarters, a well-known journalist and editor introduced me to a group of executives as his ‘new, hot young wife.’ A couple moments later, another reporter walked by, and he introduced her as a ‘talented’ young reporter and asked if they’d heard her great work. It did not feel great.”

“A content editor known as an office creep hits on young female new starters, and is responsible for some training so has easy access. The editor made inappropriate comments at an office summer party about my new haircut. He proceeded to tell me how he’d noticed me walking around the office and who was that new pretty girl. He then commented on my sexy librarian glasses and said that I could walk into any bar and have any man wrapped around my finger with those glasses. To which I responded, ‘Sure whatever my boyfriend likes them too’ (to get him off my back).”

“A male coworker never looks me in the eyes when we speak, but stares at my chest. A former boss called me ‘hot.'”

“I worked there for six years, and it was a complete old boy’s club. Whenever I or any of the other young, attractive women would have a new dress, our boss would tell us to stand up and spin around so he could see the dress. He also gave us tips on how he liked our hair to be cut and styled (we were NOT on air) and would comment on who needed to hit the gym, who ‘looked like shit’ when they didn’t wear makeup, etc. None of it was as blatant as someone grabbing our breasts or physically touching us in any way, but there were daily—hourly—undercurrents of harassment, all of which seemed not worth ‘rocking the boat’ to report, at least in our 25-year-old, eager-to-please brains. One instance that sticks out: I got a new lip gloss, and my boss commented on how shiny my lips were. I didn’t say anything to acknowledge him, and he said, ‘Oh, I see, you’re a lip snob since you have lips people pay for.’ He quickly clarified that he didn’t mean to imply I was working as a prostitute, rather that my lips looked like they were injected. I also had a boss say, ‘You’re so gorgeous. I’m going to leave my first wife for you.’ Comments like this were fed to us on a daily basis, all under the guise of ‘compliments.’”

“Verbal, while I was pregnant.”

“Being compared to my male boss’s wife.”

“Bullying behavior and sexist comments from male editor.”

“I have not experienced sexual harassment, but sexism is a major problem.”

“I’ve been made uncomfortable via comments relating to the perceived sexuality of my ethnicity several times in multiple newsrooms.”

“While working as a staff reporter, I experienced harassment from my editor. He regularly made graphic sexual jokes. He also assigned me to report stories that he classified as more “female” in subject matter. He regularly talked about sex in graphic ways in the newsroom. I was the only female reporter at this publication; the other woman working there was the receptionist/office manager. I witnessed the editor regularly commenting to her about her appearance and telling her graphic sexual jokes.”

“A previous boss would make sexual comments to people multiple times a day—he would make fun of our religions, our clothes, anything. I once was publicly chastised for a relationship with a coworker where we’d been transparent, the person (a former boss) just didn’t like the relationship.”

“A few comments on my clothing have veered towards uncomfortable at times (comments about being ‘metro’), but the situations were defused when my discomfort was made known and no lasting harm was done. Never had any sort of insistent verbal harassment or physical encounter.”

“Repeated comments on my appearance, marital status, how I look or would look in certain types of clothes. I am answering ‘no’ on the ‘did your report the incident’ question below, but I did specifically on each occasion tell the person that what they said was highly inappropriate.”

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STORY BY

Mumbai Press Club
Editor
Article posted on 07/02/2018

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