By Caitlyn Nix
Caitlin Williams, a reporter and anchor for KWES NewsWest 9 in Midland, Texas, know first hand how challenging it can be to a woman in the public eye.
She receives occasional fan mail through her professional page from men asking for dates or professing their love. Williams’s generic response is “thanks for watching.” Fortunately, she said, such communication has never reached a point at which she felt uncomfortable.
But she has received less respect from some of her male coworkers.
“They make incredibly inappropriate comments that I’ve had to take to HR,” Williams said. “It’s insulting. I strive for a professional relationship with my coworkers. Nothing more.”
Williams is not alone. A recent ESPNW video of men reading mean tweets directed at women sportscasters brought to light the often highly sexualized abuse faced by women journalists, especially in the sports field.
Rachel Turnock, a sports reporter at KSAN-TV in San Angelo, Texas, said she has never felt disrespected by her male coworkers. However, one thing she dislikes about being a female sports reporter is that coaches sometimes hit on her.
“Not openly at interviews, but when I’ve seen them outside of work, they sometimes hug me and tell me I look nice,” Turnock said. “I just say ‘thank you,’ but I don’t want to be treated differently because I am a female.”
The focus on women’s appearance and their sexual objectification may in part explain why female journalists remain a minority. A recent report by The Women’s Media Center shows women contribute to only 35 percent of evening broadcasts.
The longstanding disrespect for women in the broadcasting industry is illustrated in this clip from the show “30 Rock“:
Kayla Chandler, a junior journalism major from San Marcos, Texas, said she believes women journalists are challenged because their work is often perceived as a threat.
“The main reason I think men take women less seriously in sports is because they feel intimidated that a girl can do what they can, and sometimes even better,” Chandler said.
This may explain the tendency to attribute women journalists’ success to sleeping with someone.
For example, ESPN reporter Sarah Spain told a Seattle Times blog that just two weeks into her job she heard a longtime beat reporter had told a team public-relations representative that she must be sleeping with a player because she was getting better stories than other reporters.
Philip Terrigno, who covered high school sports as the former high school sports editor at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, said he does not think women sports journalists are openly and chronically disrespected by their peers, overall. But he knows there are examples that show otherwise.
“I have not personally observed this in my professional experience, but I have read a great deal about instances of this taking place in the sports media,” he said.
Erica Taylor, an assistant professor of practice in the College of Media & Communication, was an athlete during her college career and has also worked in sports reporting and broadcasting. She said she was fortunate to have no substantial negative experiences in sports media.
“A lot of female reporters during the past 40 years have really helped pave the way for women to cover sports in more than ways than one,” she said.“I’ve actually had more positive experiences as a woman in the sports field. I’ve worked with men who have been absolutely professional and respectable.”
There will be people who are going to challenge your work in any field, Taylor said. Her advice: surround yourself with people who truly do care about doing a good job, regardless of gender.
Despite all the trials most women face in the sports world, they are taking steps in the right direction.
The only way to stop this issue from continuing is to accept the fact that it happens and stand up to it. Women must take a stand and let men know that they are not the only ones that can work in sports.
To combat stigma and stereotypes, Taylor said, women journalists need confidence and extensive professional knowledge to answer any challenges.
Chandler is determined to stay strong in her future career.
“The only way I think we can change the issue is by owning it, standing our ground when a guy or anyone tries to degrade us with our work,” she said.