Young Women in Journalism
W. T. Stead (The Review of Reviews, vol. VI, October, 1892) p. 373
DON’T PRESUME UPON YOUR SEX.
The first thing I would like to impress upon young women who aspire to be journalists is that they must not presume upon sex, and imagine that because they are women therefore they have a right to a situation or an engagement whenever they choose to apply for it. To be a woman confers many privileges and inflicts many disabilities; but if you were a hundred times a woman that would give you no right to a niche in the journalistic profession. If you want to be a journalist, you must succeed as a journalist—not as a woman or as a man. All that you need expect, and all that you should ask for, is a fair field and no favour, to prove that you can do the work you ask should be allotted to you. You have a right to ask that your sex should not be regarded as a disqualification; but it is monstrous to erect that accident of your personality into a right to have opportunities denied to your brother.
If women are to get on in journalism, or in anything else, they must trample under foot that most dishonouring conception of their work as mere woman’s work.
You must not think that because you are a woman, chivalry and courtesy demand that your work should be judged more leniently than if you were only a man. A woman who comes into journalism and expects to be excused anything because of her sex, lowers, by the extent of that excuse, the reputation and worth of women in journalism.
DON’T STAND ON YOUR DIGNITY.
After the false kindness and undue consideration on the part of some editors which, after all, at the beginning, may be excused for the sake of encouraging the timid to do their best, the chief foe that women have to contend with in journalism is their own conventionality, and the fantastic notion that a lady cannot be expected to do this, that, or the other disagreeable bit of work. That such and such a duty is not the thing to ask from a lady, that a lady must not be scolded when she does wrong, or that a lady ought not to stay up late or go about late,—all that is fiddlesticks and nonsense, as our good old nurses used to say. Ladies with such notions had better stay at home in their drawing-rooms and boudoirs. The great, rough, real, workaday world is no place for them. Many years ago I heard an editor say, when asked to place women upon his staff, “A woman—never! why, you can’t say d—— to a woman!” and that settled it in his opinion. And although his mode of speech was rude and even profane, it embodied a great truth. Until it is a recognised thing that the women on a staff may be admonished as freely an their male comrades, the latter will have an unfair advantage in the profession. It is the sharp edge of the employer’s reproof that keeps the apprentice up to his work. To spare the rod, metaphorically, is to spoil the child, and women can bear spoiling quite as little as any child. But many women take it as their right. If a woman cannot be admonished as roundly as a man she had better keep outside a newspaper office. The drive is too great to permit of periphrastic circumlocutions in giving orders, in making criticisms, or in finding fault.
DON’T DEMAND A CHAPERONE.
If a girl means to be a journalist she ought to be a journalist out and out, and not try to be a journalist up to nine o’clock and Miss Nancy after nine. I don’t want her to be unladylike. The woman who is mannish and forward and generally aggressive, simply throws awav her chances and competes voluntarily at a disadvantage. For no editor in his senses wants either mannish women or womanish men on his staff. What he does want is a staff that will do whatever work turns up without making scenes, or consulting clocks, or standing upon its coventional dignities.
A girl who has proper self-respect can go about her business at all hours in English-speaking countries, without serious risk either of safety or of reputation.
DON’T EXPECT TO BE PAID AT FIRST.
To young women as to young men, I would say, Remember journalism is not a Tom Tiddler’s ground where every stray passer-by can pick up silver and gold. To judge from many applications which I receive, many ladies imagine that whenever they want money, the most obvious resource is to rush off to the nearest editor to ask him to pay for articles which are utterly worthless. If you go into journalism, in order to make a living, do not object to begin at the beginning and to learn the business before expecting that it will keep you. Learn shorthand, and, having learnt it, keep it up, and don’t forget it and lose speed. And whatever else you do or don’t do, get to write a neat, legible hand, or if that is beyond your reach, make yourself proficient on the type-writer. Remember that if your copy is difficult to be read it simply won’t get read at all, but will go into the waste-paper basket.
DON’T FORGET TO READ THE PAPERS.
Don’t think that secretaryships grow on every gooseberry bush. There are very few secretaryships, and they are usually given to those who are known and proved to be faithful, and also to have general acquaintance with the business in which their chief is engaged. As for contributions to the papers, remember that articles are accepted much more because they are “on the nail,” and bear directly upon the subject of the hour, than because of any exceptional literary merits which they possess. Hence you never need be discouraged when your article is returned or basketed. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you cannot write. It may only mean that it was a week late or a week too soon. Editors want not what it may strike your fancy to write, but what they think their subscribers would like to read. The art of getting your contributions accepted is the art of discovering when the editor is wanting just the kind of article you can give him. If you ask, “How can you find this out?” I can only answer that every day’s paper shows you what the evening before the editor thought his readers wanted; put yourself in his place and, as you read your paper on Monday, try to think if you were editor what you would want to insert on Tuesday and Wednesday. Then, if you can supply that same, do so. If not, do not try his patience and make him loathe your handwriting by sending him a “Disquisition on the Virtues of Friendship” in the midst of a Ministerial crisis, or an essay on the next eclipse when he is in the throes of a general election.