Toxic masculinity has been enjoying a Renaissance period since the election of Donald Trump. Instead of simply talking over women or implying sexist and sexualized thoughts with coded language like the good old days, some men now feel empowered to just come right out and say it—like this past December, when Fox News’ Tucker Carlson told Teen Vogue political columnist Lauren Duca live on-air to “stick to thigh-high boots.”
For women in the media, it can be a daily tax just to occupy their professional space, often having to convince men time and again that women can be multifaceted too (Thigh-high boots AND politics? Groundbreaking). Even worse, it can be downright dangerous; Duca has tweeted several times about threats she regularly receives just for doing her job.
Thursday afternoon, she joined Vox’s Liz Plank, WNYC’s Rebecca Carroll, and author of Feminist Fight Club Jessica Bennett at Northside Festival Innovation’s TNT Content Stage to share their experiences shutting down sexism in the media.
“A lot of people confuse ‘objectivity’ with male, white subjectivity,” said Plank. Carroll quickly chimed in, “The whole industry standard is based on white men being able to be objective,” earning titters from the audience. Meanwhile women, people of color, and other marginalized groups such as undocumented reporters, Plank says, are often accused of not being objective enough when, in reality, they’re the ones with the most to lose under Trump. “Never has it been more important for people who have a stake in the story to put their voice in it,” said Carroll.
Women in the mainstream media certainly have some skin in the game but, as members of a marginalized group, they also recognize the importance of passing the microphone to others. “The work I do with the radio and podcasts that I’ve worked on and stories, all are about lifting other people and other voices up,” Carroll continued.
Plank took this to heart last year when Donald Trump mocked a reporter with a disability during one of his campaign speeches. “I watched cable news as there were panel after panel of able-bodied people commenting on whether this was offensive or not…I just didn’t see [people calling it out].” As a part of her election video series 2016ish, she then went out and interviewed people with disabilities, a group comprising nearly 20% of the voting population but rarely seen or heard. Everyone she interviewed was resoundingly grateful just to have the opportunity to speak. “My overarching goal is to [elevate] the voices that often don’t get heard,” she said.
Not only has the Trump administration posed a threat to traditionally marginalized voices, but also to journalistic integrity as a whole. The buzz about Fake News has injected such doubt in the public forum to the point where debates over climate change, racism, and whether or not civil rights are human rights are considered valid. “So often what we’re calling ‘activist’ journalism’ is just the truth,” said Duca. “That’s pretty dangerous…we just have to have objectivity of method…straight white men don’t come at [everything] from some automatic objective [point of view].”
Fighting every day for truth while simultaneously defending the right to occupy space in the field, panelists agreed, can be simply exhausting. Carroll, one of few women and often the only person of color in the room throughout her entire career, actually stepped away from mainstream media at one point because the was tired of constantly defending her identity and navigating other people’s fears and hatred. After a year, however, she realized she had only needed to recharge—to take the time for self-care—before she was ready to fight again. “My returning to media and news was an action,” she said. “Being a black woman in journalism and media was an action. My existence in this space is an action.”
As engaging and informative as the all-female panel was, participants agreed that they’d like to see more men taking responsibility for what is, ultimately, their problem—holding each other accountable for sexist remarks and not being bystanders during attacks on women. In online forums like Twitter, especially, where words are all we have, Duca asked that people be more vocal about showing support for women they agree with, as they’re often subjected to endless harassment or driven out of conversations altogether.
It was Carroll who received the loudest applause of the session, however, by contradicting requests for men to support women with their privilege. “I don’t want to be elevated by a white male voice,” she said. “I want to be listened to by a white male voice.”
Photos by Zane Roessell