“Can I be your Clark Kent?”
“If you got shrapnel in your ass, I’d be happy to take it out.”
“Now that I don’t have to worry about you quoting me, I can hit on you.”
This is just a sampling from Said to Lady Journos, a new site that catalogs the sexism and harassment that, for many female journalists, comes with the job. And to watch certain pop-culture depictions, you’d think every woman in the business is trading sexual favors for scoops.
But we obviously know that’s not the case, and unwelcome sexual comments are all too common. So, how do you deal with harassment or sexism from a source? Here are some options:
Drop him. Sure, sometimes you’re on a beat where you can’t simply stop quoting or reporting on a certain person. But many times, sources are replaceable. (To the left, to the left.) Find a new one. Maybe a woman this time?
Call him out. In many cases, sources need you just as much as you need them. Especially if this guy is a flak, it may not hurt to gently point out that you don’t appreciate his tone or comments. My guess is that your relationship is pretty strained already. Sometimes you actually don’t have much to lose by asking him to do better.
Go over his head. Especially when someone is speaking with you in an official capacity or as a representative of their employer, their harassing behavior is the employer’s problem, too. And odds are they’re also making creepy comments to their female coworkers. After you’ve filed your story, you should consider reporting him to a superior. That goes double if there’s a digital trail—inappropriate texts or emails.
What about when the harassment is coming from someone within the newsroom?
Keep a diary. Every time this guy makes an inappropriate comment or gesture toward you, note the date and time and specific quotes. You might not be willing to take the career risk to expose him now, but it doesn’t hurt to start creating a paper trail.
Carefully spread the word. If a coworker is making sexist or sexual comments to you, chances are he’s harassed other people, too. Six months ago, when the Oxford American was embroiled in a scandal, I wrote about the prevalence of sexual harassment in journalism and noted that “knowledge is power. And, among women in the profession, there are definitely men in media who are well known as creepsters. There are names that pop up again and again.” If you aren’t ready to make a formal complaint, industry gossip can be a good thing. At least other women who consider taking jobs with this harasser will be on guard.
Forge allies. Part of what’s terrible about harassment is feeling like you’re singled out and targeted. Confide in people you trust, and they’ll help get you through it. Don’t limit yourself to other women. Many times, non-creepy men don’t know who the harassers are because they’re not subject to their advances. It can be helpful to clue them in. Male allies can help defuse the creepiness by offering to stay late when you’re on deadline, say, or by shutting down sexist comments about women who are out of earshot.
But admittedly, sometimes all there is to be done is to grit your teeth and submit anonymously to Said to Lady Journos.