New York Times columnist Gail Collins was the keynote speaker at New York Women in Communications annual meeting on May 17, 2011. She spoke about the evolution of women journalists — from being denied entry to the National Press Club in the 1970s, where even the restrooms were off-limits to them, to covering world events today.
Collins credited her success in journalism to the trailblazing women that came before her, who paved the way so that her own fight was made easier.
Yes, women have indeed come far. But not far enough. As a reminder, read Mika Brzezinski’s account (“Knowing Your Value: Women, Money and Getting What You’re Worth”) on why we value our work less than our male colleagues’ and how to get equal pay for equal work.
Listening to Collins’ speech was heartwarming, not only because of her wit and intellect but because of her down-to-earth, unpretentious demeanor that is lacking in too many media personalities and stars.
And I was reminded again how complacent many young journalists and almost-media-starlets are. I don’t see many who have Collins’ inner strength and determination to fight for women’s rights.
“A feminist? Me? Hell no.” Their dream jobs are working for Lifestyle or editing Cosmopolitan or Vogue — not covering Washington politics or the Pentagon. They want to work for Lucky and Us Weekly, not Wired or Foreign Affairs. At New York Women in Communications, I have met many a student and young professional who yearns to be the next Oprah and gets weak knees when coming face-to-face with senior fashion and beauty editors at NYWICI panels.
As broadcast journalists and magazine editors, they, too, will get caught up in superficiality in the hunt for the lowest common denominator, pleasing advertisers to get ratings or ads.
And as copy writers at advertising agencies, they, too, might come up with sexist ads like this one (why did the woman agree to take part in the ad, I wonder. But ladies, that is another story that you should investigate).
Soon, we’ll be back in the 1970s. Gail Collins will tell you what that was like for women journalists. You’d be surprised.
That could happen, because trailblazers like Collins, Helen Thomas or Carole Simpson can, and could, do only so much. You will have to pick up the torch someday if you want to have an impact that lasts beyond your career, even if it is just for your own dignity. Because even on a really bad hair day, there are more important things to worry about.
Remember Lara Logan? Get out there and be heard. Don’t sell yourself short.