I’ve been a professional journalist for 15 years — nearly 20 if I stretch all the way back to my freshman year of college when I worked as the copy editor for my university newspaper. While I don’t count myself as an old-timer just yet, I know I’ve seen a lot in my time as an ink-stained wretch.
I am of the generation that has had to navigate the strange days of the internet revolution from the ground up. Between my freshman year of college to the time I graduated, I had to learn how to put a paper together by exacto-knife and paste on a light-board and then by mouse clicks on a computer screen. (In the early days, I focused on editing, because I never really fancied myself a reporter, if you can believe it.)
And then came the rise of websites and blogs and twitter and so on… All the while, I have tried to stay nimble and understand the serpentine flow and evolution of the beast known as journalism. I have loved it. I have gotten angry at it. I have broken up with it. And I’ve fallen right back in love with it. Many times over.
The one thing that has remained seemingly immutable in my time in the trenches has been that journalism can be a kind of front-line in the battle for gender equality and of tearing down outdated gender roles and stereotypes that are the lynchpins of misogyny and patriarchy. As journalists, how we frame a story and the words we choose matter. They can be a micro-level revolution on the page, shifting consciousness and contextualizing situations like never before. Likewise, within the newsroom, there is the constant tug-and-pull of women asserting their equality even as (I have often experienced) we are tokened or shunted to the “female friendly” features department rather than hard news like politics and crime beats.
And of course, there’s no crying in journalism.
There’s no crying when one of my first bosses suggested a short skirt would go miles with him deciding to give me a shot at writing something more than an obit. There’s no crying when a reader called me up and yelled into the phone for nearly a half an hour, calling me every foul name in the book. There’s no crying when an editor dressed down my work in front of all all my colleagues. There’s no crying when a source told me that I have nice tits and shouldn’t waste them as a reporter when I could make good money on a pole. I’ve been called a hack and a whore and a bitch and been threatened with rape and violence — all in a day’s work.
But I just let all that shit roll right off my back. I let it drive me to be a better journalist. And I let it sink into my skin, making it thick as armor. Bring it on.
In 15 years, I daresay that many of my colleagues, and especially my bosses (almost all of whom have been men), never saw me cry once until I gave my testimony in favor of AB230, the comprehensive sex education bill, at a Senate hearing earlier this month. And I will admit that it was a tweet from my former boss that made me blush as the tears were drying on my cheeks. He commended my testimony but all I could think was, “Damn it, Steve saw me cry.”
I say all this as a kind of prelude to the real show. I want you to know that, for all the righteous indignation I use here at The Siren, it actually takes a lot to get truly under my skin.
As regular readers know, I’ve been writing a lot about AB230 — some of it even getting national attention. There’s been a lot of debate about the bill. There’s been some red herrings. And then there’s been a string of strange op-eds by former Review Journal publisher Sherman Frederick.
I should have listened to Jon Ralston, after I wrote about Sherm’s first op-ed about the sex ed bill (in which he called all Nevada girls, and specifically Hispanic girls, “easy”). Ralston warned me, tweeting on May 12, ” I now find it’s best to ignore voices of ignorance with small followings, lest they get larger. You can’t fix dumb.”
Hindsight, 20/20, and all that.
Yesterday, Sherm again wrote about AB230 but this time he warned that proponents of “comprehensive” sex ed are actually seeking to “promote” homosexuality and “transgender sex.” I’m sorry, but this was just begging for a rebuttal, not just because it was blatantly false, but because it propagated the kind of gay-panic thinking that actually gets people killed. You can’t run into a crowded theater and yell “Fire!” when there is none, because you incite fear and panic. Likewise, you can’t just go around telling people that teaching kids comprehensive sex education will turn kids gay. It’s wrong. And it’s dangerous.
So, as I’m wont to do, I spoke my mind. I tried to have a sense of humor about it, too, when I made this:
But I never could have predicted what was going to happen after I tweeted the photo to @MemeNVLeg, a twitter account that has been poking fun at many politicians and bills during this session of the Nevada Legislature. (Those who follow Nevada Legislature business follow the hashtag #nvleg, for those who aren’t twitter-savvy.)
Now, Sherm really did say those words in blue. And I really did say those words in white. I do think that Sherm could use some remedial sex education. In the space of two weeks, he’s talked about putting Ziploc bags on cucumbers (as stand-ins for condoms on penises, I presume), the idea that girls are easy if they have sex, and that creating a safe classroom environment to talk about human sexuality is tantamount to “teaching homosexual and transgender sex.”
