TV is still a tough slog for older women

Here’s a story you’ll never see covered on TV news: TV news is unfair territory for women.

A couple of stories in the news this week provide testimonials to the fact.

First, ESPN reporter Kris Budden writes on her blog that she had to hide her pregnancy when working for a local Fox sports outfit. She wasn’t told to. She just felt she had to.

Here’s my reasoning behind it. In tv, especially as a woman in sports, you feel that you have to be pretty, skinny, best-dressed, ageless. Yes, I know my job is so much more than that, but you do feel pressure to look a certain way.

When you are pregnant, you feel anything but those qualities. At least I did. I was not one of those women who have a certain “glow” about them. I called that sweat. I also felt like there was a certain perception about female sideline reporters.

I thought that if people knew I was a mom, the viewers would look at me differently. They would look at me like…. like I did. Like I was old.

Old. That’s death for women in TV and not since former TV news anchor Christine Craft was fired from her job because a focus group said she was “too old, too unattractive and not deferential to men,” has there been any real substantive discussion about the reality of TV for women.

It died with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to hear her case after a lower court overturned a jury award to her. Twice.

So people like Budden and Boston TV anchor Heather Unruh — that is, women — have to put up with the realities of television.

Unruh abruptly resigned from Boston’s WCVB — once considered the finest local TV news operation in the nation — last October after her role at the station was diminished.

Last month, she told an interviewer that “women are ‘encouraged’ to dress more provocatively than I feel is appropriate for delivering news.”

Television women around the country provided a collective, knowing nod.

The Boston Globe reports today that another woman in the business locally told it she and other women need to wear “tighter, smaller, shorter, more revealing clothes.”

She didn’t want her name used, the Globe said, because she didn’t want to lose her job.

But she did provide one little TV secret.

“What you don’t see on TV is that many times women have clothespins in the back to make [their clothes] tighter,” she said.

But off the record, current and former female broadcasters in Boston tell stories about wardrobe consultants hired by station management pushing clothing that some on-air talent don’t want to wear; women crying in the makeup room because they feel pressured to dress a certain way; a modestly dressed anchor being asked to dress like a sexier new colleague who wore her skirts short and her tops unbuttoned.

One former local on-air personality told the Globe she was once called into her news director’s office and told the blazer she had worn the day before wasn’t shapely enough. “He said it was ‘too boxy,’ ” she said.

The journalist said she shot back, letting him know his critique was inappropriate and offensive but didn’t report the incident.

“Honestly, I didn’t feel the culture would support me complaining, so I didn’t go beyond him,” she said.

“Until we have women in the position to hire, you will get men who want to hire women they couldn’t get dates with in high school,” said Andrea Kremerm who’s left the business and now teaches a course on interviewing at Boston University.

As for Buddin, she says she now realizes she was “stupid and naive” for hiding her pregnancy from viewers.

To all the other women in my industry that want or are about to start a family: don’t hold off on it because you’re afraid of how it will affect your career. I can tell you now, it doesn’t matter.

The majority of viewers and bosses in this industry will not judge you based on your age and the number of children you have. And don’t concern yourself with the ones that do. They don’t hold a cup or tea in comparison to the love you’ll have for your family.

  • Gary F

    Who was the woman for Fox Sports a five or so years ago during the baseball playoffs that was still working while 8-9 months pregnant?

  • AL287

    And we wonder why we have so many problems with racists and bigots in this country?

    Hiding your pregnancy went out with the Edwardian era. Pregnancy is a miracle in itself for a lot of couples who try for years without success.

    It proves the point that news for the last 50 years has been about viewership, ad sales and ratings, not about the news at all.

    I wonder what would happen to local news ratings if the stations only had male anchors for a month. Would the station require them to wear their shirt unbuttoned to their navel? What kind of news consumers only tune into the news to see the latest sexy outfit the female anchor has on? The undesirable kind. The paternalistic, woman’s-place-is-in-the-home kind.

    As these ladies and hundreds more like them attest, misogyny and sexism is alive and well in the news industry.

    Sad. Really, really sad.

    • Veronica

      And unsurprising given what we know about Roger Ailes and Fox News.

