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“Progress Is Painful”: Dismantling the Boys’ Club in News Media and Beyond

NBC News Correspondent Katy Tur isn’t interested in the question of “Who’s next?” as far as the issue of sexual harassment in media. She wants to know “What’s next?”

In the above clip from her MSNBC News broadcast yesterday, after mentioning the fact that, as a journalist, she has consistently called out Trump’s treatment of women (including herself), Tur talked about Matt Lauer. She spoke not as a journalist, or as an employee of NBC in this case. She spoke “as a human being.”

Though talk of “the next star to fall” makes for great, salacious headlines and is a necessary component of the news cycle, Tur believes that a better question is, “What’s next?” She brings up the fact that sexual harassment happens in all industries and at all levels. It’s not just that Hollywood or news media are particularly horrible workplaces, and it’s not entirely to do with “men in power.” All levels. All industries.

She mentions a study that was done by Quinnipiac research showing that sixty percent of women say they have been sexually harassed, and most of those say that it happened at work. Tur goes on to say, “We can talk about the sea change or reckoning until we are all blue in the face but the real question right now is ‘what’s next?’ What concrete measures can be put in place by organizations large and small in the workplace?”

She doesn’t have a good, impromptu answer, but she does believe this is the right question. She then says, “Progress is painful. But sometimes, that’s good.”

There’s been a lot of talk about the pain of this moment. I’ve linked to this Laurie Penny piece before, in which she talks about the fact that it’s much too early to be talking about forgiveness. In a piece today in the New York Times, which Vivian is covering in a separate piece, actress/writer/director Amber Tamblyn speaks along the same lines, saying that “Redemption must be preceded by atonement. It is earned, not offered.”

It’s been two months. We’ve only been having this “reckoning” for two months. That’s not even a full season. And it’s nothing compared to the centuries during which men have consistently, with minor, sporadic interruptions, had the floor.

Vox captures an element of that “having of the floor” in a piece about Lauer and all the women who’ve lost their jobs at The Today Show while he’s somehow managed to stay. The “Boys’ Club” present in news media, and so many other industries. They bring up the idea that rather than being so deeply concerned about a handful of men who acted wrongly (and in many instances, criminally) getting fired, we should think about the many more women who’ve lost their jobs, or been passed over for promotions in the interest of keeping those men powerful. And still more women who leave their industries of their own accord, afraid or unwilling to put up with that level of humiliation.

They bring up, among several others, the high-profile story of Ann Curry, a former co-host of The Today Show, who was suddenly out of a job thanks to the orchestrations of Matt Lauer:

“Curry spent years as The Today Show’s newsreader. She was passed over for the co-anchor role upon Couric’s exit in 2006, which instead went to Vieira, then a co-host of The View. When Vieira exited in 2011, it was finally Curry’s turn to take over.

According to Brian Stelter in the New York Times Magazine, Curry’s hiring had more to do with Lauer than it did with her. Network executives, worried that Lauer’s contract was set to expire and Curry might go to competitors if she were again passed over, decided to keep her on in case Lauer left.

Stelter also described a “boys’ club” atmosphere at Today that was specifically hostile toward Curry.”

Another key fact revealed in Stetler’s statements? That in that hostile Today Show control room, there were 14 men, and 3 women.

And then there’s this, an observation made by Janice Min, one of the owners of The Hollywood Reporter. If, for some reason, you can’t see the tweet, she says of Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer, “Two men with this much disregard for women chose the stories seen by 8.5 million people – largely female – EVERY MORNING for years. Think about the damage.”

And while yes, both morning shows have other producers, these hosts and anchors have a great deal of editorial decision-making power. Especially someone like Lauer who, before news of the harassment broke, had just signed a $20 million-a-year contract.

What I see when I look at all of this togetherthe question about what concrete steps we can take to fight harassment in the workplace, the workplace environments that are generally hostile toward women, and the sexism that is disseminated through the media thanks to men having more sway over what stories get reported and how they’re toldthe solution seems maddeningly simple.

image: screencap Savannah Guthrie Hoda Kotb The Today Show

Hire more women. 

All these men being fired? They should not be replaced with other men. They should be replaced with women.

Any new positions that come up, or new shows being produced? They should be put in the hands of women.

There was something really comforting about the image of Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb on Today, reporting on the Lauer situation. I saw these two women gracefully dealing with news they’d just heard, harrowing news about a colleague, and wondered why it couldn’t be this way all the time. Why can’t it be mostly female faces staring back at me from my TV screen for a while? Why does it have to be a specifically “female” show like The View in order for a majority-female team to exist?

Why is it that when an environment is mostly-male, no one bats an eyelash, but the second there’s more women than we’re used to, that’s when people suddenly start worrying about “equality.” Why is it that when mostly-male environments prove unsafe and abusive, it seems outlandish to think that maybe the problem lies with them being mostly-male environments?

There’s your concrete step. Hire more women. Hire women proportionally according to their numbers in the country. Think that’s unfair? Imagine what it’s like knowing that you are 50.8 percent of the U.S. population, but only represent 44.2 percent of radio and TV news staffers overall (and usually in the smaller markets).

Then we can talk about “fair.”

(image: screencap)

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