Thirty years ago, I landed my first job.
I was still in high school, but as far as I was concerned, it was the glamour job of the century — I became a part-time reporter for the local radio station in my small town.
That led to a decade of other radio and TV gigs in various parts of the country as I tried to balance a budding journalism career and college.
Unfortunately, all the jobs I landed had one thing in common — sexist attitudes toward women (or girls). I discovered the hard way that in the broadcasting business, one that had been a boys’ club for so long, that was the norm.
Notwithstanding Gloria Steinem, The Feminine Mystique and the birth of the equal rights movement, newsrooms still pretty much looked like the ones from Edward R. Murrow’s time — lots of white men and what I euphemistically called ‘a lot of spittin’ and chewin’ and cussin’.’
Having men stare, touch or make rude comments about me when I was the only ‘girl’ in the newsroom was something I found I was expected to put up with.
“That’s just the way it is — deal with it,” was the advice I actually got from a visiting female network news star at the time. Not the encouragement I was looking for, but words I took to heart. So to survive, I cultivated an attitude of aloofness and toughness — one that said, “If you can dish it out, I can take and serve it right back up to you.”
Fortunately, a couple of decades have changed the landscape of our newsrooms. And as Eugene Robinson so wonderfully points out in his Washington Post op-ed, the unfolding Imus drama of the past few weeks has culminated in the truth that we don’t have to just deal with those attitudes anymore.
One of the things that ultimately started the ball rolling on transforming Imus’ little monetary slap on the wrist to being fired from MSNBC and CBS was the fact that today, unlike three decades ago, there are many more women and minorities in positions of influence at the networks. Maybe not as many as we would like, or as many as we would hope at this stage of the game, but enough who are in positions to tell the powers-that-be that they felt personally attacked and insulted by the comments Imus made about Rutgers’ women’s basketball team.
Sort of the 21st century version of, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”
Maybe some of Imus’ other (take your pick) comments had bothered them, as well. But when Imus crossed the line with the Rutgers girls, he crossed it in a way where his racist and sexist barbs were no longer about public figures — his hurtful attack became an issue about us as individuals — about the lives and accomplishments of people who are not like him, who are not old, white men.
It apparently became clear that if those who had earned some clout didn’t finally speak out, that snowball would never stop rolling.
Here’s hoping it’s just the first in a line of victories to get rid of the idea that if outrageously hurtful comments are made in the name of humor, you get a First Amendment free pass.
Anyone ready to take on Limbaugh?