Tag Archives: Sexism

This is What Happens When a Woman Writer Asks for Money

This article was originally published by Quartz on June 7, 2017.

Over the past few years, I’ve written a number of commentaries and op-eds related to the work I do in my day job, as a public opinion researcher. Unlike many freelance writers, I don’t rely on the income I earn from publishing my work. In fact, when I first started writing for media outlets, I was pleasantly surprised the first time a publication offered to pay me.

Over time, I learned that although less experienced writers sometimes take a few non-paying assignments to build up their portfolio, compensation for writing is the industry ideal. I say ideal rather than norm because despite the many editors and publishers with integrity who recognize that labor should be compensated for in dollars, not exposure, there are more than a handful who don’t follow this norm. They consider including the link to an author’s Twitter page at the end of her article reasonable payment.

Usually, when I submit a piece or pitch to an editor, I ask about pay, but I have also granted outlets permission to publish my pieces for free. The few times I have, the editors—usually of small newspapers or blogs—explained, with kindness and humility, that they could not pay freelancers, and that they completely understood if I wanted to take my work elsewhere. Because I could afford to, I chose to donate my work, to reach new readers.

When I submitted an opinion piece to an editor at a small local newspaper in Connecticut, I didn’t expect payment. After the editor accepted my piece and said nothing about money, I inquired if the newspaper pays for op-eds. I asked this out of principle—because I believe that people should be compensated for labor, and because I believe women in particular should ask for what they’re worth.

The editor wrote back saying that they do not pay writers. “Frankly,” he added, “because of the mention of money, I will not run it now. Thanks for your interest.”

Shock doesn’t even begin to describe my reaction to his e-mail. The shock quickly turned into anger when I realized that this editor had essentially retaliated against me for asking if I would be paid for my work. I sent an e-mail back that said:

“Writers are well within their rights to ask if a company using their work will pay them for it. Frankly, to discourage me from asking and penalizing me for it is not only unprofessional, it is unethical.”

I published the screenshots of this conversation on Twitter and received an outpouring of support from writers and editors all over the world who recognized the blatant injustice of what happened. I also sent a longer response back to the editor as well as the newspaper’s leadership, in which I argued that the editor’s behavior is symptomatic of larger problems plaguing in the media industry—the issue of fair compensation and transparency.

“This incident is a microcosm of broader issues that plague the writing and journalism communities,” I wrote. “While some outlets genuinely cannot afford to pay writers, they still recognize the dignity of writers’ labors, and treat them accordingly and respectfully. Professional news organizations and editors who value integrity will be transparent and upfront about their payment policy. Certainly, they will not pull an article when a writer simply asks if an outlet pays for pieces.”

What happened made me think about broader attitudes toward women writers and equal pay issues. Women workers everywhere (not just writers) are blamed for the pay gap because they don’t ask for money as often as men do. Women are told to “lean in,” to chase that raise or promotion before their male colleague snatches it with his masculine confidence and entitlement. Some women do not follow this advice for fear that speaking up would make them seem too aggressive or unlikeable. My experience would suggest they are, devastatingly, correct. And even though I didn’t actually ask for money (I asked if I would be compensated), the worst thing that could possibly happen in this scenario did happen—I was punished for speaking up. I did not want this point to be lost on the paper, and included this in my e-mail:

“Women in the workplace have a hard enough time as it is asking for what they deserve, and your editor’s reply is a perfect example of why that is. It sends the message that if you ask for what you’re worth, you won’t get it, and in fact you may be punished for asking in the first place. So don’t ask, stay silent. Is that the message the [newspaper] wants to send to women? Imagine if I was a 22-year-old just starting her career and received [the editor’s] reply? I would be terrified to ever pitch an article again!”

