I spent #ADayWithoutAWoman at work. Not because I don't support the cause; I do. But, like many women, striking is not an option at my job. So instead, I'd like to use the platform I have to talk a minute about the women with whom I work and the women who've made that work possible.
If you've read the New York Times article about the dearth of women with bylines or in top editorial positions — not only at the Times but in papers all over the country — things look grim. According to a 2015 Women's Media Center study, women made up only 37 percent of newsrooms and garnered roughly the same percentage of bylines. Only 13 percent of papers had even one woman among their top editors. Our local print media sphere is a bit of an anomaly with virtual one-woman shops like Kym Kemp's Redheaded Blackbelt news site and Caroline Titus' Ferndale Enterprise. The North Coast Journal, founded by a trio of women, is an outlier, too. When the Journal's publisher Judy Hodgson started the paper with Carolyn Fernandez and Rose Welsh, they were practically unicorns. Twenty-six years later, women are still playing key roles here. As arts and features editor, I share co-editorship with Thadeus Greenson, the Journal's news editor. Our production and sales departments are helmed by women. Four of our five full-time editorial staff members are female. And if you scan our bylines in any given week, staff and freelance alike, you will likely find even numbers of men and women contributing. We go a day without women and the wheels come off this thing.
We still have a long way to go in terms of representing Humboldt and telling its stories, particularly in terms of people of color and the LGBTQ community. (Freelance writers: Hit me up.) But stats aren't the goal of media diversity. Finding and bringing forth the issues, stories and real voices of the people — all the people — in our county is. And like bringing women into the newsroom, it doesn't happen by accident.
So much happened before we — the women of today — got here. It started before any conversations about equal pay — still dismal across our industry and others, particularly for women of color — or who gets mentored or promoted. In order for us to do our jobs, we needed more than just individual skill and motivation. The breadth of work that the women before us had to accomplish just so we could receive educations — much less even a narrow shot in a traditionally white, male workplace — is staggering. Did your mother work outside the home? Call her and ask what that was like. Then imagine planning a career without birth control and an abstinence-only sex education.
Despite our scarcity on contemporary front pages, women have been in the American news game since the beginning. It was Mary Katherine Goddard, publisher of the Maryland Journal, who broke the story of who signed the Declaration of Independence in 1777. There were abolitionists, women's rights advocates and civil rights activists like African-American writer Ida B. Wells-Barnett, who exposed the horrors of lynchings in the South. There were intrepid investigative journalists like Nellie Bly, who in 1887 went undercover as a patient in an insane asylum to expose its horrendous abuses. There are plenty of stories of angry men busting up women's printing presses, too. (Watch your six, Titus.)
We didn't just evolve as a collective society and decide that inching toward equality and letting ladies write about something other than hats was a good idea. We got here on the backs of feminists of all races, sexual orientations and classes doing the hard, slogging work of civil rights protest and legal reform. We have the right to vote because of decades of work by suffragists. We have our educations because of Title IX protections from sex discrimination in schools. We have Title VII protection against racial and sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. We have the Equal Pay Act. We have access to family planning education, healthcare and birth control from providers like Planned Parenthood. We have state protections against workplace discrimination based on sexual identity and orientation. And if you think we've come so far that we can't slide back, we haven't.
Forget about moving forward and closing the wage gap — just holding onto what advances women have made in American workplaces is going to take more of that slogging work and protest. Reproductive rights, LGBTQ protections and the most basic civil rights are under threat by the current federal administration. We owe the women before us our gratitude, yes. But more than that, we owe them a fight.
Jennifer Fumiko Cahill is the arts and features editor at the North Coast Journal. Reach her at 442-1400 extention 320 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @JFumikoCahill.