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Nonsense that never dies

Warning: I’m back on my soap box for this one.

I had a chance last weekend to spend an evening with some of my favorite people in the world, the members of the West Virginia Press Association. And, in his speech at our annual banquet, the organization’s president noted the increased number of both young and female members in the group. He was encouraged.

I am, too. But then I came home and heard from one of my reporters (who is both young and female) that she had an experience I had hoped she and others like her might not have to face. I am so very tired of offering the advice I had to offer her.

She was on an assignment, and was wrapping things up by asking “Is there any other information I need to get?” (A common question when a reporter wants to give a source one more chance to weigh in). An older man who had nothing to do with what she was working on chimed in “You can get my number, baby doll.”

Ugh.

Worse, the person to whom my reporter had been talking, a man the reporter guessed was similar in age to the person who made the comment, laughed. He had an opportunity to shut down that kind of behavior and instead he encouraged it.

A woman in that position finds herself feeling as though she has one of two choices: laugh it off and pretend everything is OK (thereby encouraging the behavior), or responding in such a harsh manner as to have her words and actions twisted by someone who finds validation in a woman’s “shrill” reaction.

There are, of course, other ways to respond — though none of them is especially easy to conjure up when one is put on the spot by such boorish behavior. Those are the responses I talked to her about. It is such a shame I have to pass on that arsenal of options.

My reporter estimated both men to be of the age that they might have daughters similar to her age.

“He probably wouldn’t like it if he heard someone say that to his daughter,” she said.

Probably not. He probably would not have been happy to hear other men laugh about it, either.

Let’s take that in another direction, though. He probably would not have made any such comment to a young male reporter. It is doubtful he or others like him refer to young men they encounter as “baby doll,” “honey,” “darlin'” “sweetheart,” etc. It is unlikely they notice a perhaps nervous young man diligently working to do his job and walk up to put their arm around him, rub his shoulders or offer their phone numbers.

And if that is the case, what was his goal in making such a comment?

Surely he didn’t think she was actually going to accept his phone number. What was the point? To what kind of person does that come across as appropriate?

And before you choose to misinterpret my words and assume I am trying to kill the art of flirting and ban all pick-up lines, give me a break. This was a professional doing her job who assumed she was dealing with two other professionals. She shouldn’t have to worry she will face anything else while out on assignment.

I hope this nonsense is dying out (or, better yet, dies right now).

I hope that in a few years I will realize I have not had to have this talk with a young female reporter in a long, long time.

Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at cmyer@newsandsentinel.com

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