Last Thursday, my delightful employers at Campus Progress joined The Nation to host the annual journalism conference, which was awesome for all sorts of reasons. Let’s just say gender equality was not one of those reasons. The majority of the professional journalists who composed panels and led workshops were male, silently speaking volumes about how the profession has failed to keep up with the times in more ways than just the old versus new media issue. Despite high-profile woman professionals who were in attendance, like Katrina vanden Heuvel, Ana Marie Cox, and Dahlia Lithwick, the overwhelming majority of the conversations I attempted to participate in and the people I attempted to introduce myself to were male. Even the students who attended the conference—the so-called future of journalism—played into the old boys’ club dynamic. Partway through the Q&A period following Dahlia Lithwick’s keynote address, I noticed that no women were raising their hands to ask questions. So I asked a question about Lithwick’s experience as a woman in journalism; her response, in a nutshell, was that things have gotten better since she started, but there’s still progress to be made.
Well. I’ll certainly endorse that remark.
I am no stranger to being the only female. In middle school I was the only girl who came regularly to Babylon 5 club meetings. In high school, I was the only girl on the varsity Academic League team, the only girl on the National Ocean Science Bowl team (don’t laugh), the only girl in my friends’ garage band. Now, I am the only female staff writer for Campus Progress. Very frequently, I am the only woman in a given social situation. I have spent most of my life working twice as hard and still doubting myself, when a more aggressive boy won the prize or made the team or got called on in class. I have spent a lot of time being talked over in conversations, a lot of time weighing whether calling someone out for a casually sexist comment would jeopardize my standing as an equal in that person’s eyes. I have spent a disconcertingly large proportion of my life coming to terms with the fact that I am not innately less intelligent than my male classmates and colleagues, that sometimes it’s our society’s gender dynamics that are at fault—not me.
And so my sympathies are with Sonia Sotomayor today, as she testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee that is entirely white and has only two female members, and which seems to have no problems patronizing her, insulting her intelligence, and insinuating that she is somehow less dispassionate than a white male candidate would be. My sympathies are also with Marcy Wheeler (incidentally, another presenter at our journalism conference!), who yesterday got called out for saying “blowjob” on MSNBC. My sense is that if a man had said “blowjob,” the MSNBC anchors wouldn’t have been so quick to speak for her, saying, “I’m sure that Marcy apologizes,” wouldn’t have been so certain what she is thinking and what her relationship to power is. But I am wary of saying things like this to people’s faces, because I have been told so often that it’s only my imagination that the system discriminates against me because I was born with two X chromosomes.
It’s taken me my entire life to acknowledge the existence of sexism in it, and that’s partly because we women have so few opportunities to hear someone say it. If a woman draws attention to the discrimination she faces, she gets called a man-hater, a “reverse” sexist, a bitch and a cunt. Look at Hillary Clinton; look at Anita Hill. The idea of speaking out against sexism has become so vilified that, to many young women, “feminism” is a dirty word.
Yes, things are changing, but change is a relative term. My college class is the first in Princeton’s history to have as many as 50% women, but it is shocking that it took until 2012 for that to be the case. And two woman Supreme Court justices are very far from being half the population of the Court the way that women are half the population of the country. And if this post is an incoherent rant, that’s just because, after six hours of watching old white men patronize Sotomayor on C-SPAN, I don’t know what to do anymore. I don’t know how to make people understand that I’m not crazy, and that it is hard to be a woman in America in 2009—particularly if you’re a journalist. Or a Supreme Court nominee. Or a high-school student. Huh. I guess it’s kinda hard to be a woman in America at all.
You know how it is when a group of people having a conversation forms a circle, and you really want to participate in the conversation, but you can’t figure out how to maneuver yourself into a little gap in the circle so that they’ll notice you and you can join in? Yeah, that’s kind of how I feel every day. And I can’t help but think that, over the past 55 years, Sonia Sotomayor has felt the same way too.