Sisterhood Blog

Using Sexism to Our Advantage

By Naomi Zeveloff

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The investigative news site ProPublica hosted a session Monday on women in the newsroom at the Tenement Museum, a Lower East Side institution dedicated to telling the story of immigrant life in New York.

Unfortunately, the venue wasn’t the only thing that felt retro about the event. The topics covered — the dearth of women in editor positions, the shabby family leave policies at most newspapers, the fact that women are pushed to cover “soft” news like education while their male colleagues get the investigative scoops — are things that women in media have talked about for decades upon decades upon decades. When will the American news media have its “come to Jesus moment,” as ProPublica writer Nikole Hanna-Jones termed it, and cover and employ women of color? Something tells me we’ll be having this same conversation for years to come.

The most refreshing thing to come out of the panel was a discussion of how female reporters can use sexism to their advantage.

ProPublica’s Kim Barker described reporting in Afghanistan, where her access to women and families allowed her to paint a more nuanced portrait of life in war time.

High-ranking officials seemed to take her less seriously than her male colleagues, she said, and they would let their guard down, speaking freely about sensitive topics. Barker said she weathered her fair share of inappropriate touching and romantic propositions. But she didn’t always betray her outrage.

“The first job is to get the story, not to stand up and say ‘I’m offended,’” she said.

I, for one, love the idea of manipulating sexist attitudes to my advantage as a reporter. If male sources don’t take female reporters seriously, perhaps the best remedy is to let them see their attitudes in print.


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