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COMMENTARY: Gender should not define career choice

I want you to picture a sports reporter in your head. It could be a familiar face or one that you just imagine.

Now I want you to picture a broadcast meteorologist. Same thing — doesn’t matter if it’s someone specific or not. 

Now, imagine those two people side by side, exactly how you initially pictured them. Take a mental snapshot of the image in your head right now and answer this question — what gender are the two people you imagined? Is one a man and the other a woman? Are they both women? Are both men?

I’m going to go out on a limb and take a wild guess — the sports reporter is a man, isn’t it? You aren’t picturing Sarah Spain or Doris Burke or Cari Champion, are you?

Here’s another wild guess — the sports reporter you envisioned is a middle-aged white dude. Or, if you pictured an analyst, it might be a former professional athlete. At least one person probably even had visions of Stephen A. Smith pop into their head. 

If I’m right, don’t feel guilty. The person you imagined isn’t necessarily a reflection of some inherent sexism or partisan preconceptions. More than anything, it’s a mirror image of what society has not just showed you, but incessantly drilled into your head about the sports industry. Before you forget, what did the meteorologist you pictured look like? Was it another old white guy in a suit or a smiling PYT in a tight dress? It’s important that you remember what that person looked like too.

Here’s why — not long ago, I dragged myself to a salon for a dreaded but long overdue haircut. The female hairdresser that I had began to make small talk, as hairdressers always do. It was the usual run down. She asked me about my college major. I told her that I’m a Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers with a specialization in Sports Journalism.

She asked what I had done this summer. I told her about my summer internship with the New York Post’s sports department. With a furrowed brow, the hairdresser then followed up with the customary —“But do you want to do with that after graduation”— question. I told her that my goal is to become a sports reporter.

Her response, you wonder? “You should really just become a weather girl instead. They don’t let girls into the sports industry.” But don’t worry — she didn’t stop there.“I can totally see you being on TV, smiling and pointing to the map. I bet you’d be so good at it. You don’t want to bother with sports — that’s a man’s industry. They don’t let girls into it.”

Suddenly, I was Colin Kaepernick being told to stay in my lane. I was the Bills’ safety Aaron Williams taking a hit from Miami’s wide out Jarvis Landry in Week 7. Cheap shot, hairdresser lady. Augmenting the matter was that it wasn’t just me being disrespected by this woman’s words.

There are the meteorologists, who are actual scientists that do considerably more than smile and point to maps in front of video cameras. There are the women currently working in sports media that are modern catalysts for gender equality within the industry. And then there’s the category box that I represent — the young women striving for playing time in the combat against chronic ignorant stereotypes and misogynistic trends that liter society and the sports world.

This woman’s comments were abhorrent across the board, but I admittedly identify most with those aimed at the latter two groups. It’s an ideology in the same realm as the Astros minor league pitcher Brooks Marlow’s, which he kindly shared on Twitter during the NL Wild Card game. Essentially, just keep your mouth shut on ESPN during baseball games if you’re a lady.

And remember who’s holding the scissors here. 

This hairdresser’s words didn’t penetrate my career aspirations in the slightest. If anything, it was like hearing ‘Lose Yourself’ by Eminem in the final minutes of warm-up on game day. On the surface I looked calm and ready to drop bombs. What her words did do was expose me to a side of blatant American hegemony that I hadn’t experienced first-hand before.

I’ve had the fortune of working with exceptional male colleagues during my experiences in sports industry so far. An overwhelming majority of them have made a point to assure me that right now, being a woman in this male-dominated industry is, for the most part, a competitive advantage. At best, this hairdresser’s words emulated changes that desperately need to happen.

She pointed out obvious industry flaws. Sports media companies need to make the effort not just to employ more women, but expand their roles. Don’t just hire women to fill quotas — hire them because of what they bring to the table. We can do more than mediate conversation among analysts and parole sidelines on game day. She also pointed out flaws in individual habits of thought—namely, our willingness to obediently swallow chauvinistic societal conventions.

Consider your mental snapshot of the sports reporter and meteorologist. Question your assumptions.

Kaylee Pofahl is a School of Arts and Science senior majoring in journalism and media studies.

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