Dylann Hanrahan ’25
“You want to be a journalist… that’s so cute.”
“Yeah, I’d watch you on primetime.”
“I’ll tell you whatever you want to know.”
These are just a few of the tamer comments I have heard about my journalism career path. So…what is it really like being a woman in journalism?
Barbara Walters was the first woman to be hired as a full-time anchor in 1974 and paved the way for many that followed in her footsteps. I recently watched reruns of Barbara Walters interviews after she passed, and one stuck with me in particular. In the clip, she was interviewing Fidel Castro and was the only American journalist to do so at the time. She writes in “An Interview with Fidel Castro,” “I asked whether I could interview him at length. Castro agreed that if any time in the future he granted a television interview to an American reporter, it would be with me.” I laughed as she tenaciously asked the Cuban dictator why he didn’t believe in free speech or free press as he held her gaze. Americans watched as Castro escorted Walters across the infamous Bay of Pigs on June 9th, 1977, on the ABC Television Network. Walters spent ten days with Castro, and it was marked as one of her most controversial specials ever. Walters writes, “There we again jumped into Jeeps and, with Castro at the wheel of the lead vehicle, drove for five and a half hours through mountains, then the last two and a half hours on unpaved roads.”
Clarissa Ward, chief international correspondent for CNN, explains throughout her memoir, On All Fronts: The Education of a Journalist, the uphill battles associated with being a woman in journalism. I found it powerful to read how her perspective changed as a war reporter following the birth of her son, as her return home and safety had newfound meaning. Ward has been most recently reporting in Ukraine—while pregnant with her third child. Her account of being a war reporter is heartbreakingly honest and intimately explains the harrowing journey she made to become the well-known reporter she is today. Ward writes, “Perhaps this is why I continue to feel such passion for my work, notwithstanding the frustrations and limitations. As well as the need to inform and explain, there is a compulsion to humanize, to make real what is surreal and foreign, to remind the viewer that beyond geopolitics of power and the brutality of war and the clashes of culture, people are people.”
I recently read Essays by Arab Women Reporting from the Arab World: Our Women on the Ground, edited by Zahra Hankir with a foreword by icon Christiane Amanpour, and was deeply moved by the essays. Molly Crabapple, author of Brothers of the Gun: A Memoir of the Syrian War, comments, “With steely courage and pens of fire, these sahafiyat—Arab female journalists—tell the stories of their countries’ conflicts, providing rigor, depth, and insight few outside commentators could match.” The book includes an essay by Hind Hassan, one of my personal favorite journalists. Hassan regularly reports for VICE. One of her most impactful reports in my opinion was “Battle in West Bank,” where she travels from Jerusalem to Jenin and interviews both Palestinian fighters and Israeli soldiers. What I admire most about Hind Hassan is her use of language to connect with who she is reporting on. It is evident in some of her coverage that her use of language can be a sigh of relief for many of her interviewees. She was one of my main inspirations to learn Arabic.
Women continue to work on the ground around the world, through war zones, natural disasters, and humanitarian crises, all while exemplifying an innate empathy. Often as women, we are offered more access to spaces our male colleagues would otherwise not be welcome. We can ask questions maybe a man would not dare. The feminine edge is something Earth shatteringly powerful, especially when attempting to connect with your subjects.
So, thank you to all the woman in journalism who tolerated clear desks that exposed their legs, who were scrutinized for exposing their entitled harassing bosses, who fought against male colleagues for the tough stories and the best assignments, and who paved the way for the rest of us. And let us remember the brave women who were killed while reporting such as Malalai Maiwand, who was killed in Afghanistan after speaking of the dangers of being a female journalist in the region; Marie Colvin, who was killed while covering the siege of Homs in Syria; Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed while reporting on Israeli army raids in Jenin West Bank; and countless others.