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Criticize reporters, but sexism has to stop

Quite frankly, I was angry.

Lauren Gibbons, MLive reporter and president of the Society of Professional Journalists Mid-Michigan Chapter, tweeted the following: “… please just stop calling me a b**** or c*** for doing my job for one day! ONE DAY!”

Incensed, I perused the Twitter feeds of other women journalists — people I know to be consummate professionals, among the best in the field, better reporters than I, nicer people than I.

Their feeds were full of frustration similar to Gibbons’. Women called the b-word, the horrid c-word, told they can’t do their jobs because they’re women. Told they’re too pretty or not pretty enough. Sexualized and objectified.

It angered me, but I didn’t know the most productive way to respond.

So I reached out to Gibbons and two other women, MLive reporter Emily Lawler and Abigail Censky, a reporter at radio station WKAR in Lansing, to talk about the issue and what should be done.

What follows are excerpts of our interviews, all done separately over the phone:

HOW DO SEXIST ATTACKS MAKE YOU FEEL?

Gibbons: “When I see these swear words or I see people degrading me, in addition to degrading my profession, it’s an added level of frustration. It’s an added level of, just, sadness that someone would be willing to call me these things … It just insults my intelligence. It’s an added level of just disrespecting who I am as a person.

“And the sexist attacks that can come with that anger also, for women journalists, make them a little concerned, in some cases, for their safety … their guard is constantly up when they’re working, and when they should be focusing on other things.”

Censky: “I think that, no matter how absurd a comment is, or how clearly deranged the motivation is, it always stings, at the end of the day. I think a lot of women reporters are really conditioned to have thick skin and have to deal with those however is best for them.”

WHY IS THIS SOMETHING PEOPLE SHOULD CARE ABOUT?

Lawler: “Women are pretty well-represented in journalism, generally, but there are certain areas of journalism, including politics, where women are still underrepresented. I want women who are younger than me to come into this job, and I don’t want them to think that doing that means they have to stand up to sexism on a regular basis.”

Censky: “As a member of the Capitol press going into state legislatures across the country, not just in Michigan, those are buildings where we don’t have gender parity, whether it’s in the people covering lawmakers or the lawmakers, themselves. And it can only improve if you have more equitable representation in who’s writing the laws and who’s writing about the lawmakers. It’s incumbent upon all of us, I guess, to open a door and make sure it stays open to others.”

WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE?

Lawler: “If you like the work that you’re seeing out of your Capitol press corps, you should recognize it (by sharing stories, following reporters on social media). At a time when we get more negative emails than nice ones, it’s always beneficial to have that level of support.

“If you do read an article you hate, maybe just take a minute, take your 24-hour rule, and then see if you want to email me.”

Gibbons: “The most simple suggestion I have is, read back through your emails and, if you’re calling a journalist a b****, don’t send it. And don’t just not send that email yourself, root it out when you see it from others, and just try to convince people it’s not an appropriate response.”

Censky: “I think it’s just like any form of oppression that exists in our world. If you see sexism, if you see misogyny, if you see racism — it just doesn’t have to be people emailing me that I’m the c-word; it could just be your uncle or someone you grew up with who says something sexist — as much as you can, explain to them that this actually hurts real people … that stops the more extreme things from having the possibility to grow.”

Justin A. Hinkley can be reached at 989-354-3112 or jhinkley@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinHinkley.

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