Women in the Newsroom: Catherine Rampell, Tara Dowdell, & Kai Ma
By Allison Raymond
On Thursday, February 15th, the students in Professor Joy Reid’s Race, Gender, and the Media class attended a panel to talk about women representation in the newsroom. Included in the panel were three women in the media industry: Catherine Rampell, oped columnist for the Washington Post; Tara Dowdell who runs her own PR firm; and Kai Ma, a writer and segment producer at MSNBC who works with Professor Reid. I was excited to hear what these women had to say about this topic because I have never really had an in-depth conversation about it.
First, we talked about how gender has personally impacted their career paths. There seemed to be a general agreement that there are certain stereotypes about women that lead their coworkers or bosses to have lower expectations about them or their work. Catherine Rampell talked about how those false perceptions can either be a bad thing, or you can turn it into a good thing by proving them wrong. She talked further about the importance of diversity in the newsroom, saying, “It is important to have a diverse team because otherwise the newsroom won’t always recognize a story when it is happening; having people from different backgrounds allows us to find more diverse stories.”
We then explored what it means to be a woman of color in a media profession. Both Kai Ma and Tara Dowdell have experience racial profiling in addition to gender profiling. Dowdell talked about her background growing up, and how her parents told her she had to be better than everyone else in order to be treated the same. She said there was this pressure to be “perfect,” and compared it to how Obama needed to be perfect in order to win his elections, while white men could have more scandals without it seriously impacting their campaign. Ma talked about the often-racist perceptions of Asian women in American culture. Even in Vogue magazine, women from an Asian background are exoticised and painted as hypersexual and meek. She talked about how that perception made an impact in her own life, as some people wouldn’t expect her to stand up for herself or contribute her opinions in the newsroom.
A student asked what the biggest difference has been since they started working in media, and Kai Ma cited the sense of community. When someone would make a racist comment about Asian people, she often would look around and no one would be surprised or see anything wrong, but her own Asian community would agree with her. Now, however, she sees more people standing up to racism and sexism when they are not immediately involved. “Twitter, I think, has made a real difference in this,” she said. “It enables the public to have a voice and gives them the ability to stand up for other groups that they may not be a part of.”
We closed the conversation by talking about what we all can do to help end the stereotypes around being a woman, or a woman of color, in the media. Dowdell talked about the importance of separating our own thoughts and opinions from what we hear. “”First, we have to make sure that we are not internalizing negative perceptions about ourselves or negative stereotypes about others. We have to listen to the voice in our own head to ensure that we are not part of the problem,” she said. “It starts with us.”
Thank you to these women for taking the time to talk to us about such an important topic as we enter the workforce in media professions!