I can remember the first time I ever met a Serious Journalist. I was a few years younger than I am now, and he was much older and very intimidating. I recognised his face from the byline above dozens of columns, interviews, and investigative reports. After downing my gin – for courage – I approached him.
‘I’m really interested in writing too,’ I said, starry-eyed. At the time I had a WordPress domain with my name on it, and a blog that chronicled the first few months of my time studying design at university. It wasn’t much, certainly not a lot compared to the work of the Serious Journalist, but I had a small following and knew it was growing steadily.
‘Oh, that’s wonderful. And what would you like to write about?’ he asked, smiling down at me. I’m surprised he didn’t pinch my cheek or pat me on the head. ‘Fashion, or something? I bet you could even be the Editor’s assistant at Cleo.’
Not even the Assistant Editor, but the Editor’s assistant. I was shocked. I can’t remember what I said in reply, but I sadly did not hurl the ice in my glass at him and use my outside voice to explain that I would rather be the Editor than their assistant. That one phrase stuck with me for years, and stuck in my head for far longer than any rejected pitch or critical comment. ‘Editor’s assistant.’ I felt like Lisa Simpson unwrapping the new Malibu Stacy doll only to hear her spout, ‘Thinking gives you wrinkles!’
Fast-forward a couple of years, and although I haven’t had to fetch coffee for any Cleo staff, I also haven’t noticed much of an improvement in attitudes toward young female writers and their choice of topics. Although my audience has broadened and advanced since the days of my WordPress domain, occasionally I’ll still find myself on the thorny end of the question: ‘Are you a blogger? Or an actual writer?’ This is not a question male writers are often asked, despite the fact that several of the men whose writing I follow often post to their own websites and blogs.
‘In general, “blogger” is a dirty word – “mummy blogger” even more so. It unfairly denotes a lack of seriousness, hobbyism or entitlement to freebies,’ says Iolanthe Gabrie, writer and founder of Ruby Slipper Consultants, a copywriting and marketing company. ‘I refer to myself as a writer, and to my business as a digital storytelling agency, to try impress upon my audience the seriousness of my offering. Blogger (although I’m definitely one of those, too!) feels like a weaker title.’
Perhaps the ultimate example of a young woman battling to be taken seriously is Tavi Gevinson. At age eleven, Gevinson started her blog Style Rookie, which chronicled her adventures through fashion and pop culture. Now, at the age of eighteen, she edits the Rookie website and its annual yearbook anthology of essays, features and interviews. Gevinson has come a long way from the days when the fashion world had no idea what to do with the pre-teen covering its most prestigious collections. When I saw Gevinson at an event in Melbourne eighteen months ago, she spoke of being invited to sit front row at the Dior couture presentation at Paris Fashion Week as a thirteen-year-old. Her appearance and presence caused such a stir among the more senior buyers and editors that she later felt obliged to apologise via social media for having been invited to the show at all.
Gevinson’s experience is not unique. A great deal of othering occurs when women – especially young women – enter the media as professionals, and that extends to the topics they cover as well.
‘The other day I was at the airport and there was a bookshelf labeled “women’s interests”,’ says Jeannette Francis, a producer and presenter for SBS The Feed. ‘On it sat – I kid you not – a whole bunch of patchwork quilting magazines. Like, I took a fucking photo – that’s how outraged I was with the notion that the entirety of all women, ever, had been boiled down to what is a relatively trivial pastime – not to belittle expert patchwork quilters. I mean, the people who labeled that shelf probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought, but that would never happen with men. Men’s interests are the public’s interests, because men are the public whether we want to think of it that way or not. Women, especially in public life, exist as a part of men’s worlds – a big part, sure – but still a part.’
Even as women become more vocal in demanding accurate and respectful representation, we are kept at arms length by a mainstream media which struggles to catch up. Some of the most absurd gendering comes from how we are presented with our own voices and opinions, whether it’s pink-tinged style and fashion pullouts in weekly newspapers, or the spin-off websites that cover feminism while their parent publications talk about world issues, economics, and sport. Too often, female journalists and writers are still spoken over by their male counterparts. It is even more disappointing, though, when these women’s voices are dismissed because of youth or inexperience. Women have a long way to go in being equally respected and valued in and by the media, and we need to ensure that when we do speak up, we are not given lip service in response.
Main image credit: genibee