When men are at the helm of a woman's site, strange things can happen. In today's click-hungry climate, it can get even weirder. Rather than focusing on "empowerment," which many of these digital communities claim to be doing, they are seeking "viral" click bait, often at a woman's expense (think: 10 Ways Women Can Snag A Man). I write this piece because not long ago I found myself rebuked by male superiors for standing my ground, letting them know I didn't feel comfortable writing a story that put women in a shameful light, and they weren't too happy about it.
Think back to when Bryan Goldberg founded Bustle in 2013, the Internet was replete with commentary — and, for the most part, with good reason. Here was a man who saw major success with his money-making sports site Bleacher Report, tapping into the women’s audience by claiming Bustle was doing something different, something innovative. Because he said so. And because he knew so much about women’s media. In his words, Bustle was: “Creating an amazing blend of content — one that puts news and politics right beside fashion tips is what will set us apart.”
It’s safe to say we can all say haha to that. Plenty of women’s sites had actually been doing that for a while, but because a man said it — well — his word is gold.
Simply put, Bustle became fantastic publication run by intelligent, creative, clever women. They’ve published me a few times — and they’ve published almost all of my incredible colleagues, women who write beautifully and with heart. I am proud to say I’ve published with Bustle.
Still, there’s something that irks me (and I’m not alone) about men running women’s publications — even if Time Warner (which is women-run) invested in Bustle. It isn’t that a man isn’t capable, creative or interested in parity — there are plenty of fantastic men out there whose digital media savvy cannot be denied — but I’m not talking about the bigger picture; I’m talking about the real day to day. What happens when men literally manage women at a women’s website? What happens when men aren’t just up in the high tower, and instead are making the micro decisions that affect headlines, images and column themes? What happens when they’re in the room with you on Slack throwing out opinions — without listening to your point of view ... about women’s content ... despite you being a woman. And they being a man.
In short, if men aren’t aware of the awkward issue here, it’s going to cause a problem — an imbalance that can hurt the brand — whether women want to speak up or not.
So who am I to say so? Working as an editor for a women’s lifestyle website has always been part of my wheelhouse. I feel a responsibility toward creating original content that women need and want — content that shows women aren’t just token consumers or aren’t summarized easily with a brushstroke buzzwords.
Mostly, I just want to work on writing that means something and pushes for more. This is why when I signed on as an editor at a woman’s website during its relaunch — headed up by two men, one directly ‘managing’ me — I found myself wondering exactly what my place was. I was asked to help build the brand, to hire writers, to create empowering content for women. I’d previously edited at Hearst, where I worked closely with the editors of their digital brands: Marie Claire, Woman’s Day, Cosmopolitan, etc. So, I’d learned a lot about women’s content and I’d seen what worked, what didn’t and learned what I could do better as an editor and curator of voices.
But in my new role, there was very little in the way of strategy, and the strategy that was in place was built by a man. This would have been a welcome challenge — strategy excites me — but there was also very little dialogue around how we — the women on staff — could really add to the direction. There was no real space for our input, despite the elephant in the room: we were working for a women’s website.
The concerns expressed through the brand’s Facebook page and on post comments told a clear story, too: maybe the readers were a bit sentimental about change, but they wanted something that inspired them. They didn’t want a replica of what worked somewhere else, where women weren’t the predominant readership.
I mean, the Internet may have a formula, but people aren’t robots. Women aren’t robots! If a man wants to bring his experience to a woman’s brand, awesome. But he has a responsibility to ask women staffers what they think. How they feel. What they’d do differently.
...the Internet may have a formula, but people aren’t robots. Women aren’t robots!
So when I was asked — by my male boss — to write an article for women (about men) that I felt was dis-empowering and predatory, I said no. I asked if I could write said article from a satirical point of view, but I was told no again. I offered my insight, but it was disregarded. I later saw that someone wrote the article — which, of course, did not perform well.
I also talked about this with Joanna C. Valente, who is an editorial assistant for kveller.com — a women’s website. Valente said that she thrives under female leadership. “It's not that men can't work and write for women's magazines, but I do believe women should be taking charge of the content management and editorial direction. I don't think it's discrimination if men are still hired in both junior and executive positions, but I also do believe with any organization with a mission, that mission should be driven by people who understand and live it.”
The company and I parted ways — and I’m grateful for that painful dose of reality. I can now speak with other women about my experiences and warn them about the signs of a sexist workplace. I can now see what to avoid in my future. If men want to head up a women’s publication, then women must be encouraged to help steer the brand. It is our experiences, our voices and our ideas that will ultimately connect with readership. Not to mention, teams with women are shown to thrive.
