In June, a man I’ve never met messaged me on my professional Facebook page and asked me to have his children.
I could fill this entire blog post with harassing comments and gross requests from people I’ve never met and never want to meet. I’ve had a man tell me my skin makes him want to waltz. One guy asked me if he could be my slave.
There’s an old local TV news saying. Every day, people invite you into their homes. You’re on their TV every day, delivering them information. They put their trust in you, they learn things from you, and after awhile, they get to know a part of you- the public part. You become a slice of their lives, and a part of their city.
Many times, it can be a wonderful thing. People say hi to you on the street and compliment your stories. An older woman might bring baked goods to your TV station. You know almost every neighborhood and every street in your town. It’s an amazing feeling.
And then, sometimes, it’s different. Sometimes, people believe they have a right to your body, whether you like it or not. They think they own a part of you, because you’re on TV in their town, and you’re a pretty girl in a pretty dress who’s there for their entertainment. It doesn’t matter what’s in your head, or how hard you worked on your story.
Harassment in the media is a problem- that’s clear. The recent news about Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer cements that reality. That’s another blog post for another time.
But there’s another problem running through local TV news that affects women daily.
Harassment from the people who watch the news.
It’s the guy who screams, “F**k Her Right in the P***y” behind your live report. Or the local woman who sends you racial slurs because she doesn’t like the way you look. Or the man who sends flowers to your station over and over again. This is a pervasive issue. For the hundreds of young women in local broadcast news, there are thousands of stories of harassment.
And some of those women shared their stories with me.
Imagine this. You’re a young woman in your first or second job. You’re hundreds, if not thousands of miles away from your family. Surviving on slim paychecks, living alone, and working odd hours. Usually, thanks to social media- it’s relatively easy to find out where you are at any given moment.
And, along with some guy who wants you to kick him in the balls, you’re dealing with people like this:
Outside harassment is so commonplace, it’s basically become part of the job. You’re a public figure in a small town, a woman always dressed up and made up. Your first creeper is a right of passage. A weirdos obsessed with your shoes is a hilarious screenshot. It’s something to laugh about at drinks with fellow reporters- unless it isn’t funny anymore.
It’s a reality for women. For men. It’s even worse for journalists of color and LGBTQIA journalists.
I’ve tried to understand why these people threaten and harass journalists. Is it power? Sex? They’re just inappropriate weirdos and creeps?
I don’t know. But I do know these people are harassers, and what they’re doing is inexcusable.
The wild and wonderful world of local news take its reporters everywhere- it’s amazing, and exhilarating, and many times, these young journalists do it alone.
It’s less amazing when you’re constantly worried about the man who pretends to offer reporters jobs before sexually harassing them. Or mentally preparing yourself when an older man approaches you while you’re reporting, and you can tell by the look in his eye that he’s going to say something lewd and offensive.
The kick in the chest doesn’t just come from harsh words or threats to safety. It’s the complete disregard for your intelligence and hard work. It’s that squirming feeling in your heart when you realize that many people consider women in TV news, first and foremost, eye candy.
As women, and as public figures, too many TV newsers are taught to be polite and friendly. It goes against years of conditioning and stereotype to flip the switch and be aggressive. Even now, when I deflect any kind of harassment, there’s still a little twinge of guilt that I have to brush away.
As I wrote this article, I read a lot of stories from women in the business. At the end of many of them, they asked: Next time this happens, what should I do differently?
Should they be more aggressive? Smile and try to be polite? Every question was filled with a vague sense of guilt and one damning thought: Am I overreacting?
And you know what? That’s happening to me right now, as I write this post.
Let’s go back to the guy who wanted me to have his children. When I responded to him, he got angry.
“There’s a thousand other half-cute journalism grads who’ll easily replace your milquetoast-ass tomorrow. So don’t flatter yourself. No one gives a shit about you.”
His rejection-fueled rage was pretty obvious, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t affect me.
Because, for awhile, I thought he was right. Who would give a shit about some small-town news girl getting creeped on? We’re a dime-a-dozen, generally represented in popular media as vapid bimbos with half a brain.
I sat on this post for months. I started working on this in late spring, but every time I came close to publishing it, doubt started worming its way into my heart. A little voice, whispering at me:
And then, other women began stepping forward, in other industries. Allegations emerged.
And the more women I saw come forward to tell their story, the more people reacted. Other woman, echoing that feeling of helplessness. Of weakness. And I realized that these experiences, no matter how slight or different, absolutely do matter.
I’m tired of getting messages that make me feel ashamed, or have me looking behind my shoulder when I walk to my car at night. I’m tired of talking with other women in the business, feeling their fear and shame, hearing their stories like confessions.
And when I got tired of the man asking me to have his children, I went to my station about it. Not all stations are supportive when women come forward with their concerns, but mine was. They supported me whole-heartedly. I got in contact with our local police, who also supported me and assured me that it wasn’t a foolish move to report the message.
That experience was one of the two bright spots in this whole mess. The other?
The women I spoke with.
Despite this barrage of threats, sexual requests and invasions of privacy, the woman journalists I spoke with still press forward in their passion. Journalism is already an emotionally and mentally taxing business- to also deal with external threats and still create compelling stories is a testament to the strength of women working in the business.
Many thanks to Vox for republishing my piece.
If you’re a journalist who feels threatened by a harassing message or personal interaction, tell your news director and contact police.
NOTE: I would like to thank all of the women who shared their stories with me. This post wouldn’t be a reality without them.
NOTE II: Harassment is a reality for journalists, no matter what gender you identify as. However, I’m writing from my perspective as a woman, and chose to keep my focus on events close to my own experiences.
