Editor's Note: This post is part of HuffPost's Girls In STEM Mentorship Program. Join the conversation here or on Twitter (#hpSTEM) as we discuss issues affecting women in science, technology, engineering and math.
It all started last summer. After I read Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, my reply to the common icebreaker question "What's your dream job?" shifted from my jokingly witty "professional Italian food taste tester" response to a new, personal, and rather serious career ambition: to be an investigative international journalist.
Studying international public health policy regarding women's issues and being a mentee in the HuffPost Girls in STEM program, my interests in being an investigative journalist seemed quite new. After reading Half the Sky, I emerged with an admiration for WuDunn and Kristof as groundbreaking journalists. They had an engaging ability to tell not only their own personal reactions to their experiences, but rather the stories and testimonies of others - of women whose voices and experiences had been silenced by lack of international attention or care. I was amazed at their ability as journalists to spotlight issues that affected women and girls and bring relevance and significance to issues that were rarely exposed in news headlines. Their words propelled an international movement for women and girls, gaining coverage and attention on the resiliency and strength of individuals who were susceptible to injustice and violation of human rights in their communities.
With issues as complex and dangerous as prostitution, human trafficking, and female genital mutilation, I realized that perhaps the most effective and respectful way to initiate change against such injustices was exposing the multiple dimensions of each story through the power of storytelling. While some critique Kristof of suffering from the dreaded "Messiah complex" in his reporting, my admiration for his work stems in his ability to use his unique role as a journalist to magnify issues, especially those affecting women and girls, oftentimes seen as unimportant or insignificant in the media industry. Among the many things I hope to do in the future, I hope to one day expose the lives of women and girls internationally, writing about issues and solutions that rarely make the news headlines yet deserve to be heard and seen by society.
This aspiration to be an international journalist, however, is perhaps a desire that is more likely to be merely a dream rather than a reality - no matter how much teenage idealism and optimism I may contain.
Don't get me wrong. There are plenty of brave female investigative journalists that I admire. Christiane Amanpour has traveled to report on the most dangerous and unpredictable events in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Melinda Henneberger anchors one of my favorite news sources on the Washington Post called "She the People", and Katie Couric has brought international attention to the BP Oil Spill, 2011 Egyptian Revolution, and 2010 Haiti earthquake. All of these women are female journalists I, and many others, look up to.
Yet, there is something troubling and highly discouraging when there are less than 25 women journalists in NYU's list of "The 100 Outstanding Journalists in the United States in the Last 100 Years" and Washingtonian's "Top 50 Journalists of 2009".
In March 2013, an article in the Columbia Journalism Review articulated the need for more women in investigative journalism. It spoke of common fears and/or barriers that many aspiring female journalists like myself face, including:
1) Fear of sexual assault - Women are inherently more vulnerable than men, and the industry fails to accommodate to this truth. By failing to provide adequate protection for female journalists, especially while covering stories in dangerous sites abroad, women are less likely to participate in the media for safety purposes - and rightfully so. Interestingly, the article noted that women journalists who do suffer sexual assault today are less likely to tell their editors for fear of being stigmatized or assigned to less important stories.
2) Susceptibility to subordinate gender norms - While Christiane Amanpour articulated in her interview with MAKERS that many cultures still defer and act particularly polite to women (a respect that has the opportunity to be well utilized by female journalists), it seems that there are many more cultures that are actually of the complete opposite. The subordination of women to men manifested through the abuse and exploitation of women seems to particularly happen in areas that specifically lack exposure by media outlets. By being unable to access key areas of coverage as accessibly as men, women are less likely to have the opportunity to gain entry into sites that can produce valuable and meaningful stories. More importantly, the stories of the individuals in these areas fail to be heard.
3) Lack of mentorship and guidance - With the few women in investigative journalism today, there is a natural shortage of mentorship and experience exchange among female generations. Current female journalists are essentially groundbreakers, paving their own path and adapting accordingly as the stories come and go. While the opportunity to venture new grounds is indeed exciting, there is not enough knowledge, experience, and time of present female journalists to provide individualized and personalized mentorship for aspiring and budding female journalists.
Undoubtedly, I am beset by more challenges to a career in journalism than my male counterparts by structural and societal barriers. I am more prone to physical danger, and I will perhaps be forced to admire the work of current female investigative journalists from my computer screen or newspaper subscription. I may not be able to travel to certain places for the sole reason of being a woman, and I will inherently be subject to each culture's unique characterization of the role of women in their society.
Yet, despite these limitations, I still aspire. I still yearn to use writing and news media as a platform for my thoughts and opinions. I am rooted in idealism, in encountering and re-telling the experiences of others. I don't want to "be the voice" for others; rather, I simply want to be my power as a female journalist to become a means of conveying and signifying the voices and experiences of those so often marginalized and neglected. I want to create meaning for individuals who have perspectives as important and valuable, if not more, than the superficial talk of today's politicians and celebrities.
My greatest motivation to become an investigative journalist is rooted in my hopes to provide my perspective - a female perspective - into news coverage, story selection, and government policy. In an industry that has so often been viewed through a male lens, maybe all it takes is the involvement of more women in order to ignite changes in the industry to provide more adequate protection for female journalists. There is still so much research that can be devoted to examining and arguing over the gender gap among investigative journalists, yet maybe the effort can simply be transferred to encouraging women to start now, start today. The past inevitably exists, but the future has the power to be constructed accordingly.
Perhaps all it takes is an acknowledgement of a difficult reality and an unwavering persistence to passionately pursue a career that has been attained by few, yet aspired by so many.
Perhaps what is needed is the willpower of a few brave women.
Perhaps what the investigative journalism industry needs is straightforward and obvious, something I did not realize until I clearly articulated my thoughts and passion through this blog.
Perhaps the solution is simple: me.