A few days after I sent this e-mail, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief tweeted at me to call her. I did, and we had a polite but somewhat vapid conversation about what happened and what the newspaper plans to do in response. She began the conversation by telling me “no one had any bad intent.” Somewhat bewildered by both her vagueness and implication that the incident was a misunderstanding, I respectfully but firmly explained that the incident was not about intent, but the events that took place: The editor pulled my article because I asked about money. Later that evening, I wrote her an e-mail elaborating:

“And I’m not sure if I made clear over the phone, but I strongly believe the editor should be held accountable for his behavior, whether that means he is fired, suspended, or penalized in some other way. It seemed like you may believe he just ‘said the wrong thing’ and didn’t intend harm—I want to make it clear to you that it was what he DID that was wrong, which was to pull my piece because I inquired about payment.”

I also suggested that, in the spirit of transparency, she might consider adding a payment policy to the newspaper’s website that explains freelance contributors are welcome to submit work but won’t be paid for it. (At the time of publication of this article, no such policy has been posted.)

I may not have been able to impact this newspaper, but publicly talking about my experience seems to have comforted other writers. My original Twitter post including screenshots of the e-mails received more than 300,000 impressions and was retweeted over 1,000 times.

This strong reaction isn’t surprising, as writers know the injustices and indignities associated with asking for what they deserve all too well. And women understand their impossible position: “you have to be assertive, yet not too confident, yet apologize for breathing,” as one Twitter user said in reply to my post.

The responsibility to compensate people who perform labor should fall on the institutions profiting off of said labor. Publications should include policies about writer compensation on their websites with standard rates of pay, and editors should bring up money first.

Some companies have already implemented such policies, because research shows that compensation transparency reduces inequities among women and people of color. These policies need to be more than ideals in the writing and journalism industry—they should be standard operational procedure that unequivocally demonstrates respect for the dignity of writers’ work.

I Was Viciously Harassed by Misogynist Internet Trolls for Defending an Anti-Republican Ad

I wrote an article for Xojane about my experience being harassed by hateful online trolls, just for expressing my opinion. I connect my experience to the problem of sexism and misogyny writ large in America, and encourage women to keep talking, shouting, and having their voice.

Here’s an excerpt:
“This election has unearthed some of the most painful diseases of American society, including misogyny and sexism. The reaction among women has been one of empowerment, of motivation to speak out and up, without fear. I am hopeful that, despite the outcome — and perhaps because of it — we will continue to amplify the voices, interests, and concerns of women everywhere.”

Read the full article here.

Hillary Clinton’s Survival of Sexism

This blog was originally published in The Huffington Post. The full article with citations can be found here.

At the end of the last presidential debate, Donald Trump was asked to name something about his opponent that he respects. He answered that Hillary “doesn’t quit. She doesn’t give up…She’s a fighter.” This was a rare moment of truth coming from a candidate who literally lies a majority of the time. To me, Hillary is a hero for the valiant fight she’s shown in this race, but for withstanding nearly 40 years of the sexism, misogyny, and discrimination that befall women who seek power and challenge traditional notions of gender. Our country may finally see a woman president not because we as a people have evolved in our thinking about gender roles or because of progressive policy measures that allow women to combine work with caregiving, but rather because of the sheer tenacity of Hillary Clinton herself.

Hillary’s ability and willingness to remain in spaces that are uncomfortable, even hostile toward women, is admirable, though rare to witness (and I mean this both literally—like when Trump loomed over her at the most recent debate—and symbolically, when talking about the space of politics in general). No women has made it to the space Hillary Clinton occupies today, and there are various reasons for women’s lack of ascendancy to the top—in both politics and in the workplace generally. The effects of child-rearing responsibilities have been well-documented as serious barriers to female advancement to the top ranks in companies and in politics. But there may also be more subtle, yet more insidious reasons for women’s under-representation in top positions that have to do with the everyday sexism we experience in the workplace.

Few of us have endured the level of misogyny Hillary Clinton has, but many of us have experienced the micro-aggressions, the small instances of bias, the tiny pinches, scratches, and sometimes cuts that can eventually lead to the deaths of so many promising careers.

