Jessica Bennett, who’s compiled a decade of her observations and research into a kickass book called “Feminist Fight Club,” is on a mission to help women to fight sexism at work. “[My book is] the manual I wish I had when I was beginning my career,” says The New York Times contributing writer. Much of her work as a journalist focuses on gender — and we’re pumped to hear her speak this Wednesday, June 21 at Ellevate Network’s “Mobilizing the Power of Women Summit,” which will also feature our co-founder Romy Newman! In the meantime, Jessica’s given us the scoop on how she made it as a journalist and has shared her #1 piece of career advice.
Fairygodboss of the Week: Jessica Bennett
Contributing Writer, The New York Times
New York, NY
FGB: Tell us a little about your career. How did you get to where you are now?
JB: I always knew I wanted to be a journalist — literally since the 4th grade, when the editor of the Seattle Times, my hometown newspaper, came and conducted a series of workshops at my elementary school. But by the time I graduated college and got my first internship, the industry was imploding. The newspaper I interned for went under. The one where I did a college fellowship was sold.
My first job in NYC — at the Village Voice — underwent a merger/sale, and tons of editors quit in protest. I ultimately ended up at Newsweek, where I rose from intern to staff writer and ultimately to senior editor, before it too was put up for sale (for $), sold to a 90-year-old man, merged with the Daily Beast, then taken out of print.
So let's just say it hasn't always been easy — but I love what I do. It was at Newsweek, as a junior reporter, that I first became aware of the gender issues that continue to plague the media industry and many industries beyond that — and Newsweek was a place where, in 1970, the women of the company had sued for gender discrimination.
Forty years later, in 2010, I realized many of the young female reporters were still making less than their male peers. Two colleagues and I revolted in our own way — writing an article tracing the sexist history of Newsweek, and ultimately publishing it in Newsweek — and from that point forward, I made gender a focus of much of what I write.
FGB: What is an accomplishment that you are proud of?
JB: “Feminist Fight Club,” my new book! It's the manual I wish I had when I was beginning my career, and the culmination of a decade of observation and research. It's basically a battle manual for fighting sexism at work — with pictures.
FGB: What is a challenge that you've faced and overcome?
JB: A recent one is the psychological challenge of becoming a freelance writer. Seriously, this job is not for the weary. Sometimes I spend so much time at home without having contact with another human that I forget what it's like to speak out loud.
But at the same time, going freelance has been the best thing I possibly could have done for my career. So I've had to learn how to balance that, and sometimes that literally means forcing myself to get dressed in the morning, to stick to a schedule, and to leave the house just to have some remote form of human interaction.
FGB: Who is YOUR Fairygodboss? and Why?
JB: The women of my real-life feminist fight club, on which my book was based. They're the ones who make me laugh and help me remember the bigger picture when things are tough. I wouldn't be where I am today without them.
FGB: What do you do when you're not working?
JB: I suppose that's the downside of being a freelance writer, or a journalist of any kind — I'm always working. Even when I'm not working, I'm observing what's happening and thinking to myself, “Is there a story somewhere in here?”
FGB: If you could have dinner with one famous person - dead or alive - who would it be?
JB: Hillary Clinton.
FGB: What is your karaoke song?
JB: Standing on the sidelines watching other people sing!
FGB: What is your favorite movie?
FGB: What book would you bring with you on a desert island?
JB: Probably a blank one, so I could write.
FGB: What is your shopping vice? What would you buy if you won the lottery?
JB: Can I buy the presidency back?
FGB: What is the #1 career tip you'd like to share with other women who want to have successful careers like you?
JB: To trust your gut. I spent so long trying to fit in, worrying what other people thought of me, being hesitant to speak my mind or say what I really believed because I wasn't sure it was right, or smart, or good enough, or was worried about being criticized, or not being perfect enough, and on and on. And you know what? Almost all of the things I was afraid to say, I still believe them. So what I would say is: listen to your inner voice, try not to succumb to self-doubt, and stand up for what you believe in.
FGB: Why do you love where you work?
JB: Being a journalist allows me to write about the subjects I care about, to ask questions, to get paid for being curious, and it's fun — I get to investigate everything there is to know about a particular subject, and then move on to the next one.
I've often thought to myself, Oh my god, journalism is such a grind, the industry is in turmoil, maybe I should find something else to do, but the truth is I love it too much. I wouldn't be happy doing anything else. (Oh, and if you were asking about why I love the physical space I work, aka my office aka my apartment, I love it because it has everything I need, like a great desk (my bed) and awesome colleagues (my dog Charles).
Fairygodboss is all about women helping other women. So each week, we celebrate a woman who makes a difference in other women’s careers. Is there a woman who has made a difference in your career? Celebrate and thank her by nominating her here.