The role of the journalist has always been an important one. It’s a field that is deeply enveloped in a code of ethics that both sexes should (and presumably do) follow.
Yet time and time again, portrayals of women journalists in the media say otherwise.
Recently, the Atlantic published a piece detailing the phenomenon of the “unethical female journalist.” The unethical female journalist is a woman who uses her body to get stories, sleeps with her subjects and completely abandons all common sense. She takes pride in her job and initially seems to know how to do it well, yet has sexual relationships with her sources, boss or even both.
She is seen in the depictions of Camille Peaker in the HBO series “Sharp Objects,” Judy Greer in “Three Kings” and Chelsea Brown in the movie “Top Five.” I also remember watching “House of Cards” on Netflix, and recall two women reporters who notably bragged of their willingness to “suck, screw and jerk anything that moved just to get a story.”
The unethical female journalist is not, however, seen every day, and does not represent the average female reporter working in a newsroom.
At its heart, this depiction reinforces the sexist ideals that still seem to run rampant in our society. In film, fiction and TV, women journalists are essentially made out to be incompetent. While in movies, male journalists like Jake Gyllenhaal in “Nightcrawler” or George Clooney in “Good Night and Good Luck” are praised for their brilliant minds, their female counterparts are forced to parade their bodies as the main attraction. This hurts not only women, but everyone, as the image of equality in the workplace becomes tainted.
In her article for the Daily Intelligencer in 2015, Marin Cogan talks about how two teenagers thought she had sex (or were going to have sex) with the football player she was there to interview for the profile she was writing.
Similarly, for her 2015 article for the Guardian, Hadley Freeman gave an anecdote on how her friend warned her to cancel her plans upon her telling him that she was going to interview a well-known actor. Seen with these reporters, and probably many more, there is already the implication that their work will be derived from their carnal ability to retrieve it. Fictional depictions have a way of hurting the negatively stereotyped in real life. Women lose the credibility they’ve worked so hard to earn and their work accomplishments become illegitimate in the public eye. No matter how far women advance in their respective fields, cultural representations always seem to do us a disservice.
This is an issue for all journalists, though. In a time where the press is constantly being attacked and trust in our field is waning, the role of the ethical journalist is needed more than ever. Whether in fiction or real life, we need to bring back strong portrayals of ethical journalism and reporting.
Students of journalism, such as myself, are often told the industry’s integrity and importance is waning. Negative representations mustn’t sway us, but instead, motivate us to be steadfast in our mission to properly educate the masses.
In this cultural climate, where men in journalism are being fired for sexual misconduct allegations and the president seems to hate the press as much he loves tweeting (and boy, does he love to tweet), I want to see a show with a female reporter who does her job and does it ethically. Can Netflix make an original series about that?
Kay-Ann Henry is a sophomore majoring in journalism.