Jasmine Andersson and Emily Reynolds 6th November 2017
Picture this. You’re an eager, bright and ambitious aspiring writer: but for the life of you, you just can’t get anyone to pay attention to your work. In spite of all of the listless job applications, the late nights finessing your pitches and a series of unpaid work placements, you still can’t break into the industry.
And it’s hard. Maybe your parents can’t afford to see you through a week of unpaid work in London. Perhaps you look around a newsroom and see no-one that looks like you or comes from where you come from. Perhaps you’re not white, male, straight or able-bodied. From the outside, it feels like you are missing a key ingredient, a secret that other journalists seem to be in on that you have not been told. The missing piece of the puzzle is simple: in order to make it in the world of journalism, you need to find money, and you need to find contacts.
Even if you do have a job, you’re part of an industry managed by men – and as in any male-dominated industry, that inequality leaves the system prone to abuse. The media is run by a small contingent of men from the same backgrounds, and this lack of diversity allows for the same sexist stereotypes to be regurgitated again and again. In the media, men hold more senior positions than women. More than half of journalists are privately educated, and 94% of journalists are white. Women – especially working class women, women of colour, trans women, and women with disabilities – are treated as outsiders, as interlopers in the status quo.
While in our day jobs women journalists have been reporting on historic and current allegations of sexual harassment by film stars and politicians, we have been making these allegations ourselves, about numerous men in our own industry. The same sexist attitudes that haunted the media sixty years ago are still affecting it now.
Perhaps it’s as low key as speaking over you in a meeting. Perhaps it’s sending some off-kilter messages to younger journalists as inaugural “banter”. Maybe it’s that brush of a hand on their knee, their leg, that gets further and further, just to say “I hold the power here”. Add to this the blurred lines between work and play that are so often crossed in journalism and the water is muddied even further.
When these acts are so accepted, so part and parcel of the workplace, women find themselves suffering in silence. We have spoken to women who found that their HR departments were refusing to take their complaints seriously and their editors dismissing and minimising the impact of these incidents, failing to understand how detrimental the perpetrator’s actions are to both your wellbeing and your work. Admitting that a colleague, editor, a friend of your colleagues or someone influential is a harasser is an exhausting and daunting predicament for a female journalist. The only person taking accountability for that trauma is you. Their actions are now your problem.
One in three freelance journalists in the UK are on state benefits, and as in any other profession, the rate of pay is worse for women. Journalism has one of the highest rates of self-employment in the UK economy, and when breaking into the industry demands dedication with such a low financial reward, it leaves women vulnerable to established journalists who exploit their ambition for their personal gain.
Our new organisation, The Second Source, hopes to change this. We can’t do much about the fact that men dominate the media – what we can do, however, is try to ensure that the men who want to abuse this power cannot do so with impunity. There needs to be a significant change in approach to incidents of harassment and worse – from a culture of silence and complicity to an environment where anyone who is made to feel uncomfortable at work is given the space, time and support to deal with it.
This is not just a matter of changing minds or attitudes, though, and we are not simply a consciousness-raising organisation. We hope to encourage employers to implement practical changes in the newsroom and beyond, working with them to scrutinise harassment policies to ensure that what’s in place is effective and to replace those that are not. We will also be on hand to support journalists practically – not only offering support and resources, but also pointing anyone affected by harassment to independent third parties who can offer legal assistance. For those entering the industry without a black book already full of important contacts, we plan to offer networking events, some specifically designed with working class women, LGBT women or women of colour in mind.
Sexual harassment is not just a problem in the media – it happens in every industry, to women from every walk of life. Beyond our work within the media, we are hoping to partner with sister organisations – from academia, healthcare, the service industry, politics and many more – to create a network determined to hold abusers to account.
It’s not a one-off, it’s not a misunderstanding, and it’s certainly not acceptable. At The Second Source, we want women to know that they should never be at the risk of harm for simply doing their job.
Jasmine Andersson and Emily Reynolds are journalists and co-founders of The Second Source, a website to support women entering the journalism industry, as well as those who are already part of it. The Overtake is a proud member and committed to making the media more representative of the real UK.
Jasmine Andersson and Emily Reynolds 6th November 2017