Things men say to lady journos

Drew Barrymore as a newspaper intern in <i>Going the Distance</i>.

Drew Barrymore as a newspaper intern in Going the Distance.

As a woman who has spent her fair share of time in university bars and pubs, I’ve grown used to hearing the occasional lame pick up line.

The thing that still surprises me however is hearing them when I’m holding a dictaphone instead of a drink.

Being harassed while on the job is a surprisingly common part of being a female journalist, an irritation highlighted by the Said to Lady Journos tumblr.

The site - dedicated to chronicling the mindless, sexist and simply inane things people say to female reporters - includes snippets from the journalists such as an imbedded reporter who was asked what a “pretty little thing” like her was doing in Iraq.


I’m yet to meet a female journalist who can’t contribute something to this website.

It allows reporters to poke fun at some of the absurd and antiquated comments they’ve received, but it also shines a light on the less glamorous side of the profession.

Even with a notepad and press pass in hand, there are still some people who treat female reporters as if their career was an elaborate way to meet men or gain compliments.

And as a relatively small and young looking journalist, I’ve been on the receiving end of such comments plenty of times.

I’ve been asked by an interview subject if I could keep up with him in my “pretty little handwriting” – it’s called shorthand, buddy – and have been previously mistaken as an assistant to the male cadet I was training in court reporting.

Receiving this kind of treatment, some intentionally condescending and some just a failed attempt at conversation, from members of the public is one thing. Most journalists I know are thick skinned enough to shrug it off and move on with a sharply worded response.

But it’s a different matter when these comments come from inside the newsroom.

It’s something that many female journalists have unfortunately experienced and another aspect highlighted on the site, which includes comment from a female intern who was told to “cover her ears” by a male court reporter during a murder trial.

A survey conducted by Monash University last year found that female journalists were more than twice as likely to be sexually harassed in the workplace than in other professions.

Of the 577 journalists interviewed, almost 58 per cent had been sexually harassed in the workforce.

It’s great to have something to laugh over at after work drinks, but it remains an injustice that this innuendo and mid-interview distractions are something that men in the media rarely have to endure.

I am content to earn the same wage as my male colleagues, but if the wider world continues to subject female journalists to sexist remarks and antiquated attitudes, a pay packet does not mean equality.

27 comments so far

  • I’m sure folk are going to say: what – we can’t ask someone out, or tell them they’re attractive now?

    To which I say: if you can’t do these things without making people feel icky, then you need to grow some empathy.

    Date and time
    March 01, 2013, 9:19AM
    • The problem is, the line between 'icky' and 'flattering' all-too-often consists of the answer to the question 'do I think this person is attractive?'

      Date and time
      March 01, 2013, 10:18AM
    • @DM

      The only problem there is in your mind. Women don't owe you anything, regardless of who they do or don't find attractive. If you can't tell, that's your problem, not theirs.

      Date and time
      March 01, 2013, 11:31AM
    • @ DM

      On the flip side, the question of "do I find this person attractive" will be automatically answered in the negative once they have addressed me in a patronising, sexist or disrespectful way.

      Red Pony
      Date and time
      March 01, 2013, 11:51AM
    • Red Pony & Kindsight - but the same comment, made to two different women, can elicit different responses. One finds the person attractive, and they find the comment funny. The other does not find the person attractive, and the same comment is 'icky' or partonising. The comment itself does not change, only the reaction. The potential to make a mistake and misread a sign is significant.

      This is tangential to the actual sexism discussed in the article, however I felt the need to point out that reality is often more nuanced than it may appear.

      Date and time
      March 01, 2013, 12:40PM
    • DM isn’t defending crass behaviour, I’m sure he would defend your right to freedom from harassment, he’s just describing the complexity. If “Insert hot person’s name” leaned in with a coy smile and asked you back to their hotel room it would be flattering at the very least. If “insert gross person’s name” leaned in and used the same smile and same line you would feel disgusted. Same behaviour, different interpretation. It’s not a defence but it is worth considering.

