September 28, 2021

This column originally appeared in The Cohort, Poynter’s newsletter that centers conversations about gender in media. Subscribe here to join the community.

In 2015 (just a few months before Katie Hawkins-Gaar sent the inaugural Cohort issue), I was working on The Washington Post’s social media team, and I started a project called Pay Up with my friend and colleague, Julia Carpenter. It was a Slack community we created to support pay equity for women in tech.

In the Pay Up Slack, we helped relatively privileged women make more money by running discussions on how to deal with workplace microaggressions and the best ways to ask for raises. Julia and I were in our mid-20s and neither of us had yet successfully negotiated our salaries or gotten a meaningful raise. But we had devoured Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” when we were college seniors, and had even started a Lean In circle at our university. We believed pay equity was feminism’s final frontier. We were so young.

One of the weaknesses of the Lean In era of corporate feminism was the emphasis on the individual rather than the system. We never talked about unions. We never talked about the tech industry’s social, political, economic and community impact. We didn’t consider the workers who support the industry, and we didn’t examine the implications of our culture’s obsession with Silicon Valley. Instead, we accepted it as an objective good, democracy and gentrification and environmental impact be damned.

Since then, we’ve seen Donald Trump elected and replaced, we’ve seen the rise and fall of The Wing and the girlboss, we’ve seen layoffs and unionization efforts in newsrooms across the country, mass racial reckonings, and a global pandemic that has laid bare the systemic inequities that are perpetuated up and down the media industry and more broadly throughout the country.

And here’s the thing: I would not start a Pay Up today. Because if we’ve learned anything from the rise and fall of women’s communities over the last decade, it’s that spaces that center “women” without also centering the complex dynamics of race, class, sexuality, ability, and the broad range of gender identity will perpetuate harmful power dynamics by only catering to the most privileged.

The Cohort’s new tagline is “centering conversations about gender in media.”

In coming up with the new tagline, I was inspired by the phrase “from margin to center,” from bell hooks’s “Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center.” Writing in the early ’80s, hooks articulates a lot of what I’ve felt about the way we’ve historically created spaces for women in media so far:

Much feminist theory emerges from privileged women who live at the center, whose perspectives on reality rarely include knowledge and awareness of the lives of women and men who live in the margin. As a consequence, feminist theory lacks wholeness, lacks the broad analysis that could encom­pass a variety of human experiences. … At its most visionary, it will emerge from individu­als who have knowledge of both margin and center.

By shifting the focus from “women” to covering gender issues more broadly, we’ll be able to cover the experiences of those in the most marginalized positions in our industry, and more effectively advocate for change. Conversations about gender are inherently intersectional and will be complicated by race, class, sexuality and ability, so my coverage will reflect that, too.

My approach is informed by the work of many brilliant journalists. Here are a few of them who you should definitely check out if you haven’t:

So what can you expect from the new Cohort newsletter? 

It’ll still come out twice a month on Tuesdays. The first issue will be a reported column about issues related to gender and media. The second issue will be a follow-up full of resources, responses from you, advice and introductions to people you should know (speaking of: if you’re looking for a job, fill out this Google form!).

If there are issues you think I should look into — or if you just want to say hi — you can reply to this newsletter or hit me up on Twitter!

I’m so honored to be taking the reins of this great newsletter, and I hope to build off the great work that’s been done to help steer the community into its next chapter.

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Alex Sujong Laughlin is the writer and editor of Poynter's The Cohort, a newsletter about gender in media. She's a writer and an award-winning audio…
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