Watching the movie The Post, I could not help but remember my own fledgling journalism career in the 1970s. I remembered the old Linotype presses, the ink that stained my hands as I proofread copy, the excitement with which I watched the press run. I can still hear it cranking up.
Issues I encountered then ranged from disparate pay for the same work as my male colleague and condescending treatment from another male colleague – more subtle today, but not so different from then.
After a summer internship, I took a reporting job at a daily newspaper in south Arkansas as did one of my college classmates who happened to be a man. Our resumes were almost identical. We both majored in journalism . We both were student editors of our college newspaper. As a teenager, I also had held two part-time journalism jobs.
I soon learned that my friend was making substantially more than I. I couldn’t understand why and approached the managing editor. “We’re grooming him for management,” the editor said. Still, even then, in the summer of ’72, the editor could see the disparity and realized he had been caught. He gave me a $25 a week raise. I still made less than my friend who left journalism long ago for public relations.
I was 21 then and did not ask the editor the obvious question: “Why aren’t you grooming me for management?”
Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment that same year, but Arkansas remains among the states that have never ratified it and, hence, women’s rights.
In 1973, I became one of the first two women journalists hired by the late John Robert Starr, then the Little Rock bureau chief for The Associated Press. Many years later, Starr would bemoan having to deal with us when we cried. Yet, I never heard of his saying a word about the angry outbursts of any male employees.
So, when I watched The Post and heard Meryl Streep’s character, publisher Katherine Graham, reflect on how women knew their place in the 50s and early 60s and didn’t think twice about it, I fully understood. Still I have plenty of regret and some anger to this day.
Just as Graham was ignored in some business meetings, women today, especially those over 50, often go unnoticed, unconsidered for some assignments or positions.
What female reporter or editor hasn’t encountered male reporters and editors, even in this so-called progressive age, say the likes of:
–That’s a job for a man.
–We need a strong man in that role.
–You need to control your emotions (while in one case a male colleague went undisciplined for throwing an electric fan across a newsroom).
–You take the notes while I ask the governor the questions.
–Just listen to me.
Yes, I’ve heard all of those things and more. I’ve often been invisible, too, especially after I passed 50. But what women in journalism will always have is the power of the written word and sometimes the spoken word. So, when a male member of a public board recently told me, “You don’t need to be writing this down,” I immediately knew what to do. I quickly did just that: I scribbled his comments in my reporter’s notebook and replied, “I can write whatever I want to write.” … I did, and hope you do, too.