“Like, you wouldn’t have your job if you weren’t beautiful” — that’s what I hear when I’m told not to worry about a thing, that I’m a pretty girl so I’ll do just fine. That’s, verbatim, what Donald Trump told a female reporter when she’d asked him about Miss Universe pageants a while back, except I’ve been told from the people who care most about me — that’s how pervasive a problem telling women their looks will earn them success has become.
“We could say, politically correct, that look doesn’t matter,” he said. “But the look obviously matters.”
Certainly, pageant contestants are judged on their appearances (and poise, intelligence, talent and character). Journalists, like the aforementioned reporter and myself, are not. Rather, the success of my career as a journalist sits solely on my keen curiosity and the ability to build rapport with my sources, to articulate their stories with authenticity and devoid of bias — which is no easy feat — and exhume truths about this world that, frankly, too often fall on deaf ears in a world that doesn’t always want to hear it. My job is to persist in the effort to shape culture by disseminating underreported stories and to echo stories that have been told but deserve to be reiterated a million times over. My job is sometimes to expound opinions and always to offer clarity, divulge answers and summon even more questions from readers.
In fact, much of my writing has a lot to do with why you don’t need to be a “pretty girl,” and how to dismantle preconceived beauty standards that perpetuate the objectification, sexualization and gendered stereotyping of 54 percent of media consumers in this country.
But I’ve learned that it’s not easy to be both a journalist and a woman. Let me throw a million reasons why at you: According to “The Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2017 Report” by the Women’s Media Center (WMC), women receive just 38 percent of bylines and other credits in print, web, television and wire news. They cover just 32 percent of stories on crime and justice; 33 percent on religion; 34 percent on U.S. politics; 37 percent on tech, domestic issues and world politics, 38 percent on culture; 40 percent on business and economics; 44 percent on social issues and 49 percent on science. Even with regards to topics pertaining to women — such as reproductive issues and campus sexual assault — female journalists claim just 37 percent and 31 percent of stories, respectively.
The lack of female journalists and sources in both legacy media outlets and modern curators creates an inevitable absence of the female voice on key issues in national dialogue. And, for those of us in the field, were too often relegated to only topics of style and dating — that's all well and good, but that doesn't fit into all women's agendas.
For me, I became a journalist because the stories I want to read have yet to be written. That's been my agenda since day one. Journalism has had a particular allure to me since I started jotting down questions and notes to myself in glitter milk pens in the ’90s. I kept ballet slipper-adorned sticky notes and scrap printer paper in a shoebox at the foot of my lofted bed, just beside a small porcelain boot in which I collected gold toothfairy dust. That box contained everything I believed in — the power of the written word and the toothfairy.
In my work, it doesn’t matter how pretty I am or am not. It matters how loud I am. It matters how tenacious I am. It matters how vehement I am. It matters how inspired, compelled, driven and unwavering I am. And the company for which my looks matter is a company I’d never write for but, rather, write about.
So, despite the fact that loved ones and friends are only trying to encourage and assure me that my career path will lead to success, I wish they'd say just about anything else.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.