The past, present, and future of
harassment of women in journalism: How has harassment of women journalists changed over time and where do we go from here?
By Evi Arthur and Professor Linda Jones
In my last semester of undergraduate work at Roosevelt University, I completed this senior thesis project through the Honors Program. Over the course of a semester, I interviewed about a dozen journalists on their experience with harassment in the field and combined the qualitative information with other stories and statistics.
This research was completed under the supervision and guidance of Associate Professor of Journalism Linda Jones as well as the Roosevelt University Honors Program Director Marjorie Jolles and Associate Director Sarah Maria Rutter.
Throughout history, there were many attempts to keep women out of journalism, as there were in many other professional industries. Professional female writers and reporters were given nicknames like “sob sisters” and “literary ladies.” They were kept out of press galleries available to their male coworkers and, for a very long time, were mostly confined to work on the “women’s pages,” which consisted of things like wedding announcements, fashion, recipes, cleaning tips, and baby announcements. As women have grown in ranks in the industry and have begun to be taken more seriously, many aspects of the job have improved: women are no longer confined to report on “women’s stories,” which were typically soft, fluffy news, more than a third of newsroom management positions are held by women, and pay is better (although still not equal with men). However, one of the aspects of the job that has not improved is harassment.
In a study done by the Committee to Protect Journalists, a non-profit organization that promotes freedom of press and defends the rights of journalists, of 115 female and gender non-conforming journalists, they found that 84.2% of them believed that journalists had become less safe in recent years, despite progress made by the feminist movement. They also found that the largest threat to the safety of journalists was online harassment at 90%, sexual harassment at 49.5%, and physical harassment at 45.2%.
As #MeToo has affected the way America interacts in the workplace, the journalism field has paid little attention to the harassment women receive. In an industry focused on keeping itself viable, harassment has taken the back burner and not much has been done in newsrooms across the United States., despite public removals of figures like Matt Lauer, Bill O'Reilly, and Charlie Rose.
Unfortunately, inside the newsroom is not the only place women journalists face harassment, as online harassment is just as common, and many women journalists I interviewed said they feel they've been left behind by their industry and left alone to deal with the treatment they receive.
And, since four of every 10 journalists are women, it is unacceptable that more than a third of those in the industry deal with harassment.
As a journalism student myself, I was curious to see how harassment of women in journalism has changed over the course of history, whether it has gotten any better, and what steps are being taken to improve the industry’s treatment of women going forward. I also wanted to see what the next generation of journalists thinks. By doing this, I examine the past, present, and future of harassment against women in the press.