Do you want to share your story? Do you have thoughts on this topic? Comment below or email me at email@example.com. You can also find me on Twitter and Facebook.
© 2017 Ellen Meny
Thank you for writing this – I’m sure it took great courage. Something clearly needs to change about the way women in news are treated. I see this same behavior toward our female meteorologists all the time. What y’all put up with is incomprehensible and you should never have to deal with such distractions while trying to do your job.
I am fortunate to have been born a fairly burly/sturdy fella and never much actually happened*, however, this rings true with me. As a public servant I received threatening notes – both anonymous and otherwise – as well as unsolicited photos and propositions and many “playful” pinches and pokes and hugs and gropes during photo ops. At the end of the day it may have been easier for me to shrug it off, but it made me keenly aware of the horrible abuse to which public figures are subjected. Thank you for sharing this and I will be sharing it with as many others as possible.
*save one woman who stole my keys, repeated entered my house and trashed it and the filed for an order of protection stating, among other things, I was “using city resources to threaten her” when I told her if it happened again I would call the police and that I was targeting her business when I advised one of her clients it was a violation of state law to use my image (a photo she took of me) to promote his business.
Reblogged this on wjbcast and commented:
In the 1980’s, there was a “culture shift” in TV newsrooms across the country. In a post-Clinton/Lewinsky move, news managers literally knocked down wooden office doors and replaced them with glass paned doors. That was our protection! I have many stories to share “Ace Student!” Great post!
Thank you, Wanda!! And thank you for being an amazing professor!
Like other posters have shared, not all harassment occurs just in media, and I would add…not all guys are creeps. As a small market news viewers, we watch young professionals start their careers, grow with confidence in their craft, and often follow their careers to a larger market. Occasionally, when visiting other parts of the country we can see them and reflect upon how we “remember them when” their journey began. Proud of your courage, your work, and your growth as a news reporter.
Just another guy on the path of life…
“Not all men…”
Of course it’s not all men. If it were, we’d best nuke it from orbit. But far too many men feel impelled to tell women who complain about harassment “darling, it’s not that bad. You’re overreacting.”
I am not one of them. I appreciate Ellen’s bravery.
I read this and came close to weeping.
I cannot understand how anyone can possibly think that because one is in the public eye, that they are suddenly ‘fair game’. No one is ‘fair game’.
We’re now in new territory, reminding me of various dystopian scenarios.
While reporting in a major market, a viewer left a nude photo of himself in an envelope addressed to me at the door to my townhouse. Most disturbing was that my address and ownership of the house was listed under a different name from what I used on the air. That person had found out where I lived. I turned the photo in to the police, who said they investigated.
Oh, and I once had a husband and wife stop me on the street (while on personal time), and touch my hair and comment, “Look, honey, she’s prettier in person.”
So sorry that you all deal with this daily. Was really disappointed that a Victoria’s Secret ad was attached to the bottom of your blog. I know that’s not your fault, but it just fuels these psychos.
I am so glad that you are honest and aware enough to bring your journalistic skills to reporting this story with the true emotions and weight that it deserves. Unfortunately you and many of your brilliant colleagues are not allowed to bring important pieces like this to an average newscast, you need support from your organization and your audience to get this word out. I have come to realize that the unfortunate urbanization of America has brought big city problems to all neighborhoods and it requires a hard edge and a vigilance that would not be necessary if people had a minimum level of civility. I applaud your truth telling and your character as a journalist. Remain true to your core values and you will never go wrong. Thank you.
Thank you for posting this. It is greatly appreciated.
I worked on-air in a small market television station for 6-years, and witnessed this on many occasions. Both for myself and my colleagues. Not being able to make a simple trip to the grocery store made me decide that being an on-air personality was just not for me. I came to realize I valued my anonymity way too much, and my privacy was being taken from me. In a lot of cases, it was people who just could not make the distinction between the person they saw on TV, and the person who was in the grocery store, just trying to make dinner….just like them. Television removed their sense of reality. Over time I was able to come to terms with that.
However, it was the propositions, the inappropriate comments, and physical contact that simply made me very uncomfortable; I just avoided those environments and never responded to viewer mail, email, or phone calls. I am male, and nothing happened to me that made me feel scared, but simply nervous about interaction with people out in public. I did witness two particularly aggressive cases where our male meteorologist, and one of our female anchors/reporters had to get the police involved as they were being harassed both at work and at home. Both are no longer “in the business”. In both their cases, it was determined that serious mental health issues were present.
I still work in television, but behind the scenes. I still witness these issues, and worry about our younger reporters. I hear stories, and let them know that they have the ability to make it stop, and to talk to our station manager and news director. Fortunately, they also are very supportive.
I’ll be the first to admit that I like to watch women on TV–they dress nice, their hairstyles are creative, their makeup is (mostly) the definition of class and they have great diction (mostly). There are a hundred miles between me seeing a woman on the TeeVee and smiling about all that’s right under heaven on one hand, and acting like an entitled sociopath on the other.
Wow, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that all this happens, but it is surprising how many people a female tv journalist has to endure creepy obsessiveness from. It’s good to hear both your employer and the police were supportive of you and took your complaints seriously. There have been too many cases of women, both celebrities and noncelebrities, who had someone obsessed with them and the police said they “couldn’t” (really just wouldn’t) do anything unless the stalker actually did something concrete, and then when that happened, it was too late, the women were dead. At the very least, an officer should drop by and say “we know you’ve been sending these letters to Jane, so if anything should happen to her, you’re the first person we will be coming after.”
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