The summer after my freshman year of college -- a year I spent in women's studies courses reading bell hooks and Gloria Anzaldúa, and studying patriarchy and gender stereotypes -- I interned at a right-wing newspaper in New York.
With only seven days of work under my belt, I learned an invaluable lesson about sexism and journalism that I couldn't have gained inside any classroom.
There was a luncheon scheduled one Friday for the interns to sit down with the company's publisher in one of the elegant conference rooms complete with electronic window shades, a mahogany round table, and leather swivel chairs.
My day had already gotten off to a rough start: I showed up 10 minutes late to lunch because after my boss kept me a few minutes later, I got stuck in the emergency staircase that felt more like the perfect scenery for a horror movie. My work day only became worse when I had to bear witness to an earful of sexist babble from the top dog at my current place of employment.
"Networking should be your first priority all summer. Make sure that everyday, you turn to the person next to you and have a conversation," the publisher said to the room full of interns. Man, this guy loved to hear himself talk.
"Guys, you have it easier than the girls do."
"Boys, you can just turn to the reporter next to you and strike up a conversation about sports. You can say, 'Hey, did you watch the game last night?' Girls have to be more worldly and cultured to be taken seriously and build relationships. Girls, you can't just talk about sports with the guy sitting next to you, so you have to try harder and make up for it in other ways."
I couldn't believe my ears. This was the profound advice being dispensed to young, impressionable interns from the publisher of a widely circulated newspaper in New York City -- in a post-millennium world, no less.
This wasn't exactly what I wanted to hear about my potential future in a professional field -- rather, a dream -- that I wanted to be a part of since I was 10-years old: to be a writer, and to be a successful writer.
Numbers don't lie, and it's no secret that the odds are stacked against succeeding as a female journalist, especially in the realm of sports.
Last February the Women's Media Center released their 2012 report titled, "The Status of Women in the U.S. Media" and found a number of problematic statistics across different subjects. When it comes to sports journalism only 11.4 percent of editor positions, 10 percent of columnists, and 7 percent of all reporters are women.
These statistics obviously beg the question: why aren't there more women sports reporters?
This issue is not just based on the individual -- systems of oppression operate on a much larger scale than just singular, isolated experiences. In order to get rid of the gap in sports reporting editors should pay more attention and hire more female reporters, young women should be given the opportunity to pursue this focus in school curriculums, and other sports reporters need to mentor up-and-coming female journalists who are otherwise intimidated by this overly male-dominated field.
While these appear to be easy fixes in theory, those involved in the inner-workings of the media have to actually practice these theories in order for the sports reporting gender gap to become a distant memory.
In addition to systematic fixes, there seems to be a basic cause and effect theory on individual levels as well. The cause is powerful publishers perpetuating backwards misconceptions about females and their alleged lack of interest in sports, and the effect is a limited number of women reporting on sports in the media.
The solution can be quite simple: halt these messages and misconceptions on a personal level because they ultimately shape media structures that leave women out.
My eyes scanned the rest of the lunchroom in search of solidarity and mutual support from someone -- anyone -- but no one answered my internal call for help. I quickly realized I was on my own, and I had to do something.
The publisher finished his spiel and then a question and answer session accompanied our fancy-pants serving of dessert. When the serious questions about journalism advice stopped I took advantage of my window of opportunity to ask something a little less expected.
"Who are you rooting for in the NBA Finals?" My heart started thumping loud enough for the rest of the room to hear, and a bewildered look met my question. After a few moments of hesitation he responded, "The Lakers."
"Me too." I angrily narrowed my eyes to thin slits.
"That's nice," the publisher said with pursed lips and a phony smile. "Any more questions?"
"I enjoy watching the Lakers play as a team. Pau Gasol is my favorite on the court, especially when Kobe's on a good run."
It was like diarrhea of the mouth, but I knew I had to maintain my momentum.
"The referees have been calling an ugly series and last night's game was the worst of all, especially when Howard was called for a questionable foul on a drive by Bryant. It just goes to show that stupid calls make the difference in every game."
Then the real magic happened. My comments sparked the rest of the table to chime in and hold an intelligent conversation about the NBA Finals -- both male and female interns argued and agreed with each other about specific details within this series.
"I just wanted to show you that I watched the game last night, even though I'm a girl."
Needless to say I didn't get asked back the following summer, but I learned the lesson of a lifetime. Instead of just focusing on why there is such a small number of female sports reporters, it's important to think about how to navigate the process of remedying this problem on the whole.
Even though addressing one sexist publisher as a summer intern initially felt empowering, the solution to the gender gap in sports journalism won't be solved by just one conversation between two people.
But it sure felt great to prove him wrong.
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