From the moment I declared my journalism major, I was told that it wasn’t going to be an easy feat. From the general public already having a burning hatred for reporters — that is, the bad ones who rely on clickbait and exaggerations — to all of my professors telling me to prepare for a career of being overworked, underpaid and starving, I’ve definitely picked my battles with this passion. What most professors fail to mention, though, is the added struggles of being a woman in this definitely male-dominated field.
It’s something that I don’t think about that often, but the realizations come in waves. One in particular crashed down upon me a couple of weeks ago, when a man with “Hudson Valley Indie Journalist” in his bio followed me on Instagram. I immediately followed back, as I do to most local reporters, just to have another connection under my belt. What I didn’t sign up for, however, was him adding me to a “close friends” story and posting a series of shirtless mirror photos to it. This older man also went through my profile and made it a point to like selfies — pictures where I was the only person in them.
Even though he didn’t personally reach out to me, these gross hints were enough to make me feel uncomfortable and unfollow. After all, obviously, I did not follow him for that purpose. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time I’ve been nonconsensually pursued by someone in the journalism field — specifically a man much older than me. My case also isn’t the first time I’ve heard a woman in my profession talk about a man that met her in a semi-professional journalistic setting overstepping a very clear boundary.
More specifically, there is a niche struggle of being a female music journalist, especially when you are dealing with bands full of mostly male members. Every time I’m about to leave to go to an in-person interview with a band full of men, I think about the worse-case scenario as I walk out the door. I am going to their house. Should I share my location with my roommates? Should I change the scene of the location to a public setting? Would that even make it better if something happens?
I have been fortunate enough to have not been in a truly dangerous situation involving interviewees that I meet up with in private, but that’s not to say that every meetup comes with a risk. I’ve had men in bands try to slide into my Instagram DMs with heart-eye emojis, be weird to me at bars or parties after I’ve interviewed them and even try to be flirtatious in their request for an interview. This behavior is something I have been forced to brush off as a girl who faces it so often, but I just know for a fact that male journalists do not have to put up with this.
Another challenge also manifests in the societal beliefs about women involved in the music community, or who are simply just fans of music. A lot of times, girls with expanded musical knowledge are viewed as enigmas, something that is too good to be true, for some reason. I’ve always felt that some guys were fascinated by the fact that I knew more about music than them, or I knew of the bands and songs that they thought no one else had heard of. This surprise can turn into denial or just straight-up hatred, something that I call the “Penny Lane Effect.”
If you watched the very iconic “Almost Famous,” the movie that single handedly made me want to continue dreaming of becoming a music journalist, you know how much of an important role that the character Penny Lane played in the music scene and the band’s lives that she rode the buses with. Despite her influence, she was simply labeled as a “groupie” — even though she rejected that term — and was seen by certain characters and even in popular media as a love interest.
I feel like most of the time, women who are heavily involved in music scenes are seen as “faking it,” many men assuming we’re only there to sleep with one of the members and doubting our real knowledge. It’s a combination of the “You’re wearing a Nirvana shirt? Name three of their songs!” trope, a stereotype of female music fans being screaming and fawning fangirls and just blatant sexism by seeing music as a predominantly “masculine” concept.
Penny Lane was one of the first victims I’ve seen of this; in the present day, the new victims are all of the female interviewers on YouTube talking to male musicians. When I was first getting into music journalism, I would watch these interviewers to watch and learn, specifically Canadian journalist Alicia Atout’s “A Music Blog, Yea?” channel.
Almost all of the comments were objectifying her, or suggested that she was giving the artists “bedroom eyes,” ignoring all of the aspects of the actual conversation itself and the quality of her questions. She’s even made a video addressing the creepy DMs she’s gotten from wrestling fans, since she also specializes in interviewing fighters. By bravely pursuing to make a name for herself in a male-dominated industry, she — and every other female reporter — is at risk of being objectified, receiving claims of wanting to sleep with their interviewees and much, much more.
Sometimes, when I feel a male in the field talk to me in a way that makes me feel uneasy, I ask myself if I’m overreacting — since that is another thing men tend to accuse women who come out about their stories of. Does this man seem extra pushy in his interview request because he knows I’m just a young girl, or am I just being extra cautious? When he saw me at a party a week after the interview, was his hand placement during our greeting hug just an accident? Is my friendliness going to get thrown back in my face as being “flirtatious?” I tend to ignore my gut feelings in case someone accuses me of looking too into things if I bring my concerns up. Half of the time, though, these feelings are right.
Like mentioned earlier, there are a lot of struggles that I, as a student journalist, have already faced in my career. People not being happy with what you write, long production nights and hours of writing and fact-checking is something that we all are bound to experience, regardless of gender. However, because I am a woman, there are some extra ingredients that will probably end up getting added to the recipe of my career.
Despite the fears that I’ve brought up, I will never slow down or stop myself from chasing after my dreams because of them. I write this not to accuse all of the men in the music/journalism scene of being guilty of something, but rather to challenge them to speak up when they see creepiness occurring in their circles. Since you are the majority, your voice holds so much power, and will definitely make a difference in the safety of women.
I’m also writing this article to let other girls who are just beginning their writing/music-related career — or basically any career, for that matter — that I see the concerns that you are too afraid to bring up to the public. I hope that my stance can bring you some encouragement and drive, because we are all in this together. We will achieve our goal of making all of the scenes we frequent safe and enjoyable for all.