It’s time to follow some advice from Aretha Franklin.
Back in 1967, the legendary artist, Aretha Franklin, released her version of what would become one of her signature songs, Respect. It is interesting how the same song, performed by two great artists can have such divergent meanings. The original Otis Redding version is a plea from a desperate man, but in the iconic version by Franklin, it is a demand from a confident woman for the respect that she is rightfully due.
Over time the song has become an anthem of sorts, for the struggle of women in all walks of life to gain simple equality with men. One area where this remains true, even today, is among journalists. You would think that this would be one of the more “enlightened” walks of life, but alas, journalism has always been a male-dominated enterprise. Surely, but ever so slowly, change has come and continues, but the age-old mistreatment of women still hangs on.
Take the case of Michele Gillen, the long-time award-winning, south Florida investigative reporter for a local CBS station. Over her two-decade career, she won 25 regional Emmy awards along the way to exposing corruption and injustice, including the inhuman treatment of mentally ill inmates housed in the Miami-Dade jail.
Did such work earn her the respect she most certainly deserved? I would say no, given the fact that she was unceremoniously forced out of her position, which led to both an age and gender discrimination lawsuit against CBS. She also faced retaliation from CBS for filing the suit, which has since been settled. In court documents, CBS claimed that she had to be terminated because she was not keeping up with the two men on the station’s special projects team. Really.
The bottom line, however, according to Gillen’s lawsuit, was that the station’s culture routinely demeaned women, and the management not only protected “bad-boy behavior,” but they empowered it. This is the same story that has played out for far too long in journalism.
Sure, there are some exceptions in the male-dominated world of the press, like the legendary Barbara Walters, but she had to struggle far more than a man would have had to, for everything she so deservedly earned. It was very hard for her coming up through the ranks in her field, a journey that is well documented. About becoming an anchor on ABC, she recalled, “It was lonely, and it was painful. At one point I was on the air with a male partner who really didn’t want me on and made things quite difficult for me.”
She said two things that saved her were receiving letters from other women from various fields writing that they were going through the same thing, and one surprising but welcome telegram she received from, of all people, John Wayne. The telegram simply stated, “Don’t let the bastards get you down.”
When will we get to a point where skill, and not gender matters? Not soon enough.