    • Barton

      Hiding your pregnancy obviously did NOT go out with the Edwardian age, as my mom did it in the 60s and professional friends are still doing it today. It absolutely impacts your ability to get promotions in the business world.

      It absolutely should not, but it does.

      • AL287

        I was referring to disappearing for your “confinement.”

        It is rather hard to look and feel fashionable when this little person inside you has totally taken over your body and your life but women do the best they can within their wardrobe budget.

        Maternity clothes are anywhere from 10-25% more than regular women’s fashions.

        While the fashion world has accepted the awesome beauty and curves of the full-figured woman, it hasn’t been so fashion forward for pregnant women.

        If a pregnant woman wears anything that shows her growing belly, she’s looked at askance by the general public. This generally goes along with nursing your baby in public, two conditions that are as natural as rain but that people in America still don’t want to see on public display.. A tent top with elastic pants or a tent-styled dress are just about your only options past the second trimester.

        Women must work these days even if their husbands are working full-time also so the male chauvinists of the world need to get over it and cut them some slack.

        Any unmarried men out there that think a maternity leave is a vacation aren’t living in the real world. Awakening 3-4 times a night is no woman’s idea of a vacation despite getting up for the best of reasons to feed her newborn.

        Sadly most things have not changed for working women despite them proving they are just as capable as men in engineering, medicine, jurisprudence and a host of other previously all male professions.

        • Barton

          So true. And add to that the annual cost of menstruation products. And the fact that there is a luxury tax on tampons in many places around the world (“a pad is all that is required, anything else is a luxury”).

  • Kassie

    Alternate title “Life is still a tough slog for older women.” Or, “Life is still a tough slog for women.”

    Hiding pregnancy? Women of all professions do it. Fear of being fired, fear of being seen as a “slut” if not married, fear of not getting promotions, fear of being treated differently are just some of the reasons women hide pregnancy.

    Being criticized for what they wear? Once again, that’s all professions. I dress pretty casually at work and have a very forgiving workplace, but I still think of everything I wear every day and how it will be perceived. The men I work with mostly do not.

    • Barton

      the most recent comment I received was about my hair. Because I don’t straighten it – it isn’t naturally straight – it is perceived (by who actually, I don’t know) as “scatter-brained” and like I’m “not in control.” I was told to tame my hair. I called HR instead.

    • ec99

      “Hiding pregnancy?”

      Lawrence Welk was famous for hiding the pregnancies of his performers.

  • KariBemidji

    A few weeks ago, Laura Betker, the weekend meteorologist at KARE, was attacked online for how she dresses. I cannot imagine sending this to a complete stranger.

    • People are awful.

    • RBHolb

      I cannot imagine sending this to anyone, stranger or not.

    • AL287

      I watch Laura Betker frequently at the 4 and 5 news hours. There is absolutely nothing wrong with her attire.

      She is a very sweet and lovely woman, pregnant or not.

      Some people are pigs.

  • Al

    I thank God on the daily that my office is directed by compassionate, collaborative, supportive women (because let’s be honest, there are a lot of anti-women women out there, right?). I know it’s not the norm that I’ve never been criticized, shamed, or shunned for my clothing, hair, etc. It’s a major factor in why I stay where I am when other opportunities arise.

  • JamieHX

    I get so annoyed watching women deliver the news in what we formerly might have called cocktail dresses that I change the channel or turn off the tv. I should have a more generous attitude towards those women, I guess, because I know that they get pressure from the powers that be to dress that way, but I forget about that sometimes and feel disgusted with the women.

    One of the reasons that I sometimes blame the women is that I’ve read and heard a lot of women saying they “shouldn’t have to hide their femininity” or their sexuality in the workplace, or that they feel they have great bodies to show off and that sort of thing, as if any of that has anything to do with the quality of their work. So I often attribute those motivations to the women I see on news programs. I remember when I noticed that Julie Nelson on KARE 11 was wearing “cocktail dresses” and I thought, why would she feel she needs to dress like that? She’s beautiful by conventional standards and even if she were wearing a gunny sack, nobody would think she’s not “feminine.” But maybe that’s not why she does it. I regard KARE-11 as the local station with the most journalistic integrity but I suppose they might put that kind of pressure on their female talent, too.