This happens everyday at work—when you get cut off or interrupted in a meeting. When your junior male colleague takes credit for your idea. When you look in the conference room and realize every participant sitting at the table is a white man. When your boss expects you to get cupcakes for your co-worker’s birthday. When you find out the man who held the exact position before you made a higher salary. When a client, colleague, or co-worker makes lewd comments that make your skin crawl but you can’t do a damn thing about it—not because laws don’t exist on the books but because sometimes that’s all they are—words on paper that fail to take into account the enormous, oftentimes impossible risks women take in speaking up about sexual harassment.

When women (who are privileged enough to have the choice) leave their jobs—either to opt out of the workforce altogether or to take another position elsewhere—sexism is rarely cited as the reason for the switch. More commonly, women will leave a job to find a company that’s a “better fit,” and some will start their own businesses so they “don’t have to work for anyone.” Some will attempt to find a job that can better accommodate their lives and responsibilities of caregiving. Oftentimes, these career switches are out of male-dominated fields. And then there are some women who leave the workforce altogether to work full-time inside the home. When these career changes are made, the reasons publicly stated may vary, but I would bet a lot that privately, many women are simply exhausted from enduring those little pricks of sexism and misogyny on a daily basis. It may not be a primary reason for leaving (or even a conscious one), but it may certainly contribute to driving women out of certain fields and careers.

And so, the status quo remains: the glass ceiling remains in tact, and patriarchy stays alive and well (though maybe it has the sniffles as of late). And our country and our economy suffer as well, as companies, industries, and fields lose a huge pool of talent.

I have been heartened to see so many men challenge Donald Trump’s sexism in this campaign, especially his blatant defense of rape culture. But this challenging needs to happen more widely—in every office, laboratory, Assembly floor, and school. Trump’s repeated attempt to excuse his support of sexual assault as “locker room talk” speaks volumes about his—and many men’s—absolute refusal to admit their own sexism. To be clear—he is not an aberration but rather a manifestation of the white male privilege that infects our society and drives women away and out of male-dominated spaces.

One way to really make some men angry is to call out their sexism. I have seen many men go to great lengths to justify their actions, defend each other, and deny responsibility. Just a small example—I recently sat next to a man on a plane who “man-spreaded” his legs right into my seat, essentially taking over half my space. I discreetly captured a picture of the man-spreading which I posted on social media with the hashtag #everydaysexism. I couldn’t believe the vitriol I got in response—men I hadn’t spoken to or even thought about in years came out of the woodwork to tell me (or more accurately, mansplain to me) that the man sitting next to me simply had long legs (actually, he was pretty short) and that what he was doing was not sexism. Others questioned why I didn’t just ask him to move, an ask which is symbolic of a broader problem of placing the burden of stopping sexism on women rather than the people who perpetrate it.

There’s nothing ostensibly damaging inherent to the practice of man-spreading, but it is an example of one of those tiny pricks that have devastating cumulative effects on women. Calling out these instances of sexist behavior is exhausting, because the response is often one of defensive, even hostile posturing. Yet staying silent feels pretty bad too. And often times, when you do speak up, you’re the only one doing so, and that can get lonely.

I can only imagine just how lonely and exhausting being Hillary Clinton is. When she accepted the Democratic nomination back in July, I balled my eyes out when she took the stage. My husband asked me if my tears were tears of joy for the first woman presidential nominee. I told him no, that my tears were for Hillary Clinton herself, tears of solidarity, of relief that she was able to survive the years of tiny and not so tiny cuts to get to where she is today. She truly is extraordinary in her ability to persevere.

This campaign has exposed some of the worst social diseases that linger in our country. Sexism is one of those diseases, and while women have always known it’s existed because we live it everyday, seeing Hillary endure it is like pulling off a bandaid and being forced to actually look at the injury. To me, it feels like a very old wound that women have collectively borne is wide open and exposed, but the question is how we do we heal it properly? Hillary Clinton is our hero of survival, but we cannot rely on lone women to single-handedly dismantle the patriarchy. Healing this wound involves a collective effort from all Americans, as well as progressive policy measures that value women, their work, and the realities of their lives.