      To further complicate, when we know someone has sexual thoughts about us our sexual interest in that person is increased (maybe not enough to sleep with them, but they increase on average). So the supposed icky men are stuck in a paradox; approach and be seen as icky or ignore them and be ignored. It’s not a defence to sexist behaviour, just an example of how some stuff is context specific.

      Date and time
      March 01, 2013, 1:10PM
    • @DM, it's worth considering the possible scenario that the women who "find the comment funny" are actually just as irritated / horrified by it, but may not feel able to voice this in a work situation where the ability to tell people to f* off is somewhat limited (especially if the person is your direct manager, as I've had the delight of experiencing). The pressures of seeming like you “can’t take a joke”, negatively influencing your career or just the general unpleasantness of dealing with conflict may push some people into appearing tolerant a comment which they otherwise find unacceptable. The point is they shouldn’t be put into this position in the first place.

      It's also worth noting that if someone finds a comment patronising, then that comment IS patronising. It doesn’t matter how anyone else might or might not respond to it.

      Tricky Situation
      Date and time
      March 01, 2013, 1:26PM
    • @DM

      Okay a few handy hints. It's fine to express interest. Just play it safe and be respectful, it won't be sexist.

      I work in a very male dominated industry- engineering consultancy. I get looks if not comments on a weekly basis asking why "such a pretty young woman, would work here" etc., as if if you're young and pretty you should be vapid and have no interest in other things and no ambition to achieve anything, or that I should be elsewhere-like at home.

      People often think if you are young and female, that you are an assistant or receptionist.
      Not true, always ask.

      If you're young, female and attractive- they expect you to be dumber and less competent. THis occurs across the board, with other male colleagues- sometimes (I'm guessing) trying to indicate interest by helping you, but also assuming you can't do anything. Male superiors can be surprised at results of your work and clients may not take you as seriously as you would like. They often want a man to do it, they don't trust women to look over complex engineering plans, or work out plans for finance, and they always joke that women can't go out on to inspect the site and construction. Hilarious!

      Then then there's the individual bullying that goes on, that makes all the much harder. I had pictures of my previous career splashed out with pictures of a porn actress by one male "colleague" who called me a "witch" and defended his actions as "joking around". They all new it was pretty bad, but in the end he got off with a warning.

      It can be really unfair. Except in male industries, income is above average. I just hope that other men aren't being paid more than I am.

      Date and time
      March 01, 2013, 2:01PM
    • "It's also worth noting that if someone finds a comment patronising, then that comment IS patronising. It doesn’t matter how anyone else might or might not respond to it."

      Sorry, but that's just not true. There are clear cases where a comment is patronising, and clear cases where it isn't, but there's a significant grey area in the middle that is context-sensitive, and the transmitted and recieved meanings can diverge drastically. What you're saying and what the other person is hearing can be very, very different.

      For example: I tell a female co-worker 'that's a cute top you're wearing today'. I may have meant "that's a nice brightly-coloured top and I think it suits you". In my head it's no different than saying "that's a seriously stylish hand-made suit you're wearing". However, for a lot of women, the word 'cute' is patrionising, implying childishness. However, for some women, it's an acceptable compliment for describing something. In a corporate environment, it would probably be demeaning. In a hairdressing salon, it probably wouldn't be. If it's a woman saying it to another woman, it's probably fine, but from a man, it may not be.

      The meanings of words and language can change drastically depending on the context and participants. If some parties don't happen to be aware of those changes, there's a potential for confusion and offence.

      Date and time
      March 01, 2013, 2:18PM
    • @DM, get back on topic. This article is about sexual harassment, not flirtation. An embedded female reporter doesn't need to consider how she should interpret the intentions of a man who has just asked what a "pretty thing" like her is doing in Iraq; it's pretty clear he is insulting and harassing her. Your comments excuse all those men who are unable to flirt with women without simultaneously offending their gender.

      Date and time
      March 01, 2013, 3:40PM

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