And while Goldberg might have caused a loud stir on the Internet, Bustle is largely headed up by incredible women who built something amazing. So, there’s no perfect formula. There’s no perfect anything. But a good first step is to let women take the ropes.
In 2016, I finally found my voice. I always thought I had one, especially as a business owner and mother of two vocal toddlers, but I had been wrong.
For more than 30 years, I had been struggling with the fear of being my true self and speaking my truth. Then the repressed memories of my childhood sexual abuse unraveled before me while raising my 3-year-old daughter, and my life has not been the same since.
Believe it or not, I am happy about that.
The journey for a survivor like me to feel even slightly comfortable sharing these words, without fear of being shamed or looked down upon, is a long and often lonely one. For all of the people out there in the shadows who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I dedicate this to you. You might never come out to talk about it and that's okay, but I am going to do so here and I hope that in doing so, I will open people's eyes to the long-term effects of abuse. As a survivor who is now fully conscious of her abuse, I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and, quite frankly, it may never go away.
It took me some time to accept that and I refuse to let it stop me from thriving in life; therefore, I strive to manage it (as do many others with PTSD) through various strategies I've learned and continue to learn through personal and group therapy. Over the years, various things have triggered my repressed memories and emotions of my abuse--from going to birthday parties and attending preschool tours to the Kavanaugh hearing and most recently, the"Leaving Neverland" documentary (I did not watch the latter, but read commentary about it).
These triggers often cause panic attacks. I was angry when I read Barbara Streisand's comments about the men who accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them, as detailed in the documentary. She was quoted as saying, "They both married and they both have children, so it didn't kill them." She later apologized for her comments. I was frustrated when one of the senators questioning Dr. Christine Blasey Ford (during the Kavanaugh hearing) responded snidely that Dr. Ford was still able to get her Ph.D. after her alleged assault--as if to imply she must be lying because she gained success in life.We survivors are screaming to the world, "You just don't get it!" So let me explain: It takes a great amount of resilience and fortitude to walk out into society every day knowing that at any moment an image, a sound, a color, a smell, or a child crying could ignite fear in us that brings us back to that moment of abuse, causing a chemical reaction that results in a panic attack.
So yes, despite enduring and repressing those awful moments in my early life during which I didn't understand what was happening to me or why, decades later I did get married; I did become a parent; I did start a business that I continue to run today; and I am still learning to navigate this "new normal." These milestones do not erase the trauma that I experienced. Society needs to open their eyes and realize that any triumph after something as ghastly as childhood abuse should be celebrated, not looked upon as evidence that perhaps the trauma "never happened" or "wasn't that bad. "When a survivor is speaking out about what happened to them, they are asking the world to join them on their journey to heal. We need love, we need to feel safe and we need society to learn the signs of abuse and how to prevent it so that we can protect the 1 out of 10 children who are being abused by the age of 18. When I state this statistic at events or in large groups, I often have at least one person come up to me after and confide that they too are a survivor and have kept it a secret. My vehicle for speaking out was through the novella The Survivors Club, which is the inspiration behind a TV pilot that my co-creator and I are pitching as a supernatural, mind-bending TV series. Acknowledging my abuse has empowered me to speak up on behalf of innocent children who do not have a voice and the adult survivors who are silent.
Remembering has helped me further understand my young adult challenges,past risky relationships, anger issues, buried fears, and my anxieties. I am determined to thrive and not hide behind these negative things as they have molded me into the strong person I am today.Here is my advice to those who wonder how to best support survivors of sexual abuse:Ask how we need support: Many survivors have a tough exterior, which means the people around them assume they never need help--we tend to be the caregivers for our friends and families. Learning to be vulnerable was new for me, so I realized I needed a check-off list of what loved ones should ask me afterI had a panic attack.
The list had questions like: "Do you need a hug," "How are you feeling," "Do you need time alone."Be patient with our PTSD". Family and close ones tend to ask when will the PTSD go away. It isn't a cold or a disease that requires a finite amount of drugs or treatment. There's no pill to make it miraculously disappear, but therapy helps manage it and some therapies have been known to help it go away. Mental Health America has a wealth of information on PTSD that can help you and survivors understand it better. Have compassion: When I was with friends at a preschool tour to learn more about its summer camp, I almost fainted because I couldn't stop worrying about my kids being around new teenagers and staff that might watch them go the bathroom or put on their bathing suit. After the tour, my friends said,"Nubia, you don't have to put your kids in this camp. They will be happy doing other things this summer."
In that moment, I realized how lucky I was to have friends who understood what I was going through and supported me. They showed me love and compassion, which made me feel safe and not judged.