Sexual Harassment Shouldn't Be Seen as a Badge of Honor for Women in Media

Following the Harvey Weinstein allegations, a tidal wave of sexual harassment claims has hit the media industry.

Some of the big players in journalism — including NPR, The New Republic and ABC News — have spurred the latest accusations. These allegations have led many to voice their opinions on sexual harassment within the journalism realm.

Mark Halperin has been accused of sexual harassment during his time at ABC News by at least a dozen women since the first claims against him came out. Halperin has been said to have masturbated in front of employees, thrown a woman against a window before trying to initiate a kiss, along with other inappropriate behavior towards colleagues, according to CNN.

Mike Oreskes, an NPR news executive, was forced to resign from his position due to sexual harassment accusations. Senior management had heard from multiple women about Oreskes' behavior but didn’t address it until it became national news. As reported by the Washington Post, women employees of NPR took matters into their own hands, by creating a petition that said, “We are profoundly concerned by how NPR has handled sexual harassment reports and senior management’s insufficient efforts to create a workplace environment free of harassment and one that ensures equal opportunity for all employees.”

Leon Wieseltier is yet another man in the news industry who abused his role of power. Working as the literary editor for The New Republic before his recent firing, complaints of Wieseltier’s behavior over the past three decades have emerged. Michelle Cottle, previously of The New Republic, wrote a piece for The Atlantic detailing on the several “Leon stories” she and her female colleagues had shared. Some of these including Wieseltier commenting on how tight women’s clothing should be, discussing his sex life openly, along with probing for details on other’s sexual experience.

The similarities between these men show that they were all in positions of power and got covered by others. They abused their roles by preying on their young and/or inexperienced colleagues.

In a report by the International Women's Media Foundation, approximately two-thirds of female journalists have reported instances where they dealt with threats, sexist abuse, intimidation, and harassment during their careers.

Shaheen Pasha, a journalism professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has been one of the many to speak out on the issue of workplace harassment that female journalists face daily.

In an interview, she speaks to the first instance where she encountered sexual harassment within her career from someone she looked to as a mentor. He took the then 19-year-old intern under his wing, offering career advice, but also adding in weird, inappropriate comments like “you must have a lot of boyfriends.”

Pasha naively wondered if he was just trying to compliment her — until he started to invite her to more private settings to discuss her career. She realized what he was trying to do, and felt extremely awkward. She attempted to get advice from colleagues, but was simply told: “If you want to never work as a journalist, then you should keep your mouth shut.”

As she advanced in her career, the harassment did not cease but instead changed discourse. Harassers became more blatant, with overtly sexual comments instead of attempting to beat around the bush. Pasha sees this change as these men knowing she’s a veteran in the industry and is used to this behavior. They think they don’t have to sugarcoat it anymore like they do with journalists just beginning their careers.

Yet, dealing with colleagues isn't the only instance where journalists see this aggressive behavior; it can be apparent when interviewing sources also.

“With colleagues, you at least have some sort of place you can go in terms of human resources,” Pasha said. “There is some network set up.”

Harassment from sources is a whole different ballpark.

“Especially in a very competitive industry like this, it’s all about relationships; it’s all about getting people to trust you and people to talk to you,” Pasha said. “It becomes much more difficult because the part of you that’s competitive and ambitious doesn’t want to burn that bridge — even though the part of you that’s human and a woman with pride looks at that and says ‘I’m being demeaned.’ What do you do?”

Working internationally, Pasha saw the same problems popping up. “A lot of people assumed that because I was working in the Middle East, that I was receiving it a lot more from people from the culture [like] Arabs,” Pasha said. “Of course, I got some of that, but a lot more harassment actually came from the western executives and the western sources that I had.”

What Pasha has noticed is that young journalists are wondering if they’re actually experiencing sexual harassment and if anyone will believe their claims.

“One of the things that I do tell young journalists is to be aware that this is very much a reality in our lives,” Pasha said.

She points out that it’s not just women facing this, many men experience this too from higher-ups.

For addressing this problem within the industry, Pasha wants reform in how the workplace is handling these cases. “I know we have these anti-sexual harassment ideals in the workplace, but they need to actually be handled properly,” Pasha said.

She hopes to see a shift in the dialogue, one where reporters are comfortable going to their editors when feeling abused.

“You need to be able to talk to [an] editor about it, and not just take it inside. It’s not a badge of honor, or a badge of courage, that a lot of us hold onto and say ‘well it’s just me toughening up.’ It’s not,” Pasha said. “It’s something that demeans you as a person; it takes away from your personal credibility as a reporter.”

Sexual harassment is not only harmful towards the individuals it affects, but it endangers the practice of journalism in itself by serving as a roadblock for journalists trying to do their work.

“We need to have much more accountability within the newsroom because we as journalists can’t do our jobs,” Pasha said.

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