I guess Sherm isn’t laughing. Because this happened:
— Sherman Frederick (@shermfrederick) May 21, 2013
And then this happened:
— Sherman Frederick (@shermfrederick) May 21, 2013
— Sherman Frederick (@shermfrederick) May 21, 2013
Sigh. Then this:
— Meme #NVLEG (@MemeNVLeg) May 21, 2013
And then some other garbage and back-and-forths and some other twitter folks jumped in … and so on.
Let me just take a deep breath here.
Okay, so if I understand this right (and I’m really not sure I do), Sherm’s point is that since I talked about sex education and about him, that means I want to have sex with him. And he wants to be sure to let everyone know that not only does he not want to do that, but not even if he were drunk. Even sitting here now as I type this out, I keep stopping and thinking this through. I am flummoxed. I am angry. And I am insulted — but not for the reason you think.
I am insulted because two people were discussing having sex with me on twitter — like I am some object that has no agency — which, by the way, is at least one very real facet of misogyny and rape culture. (The central tenet of rape culture, of course, is that rape is inevitable. Rape is inevitable because women have no agency or ability to consent to sex in a rape culture.) I am insulted because Sherm Frederick is (was?) a person of stature in Las Vegas — one who has talked about being a leader in his Christian-based church and one who often talks about being a voice for the moral high-ground in his op-eds — and for nearly seven years was my boss. In fact, he was not just my boss, he was the boss of all my bosses. There was a time in my career that crossing Sherm would have been the end of my career. Maybe he thinks he’s flattering me or letting me down easy. I can assure you that I have not now nor have I ever had any intention of having sex with Sherman Frederick — no intention and no actual sex of any kind with Sherman Frederick. Period. The end. And I think it’s disgusting and beyond inappropriate that he would take the conversation to that gutter-level. We have certainly been passionately disagreeing and debating the merits of AB230. I’ve made plenty of jokes at Sherm’s expense when it comes to his writing ability and what I consider to be out-dated social mores on sex education. But at no time did I ever insult Sherm on a personal level that comes close to what he did tonight.
Like I said, I’ve been in this business a long time. I’ve taken it on the chin my share of times. But I have never been insulted like I have tonight.
Let me be clear. This is not the first time that someone has made a sexual innuendo in my direction. Indeed, I have told an inappropriate and raunchy joke a time or two (even in the office — newsrooms are notoriously crass). Anyone who knows me personally or has worked with me for any length of time can attest to that. And I certainly am not prone to blushing or going prudish at a bawdy reference or joke. Bring it on.
But this twitter exchange, although relatively chaste in terms of the raunch-factor, cuts in a direction that feels a lot more dangerous than telling a joke about some strippers and such. What I felt when I saw this conversation (which happened while I was putting my daughter to bed, so I didn’t even see it until nearly an hour later) was a flush of anger that lines up a lot more closely to that time that editor asked me to hike up my skirt so I could titillate him and he could dangle the chance of career advancement over my head like a carrot. I felt sexually harassed, in public no less.
Sherman Frederick — church-going family man — was trying to slut-shame me out of talking about sex education. The implication is hard to miss. I talk about sex and sex education, so therefore, I am up for sex with anyone at any time. (You might want to steer clear of my husband of nearly 16 years, Sherm, or any member of my Northwest Community Church family.) And the not-quite-as-obvious but still present context for this is that, to use Sherm’s words, girls are “easy.” He said so again in an op-ed today that “easy, by definition is defined as being sexually available.” Obviously, to Sherm all girls are easy. All females are “sexually available” at all times to any man anywhere. That includes him. And, apparently, me.
Sorry, I literally just stopped typing to rest my head in my hands in disbelief.
You didn’t make me cry today, Sherm, but you sure as hell made me mad. I suspect that was your intention. But I wonder if you understand that in baiting me, you’ve just outed yourself as someone who is not just a misogynist but as a person who is capable of sexually harassing women. Back when I was 20-nothing and just starting out, that kind of sexist bullying would have silenced me. But I’m a grown-ass woman now. You can’t intimidate me or shush me by trying to slut-shame me in public. But it does have me wondering… Should I put out the call to see if there are others like me, who’ve been harassed by you? Perhaps some women (or men) who worked for you while you were still publisher? … I think you would rather I didn’t do that. Another time, perhaps.
I’m going to leave it at this, Sherm: Don’t ever talk about me in that way ever again. It’s not appropriate. It is repugnant. It debases the important conversation that is worth having about AB230. And not for nothing, it makes you look like an ass.