A non-exhaustive list of female journalists who serve as better role models than fictional characters

Like the rest of the Internet, I grew enraged today after reading the Huffington Post College Blog piece “A struggle of not struggling.”

Okay, I’m lying to you. I didn’t read it.

Sure, I skimmed it well enough to understand that, as a freelance journalist lucky enough to be making a stable income off a series of 10-(sometimes as much as 20!)-cent-a-word pieces for a variety of outlets, fewer than two months out of college, my urban apartment must be some sort of magical blanket fort furnished entirely with bricks of Ramen noodles, to which I occasionally return after some madcap escapade for a relaxing night of pirated HBO programming.

But the blogger, in what I imagine was an attempt at levity, managed to lose me with her very first sentence:

“Like most female journalists, I assume, I only grew up with two real inspirations in my life: Carrie Bradshaw and Harriet the Spy.”

That makes me want to cry.

I did not grow up idolizing either a sex columnist too divorced from reality to know how to use her oven, or a prying child who relates to others only as objects for her entertainment. I did not idolize these people—these fictional characters—because they. Are. Not. Journalists. (Nor, I contend, would be a person who finds them inspirational.)

The women that I did and do idolize were and are muckrakers, groundbreakers and risk-takers. Here are a few of them:

  • Nelly Bly
  • Joan Didion
  • Carlotta Gall
  • Ida Tarbell
  • Helen Thomas
  • Susan Orlean
  • Anna Quindlen
  • Christiane Amanpour
  • Christine Brennan
  • Nackey Loeb
  • Katharine Graham

This list, as I said, is non-exhaustive. It’s mostly historical and disregards a lot of women working today of whom I am simply not aware. With the exception of two additions by a friend (who, by the way, is a female journalist and recent graduate already embarking on an impressive career), these were simply the first names that popped into my mind, with no research or even Googling. For every name that is there, there are several other remarkable female journalists who do inspire me, but whose names were not at my fingertips.

Also left off the list are the myriad brilliant women I know personally and have been fortunate enough to work alongside at alt-weeklies, at suburban dailies, at culture magazines, at public radio stations, in the pressroom at the Massachusetts Statehouse, in classrooms and at student publications.

They are other freelancers, they are staff writers, they are investigative reporters, they are critics, they are editors, they are photographers, they are bloggers. They follow their passion, they expose injustice, they inform the public, they entertain, they fight the system, they make me think.

These are women who do not need pop culture icons to legitimize their career choice, their ways of life.

They—and their male counterparts—did not enter this field because it looked glamorous. If I can be presumptuous enough for a quick second to lump them into a giant group and try to speak for them, I believe many of them are journalists for the same reason I am: because when they see a problem—in their lives, in society—they want to uncover its roots, not to self-indulgently theorize about them in a public venue. They don’t accept boredom and complacency; they chase what they want—be it the truth, be it an adventure—and they share it. They may not be able to fix what’s broken, but they can bring light to it, and that lets the healing begin.

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