“You can’t be serious.”
“That’s an inappropriate thing to say.”
I’ve received these comments in actual professional settings, as well as in my positions as a student journalist. I’ve been disrespected, ignored, and not taken seriously on the basis of my gender—this bias being expressed in statements such as these.
In high school, I was passive about these comments, as I thought that my conformity to my source’s expectations of my behavior—how I would react as a young woman—would land me the story. I remember covering my school district’s policies as a sophomore, and withholding some tougher questions from administrative officials, as I didn’t want to be dismissed even further. I still face these problems, as I exert energy thinking about ways to balance being both assertive—as part of my job—and feminine, as part of my genuine personality.
But why should I, or any other young woman, feel this pressure when our primary responsibility as journalists is to be tenacious to report the full story? Beyond the scope of this professional field, why should we, as women, feel the pressure to conform to existing norms and biases?
I’ve found that it’s uncomfortable to speak up about my experiences, after years of insecurity of how I might sound or seem to others. I call this unlearning—unlearning rooted habits, unlearning that it wasn’t me who was at fault for simply fulfilling my responsibilities as a journalist, unlearning how I respond to the social pressures I have felt and once conformed to.
But here’s the problem. This unlearning process resembles more of an intervention than a preventative action. And that’s exactly why I applied to be an Active Voice fellow, to show female high school journalists that it is acceptable—and actually demanded of them—to speak up about their experiences and explore issues they’re passionate about.
My project will work directly with female high school students in underprivileged areas of San Diego to give them the tools, both technical and characteristic, to freely express themselves through digital media. I hope to create hands-on training for photography, broadcasting, video editing, and writing catered to the needs of female students, led by other female journalism professionals. The goal is beyond raising awareness, as we can all attest to the symptoms of gender inequality, but to empower rising female journalists and amplify their voices.