New Club Targets Sexism in Media Industry

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Members of the newly-founded Women in Media club gathered Monday to discuss their upcoming community service with local group About-Face, which educates young women about how to view critically the portrayals of women in the media. (Melissa Stihl|Foghorn)

Alex Platt, ASUSF president and USFtv programming director, is anything but a “weak little girl.” She will tell you so herself. Despite this, the junior media studies major found herself treated differently from her male colleagues during her media internship last summer.

Platt, who was the only female production assistant on the set at which she worked, began noticing subtle sexism in the way her coworkers acted towards her. “I don’t think they meant to do it,” she said, “but it was happening anyway.”

For example, “All the guys would say, ‘Oh, you don’t have to lift those boxes. Take a seat and grab some water.’ But it’s like, I can lift that box of cables,” said Platt. “I’m not a weak little girl.”

Also, she said, “People on set would walk up to me and accuse me of flirting with the extras, when I was just standing there being polite.”

Not long after these experiences, Platt spoke to junior Nina Sassoon, also a media studies major, and found that she too had been subjected to sexism, as well as sexual harassment, while interning at the news desk of a local TV station over the summer. The two students joined together to found the newest addition to USF’s student groups: the Women in Media club.

The club has been in the works since fall 2008, and it has finally got off the ground this semester. Its purposes and the issues it intends to address are manifold.

One key goal, said Platt, is to go out into the community and reach out to younger girls in high school and middle school who are interested in working in the media. “We want to help empower them to feel confident working in media and not have to face sexism, or when faced with it, know how to respond to it,” Platt said, “because we’re not prepared for it. There’s no course on etiquette about what to do in awkward situations like that.”

Mallory Parks, a junior media studies major, is not a member of the club, but said she would consider joining. She, too, has had similarly sexist experiences to Platt’s in her internships in the media industry. Working for a recording studio in Boston, Parks’ role was to do research and write interview questions for music artists that would enter the studio. But when the artist would arrive, Parks said, “My questions would be given to the male intern who would then get to do the interview. I, however, would be asked to make coffee and get whatever the artist wanted for lunch.”

Parks said she eventually quit the job, because when she addressed this problem with her boss, “He said that the male intern was more qualified and prepared than I was, even though I did all the work for him.”

These are the kinds of incidents that the club intends to deal with through education and meetings, in hopes of preventing sexism in the future and improving the experience of women working in media organizations.
The depiction of women in the media, particularly its effect on viewers’ body image, is another concern that Women in Media will focus on. On Tuesday, the club collaborated with the San Francisco-based organization About-Face, which, according to its website, hosts workshops and action groups for girls throughout the Bay Area and “equips women and girls with tools to understand and resist harmful media messages that affect their self-esteem and body image.”

“I think that women constantly want to lose weight,” Sassoon said. “I am one of them. Everyday when I’m watching television or I’m on the internet, I see commercials portraying women and I think, I don’t look like that. I think, these women, they have fame, they have fortune, they have men…they have it all. I think most women see being thin as having it all.”

Also, she said, minority women are even more poorly portrayed in the media. They seldom make an appearance, she said, “And when they do, they are portrayed as stereotypes.”

For example, she said, African-American women are depicted as acting “ghetto,” while “Latina women are not really represented well at all.” Instead of diversity, Sassoon saw a slew of tall, skinny blonde girls prance across her TV screen—girls different from her. “It hits home…I’m a Latina, I’ve never seen someone like myself represented on television. Growing up, I had identity issues because of that.”

Women’s physical appearance is not only a problem to be dealt with on-screen, but also comes up in the workplace, where Sassoon was harassed by two of the male reporters she worked with. “They made comments about my breasts,” she said. “One of them even asked me out on a date.” Worse yet was the day when one of the female editors made a comment in front of the whole newsroom about how large Sassoon’s breasts were and how she dressed.

“I was mortified,” said Sassoon. “I didn’t even want to go to work the next day.”

However, she continued working at the station for a month, and “never turned back.” Because of this experience, Sassoon said she was no longer interested in working in a newsroom.

“It turned me off television,” she said. Now Sassoon works for a public relations firm, run completely by women. “I love it. There are no mean, hurtful comments about the way I look.”

This positive environment is one that the Women in Media club hopes to recreate, as it helps females to seek success in an industry that, Sassoon said, is predominantly male.

“In the structure of places where I was working, there weren’t a lot of women in higher positions,” Platt said.

This, both suggested, needs to change. Also, if women want to get involved in the media industry, Platt added, they might be able to change the image of women that is being broadcast to audiences.

The club will attempt to effect such changes by helping its members get jobs and internships in media organizations.

One of Sassoon’s possible projects for the club is to host an event for members of the club as well as other women at USF on internship possibilities. “I’d love to put on this event on campus,” she said. “It would cover how to get an internship and where, what kind of experience you need, what kind of places to go to…We would have speakers, maybe guest speakers, who could discuss the process of getting an internship, maybe bring in someone from the career center.”

In the long run, Sassoon also wishes for the club members to start networking in the media studies department.

“Getting internships in the media studies is really hard,” she said. “We want to start our own networking system among ourselves, where we all know each other and are all friendly with each other.”

As a possible future member of the club, Parks suggests that the club should also allow members to create their own media. “I would hope the club was very activity-oriented and allowed for the women in the club to participate in their own media, be it a blog, website or other types of media communication.”

While the club is mainly geared towards female media students, all USF women are welcome to attend. “This club is for anyone who wants to see women confident in themselves, not just the ditsy blonde that’s portrayed in movies,” said Platt.

The males, too, are not excluded.

“Men are totally welcome in this club,” said Sassoon. “I think that as this club gets popular, we want to talk about issues about men in the media and how men kind of play this role of being providers, obtaining a lot of money. There are body issues for men, too; men in the media are extremely tall and lean and buff, qualities that are associated with men and affect men in the real world.”

For now, the group has been meeting on Monday nights, but few people have attended the meetings, possibly because of schedule conflicts and lack of awareness. “We’re having difficulty getting it rolling, but that’s generally an issue with any new organization. I think we have several people interested,” said Platt, “but we haven’t had them make it to a meeting yet.”

The Women in Media club will next meet in UC 100 on Monday, Mar. 16 at 7:45 p.m.

“I really want to see this club make a difference,” Platt said. “Even if it’s just going to one class before I graduate and seeing a girl say, ‘Wow, I really can do that even if people have told me I can’t,’ that would be successful.”

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