Circa 1965, American writer and magazine editor Helen Gurley Brown in her office at Cosmopolitan magazine, 1960s. (Photo by Santi Visalli/Getty Images)
Circa 1965, American writer and magazine editor Helen Gurley Brown in her office at Cosmopolitan magazine, 1960s. (Photo by Santi Visalli/Getty Images)

The fact that women are still fighting to gain respect in the fields of journalism and media seems like quite the preposterous notion. Trailblazers like Arianna Huffington and Jane Pratt have demonstrated that not only do females have the cognizance critical to establish and elevate vital social, cultural, and political discourse; we also have the power to command empires. Bonafide media maven Oprah Winfrey has an estimated net worth of 3 billion dollars, which encompasses everything from her OWN cable network to her Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa. But, as Patricia Arquette attempted to eloquently state earlier this year at the Oscars, women still make less than their male counterparts even though we are doing the same exact work. But what happens when you don’t have a nationally televised awards show microphone in your hand—do the struggles of underpaid and overworked women still matter? And when it comes to success, are we our own worst enemies?

From Left to Right: Jilly Gagnon, Benielle Sims, and Cady Drell

Elle contributor and novelist, Jilly Gagnon, believes that regardless of gender, the first step toward success is humility and possessing copious amounts of it. “Deal with that ego, because it’s going to disappear. In writing, you need to try everything and say yes to everything because you will be told no a bajillion times. You will have to do stuff for exposure for a while, which helps you get better at writing. When bigger opportunities come, you’ll be ready for it.” Gagnon, who has been writing for over a decade and will have her first book published by Diversion Books next year, composed a piece for Elle in February about being a victim of sexual assault. Despite her initial hesitation, Gagnon knew it was important to get her story out there, which in turn inspired other women to do the same. “It was my first personal essay for Elle, and I had [the article] in the back of my mind for a while, but it took months for me to pitch the idea. Putting it out there was really hard—people can be awful. It’s like they’re judging you—not your opinion—but you as a human.” This facet of writing is why she believes it is vital for women to cultivate spaces to support each other. “It’s so important to make friends and meet people. You need to make connections—not to use people but because you need the community. Don’t be jealous of others, and definitely reach out and get opinions from other people.”

Benielle Sims, Marketing Manager at The Boston Globe, echoes this sentiment in a more direct manner. “The worst thing you can do in this industry is to be a woman and not support other women. In my experience, I’ve worked primarily with females in PR and advertising— competitive sides tend to come out more in larger groups of women.  But I’d like to see more of them in my field—we can learn from each other and grow.” Sims’ experience in the world of marketing has allowed her to become more comfortable in her skin and to speak her mind when she needs to, a transformation that she wholeheartedly embraces. “The employee I was at 23 is not the employee I am at 30. I was always very quiet and reserved before, but now whenever I have an opinion I am not scared to give it to you. Be mindful of how much you change throughout your career. But do not let the industry—or any industry—change you.”

Media Mavens: Oprah Winfrey, Ariana Huffington, and Jane Pratt

Sims’ maturity seems only natural in the media industry, since a large part of success is contingent upon character, communication skills, and even the kind of energy you emanate. But what if you’ve just started to embark on your professional journey? Cady Drell, former Rolling Stone Editorial Assistant, has been named Newsweek’s latest Culture Editor at just 24 years of age.  Age and gender did not hinder her career, and she attributes her achievements to one irreplaceable factor: hard work. “My advice to being successful is to act like nothing is below you and that the due-paying period is going to be longer than what you think. It’s going to be hard—really hard—but it’s worth it. While it’s rare to work with female editors at certain publications, I think the need for a diverse editorial voice is getting recognized more and more in a mainstream way.” 

Among Gagnon’s earnestness, Sims’ determination, and Drell’s optimism is the idea that there has never been a better time for women to make their presence known in the age of digital media. And while all three ladies are strong harbingers of the endless realm of professional possibilities, The Untitled Magazine founder and editor-in-chief Indira Cesarine knows what it’s like to be at the helm of her domain. She believes that her foray into the publishing industry was a natural one. “Launching the magazine was about finding my own voice as an artist and filling a gap that was missing. I wanted to focus on amazing content and people, not products. It was really about following my own personal path and creating an inspirational title.” Although Cesarine may sound a little idealistic in her approach, Untitled was never immune to hardship. She is considerably candid about the difficulties she’s faced while running a publication.

“Our printer and one of our distributors went bankrupt during the production of our last issue. We were actually one of the last magazines to get shipped before the printer closed doors. It’s been a struggle to keep the magazine out there. On a personal level, I spend months on end working 18-22 hour days, especially before going to print.” Cesarine attributes this to her own self-proclaimed perfectionism. “We have a very small team, but I tend to set the bar pretty high for the magazine. I always go through every single page before going to print to make sure everything is fact checked and copyedited properly. My name is on it as editor-in-chief, so even though it is mentally draining, it’s very important to do.” Cesarine’s bottom line when it comes to being a successful woman in the elusive world of media is what her illustrious 20 year career already demonstrates: you have to do the work. “Success doesn’t come easy. You have to put in extremely long hours and never give up. Women often complain about the staggering lack of gender equality. There are plenty of women who work hard, but working on this issue for Untitled showed me that when push came to shove and things became hard, a few girls just threw their hands in the air and played the helpless act. There will be tough times, but you need to remind yourself that you’re not a quitter and that you have the strength to soldier on. That is what it takes and this is the time to have your own voice, and make a difference.”

Women should never feel defined by their gender, nor should they be restricted by its presumed implications. Yes, we have a history riddled with adversity; when we weren’t being denied the right to vote, we were being anointed as vapid housewives with no professional ambition of our own. Despite the years of political progress that contradicts both of these notions, women are still too often seen as hyper-sexualized creatures; often our anatomy is pinpointed as our greatest asset. Misogyny isn’t just embedded into the minds of many—it plagues crucial American institutions and traditions. The media industry isn’t impervious to sexism, which is why women need to be our own biggest allies and advocates. Success, regardless of gender, necessitates a strong support system of individuals who share similar objectives and goals. The women featured in this article not only emphasize the significance of solidarity in their field; they live by one key rule: with hard work and dedication, you can achieve anything you set your mind to.

Article by Candice McDuffie for The Untitled Magazine.

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