COLUMN: The Bold Type captures realities of young female journalists

The finale of The Bold Type’s first season will air this upcoming Tuesday on Freeform, marking the end of the first chapter of a series that has changed the game for television aimed at millennial women. The Bold Type, starring the fresh faces of Katie Stevens, Aisha Dee and Meghan Fayh as its leading ladies, is inspired by the life of former Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief Joanna Coles, also one of the show’s executive producers. The series tackles a wide array of everyday struggles and triumphs that are universally relatable among today’s young women.

The summer-chic series has material that appeals broadly to high school students, college students and career women alike. Its storylines and conflicts have involved everything from defining relationships born of spontaneous hook-ups, to negotiating for a higher wage and more appealing responsibilities, to confronting vicious online trolls. But more than anything, the show teaches young, aspiring female journalists the value of their interests and passions, as well as the challenges they’ll face.

Last year in the wake of the election, Teen Vogue, a publication produced for young women, rose to the occasion to produce ambitious, eye-opening political content challenging then-President-elect Donald Trump and the Republican Congress enabling him to attack poor people, women, undocumented people and people of color.

In turn, in December last year, Fox News host Tucker Carlson told Teen Vogue reporter Lauren Duca on air to “stick to the thigh-high boots” instead of covering politics.

Carlson seemed to be telling Duca that a woman’s work is covering “women’s issues,” and further, that “women’s issues” are exclusively fashion and appearance-related. His words also dealt a grave warning to women that if they write about sex trends and outfits, then going forward, no work they produce on politics, human rights or current events will ever be credible or respectable.

At a time when female journalists are still encountering overt sexism in their field, The Bold Type offers crucial, much-needed affirmation.

The show’s three leads include Jane Sloan, an intern-turned-staff writer at Scarlet, a women’s magazine comparable to the real-life Cosmopolitan; Kat Edison, Scarlet’s social media director who uses the magazine’s platform to promote a 21st-century, “stealth” feminist agenda; and Sutton Brady, an editorial-turned-fashion assistant at the fictional magazine.

The experiences of Sutton’s character highlight the wins and losses of a young woman struggling with college loans, New York City living costs and the demands of a job as tough as it is low-paying. Kat’s character is busy trying to build the magazine’s feminist brand — one that rallies for Muslim and LGBTQ women, tells women their bodies aren’t sex objects and affirms their right to public toplessness. But, perhaps most relevant to today’s modern young female journalists, there’s Jane’s story arc.

Jane faces it all as a new writer in today’s age of listicles and I-Tried-It-So-You-Don’t-Have-Tos. She reconciles herself with embarrassing and personally challenging pieces she didn’t want, watches her pitches continually denied or given to others, has door after door shut in her face as she chases stories and is forced to fight tooth and nail just to get sources to talk to her. Her work isn’t glamorous — but the show never fails to emphasize in creative and heartwarming ways just how rewarding it is.

By the end of the season, Jane has written about everything from trying new dating apps and the debate about whether to wax or not to wax one’s buttocks, to breast cancer screenings and women in politics. Jane becomes the face of Scarlet’s new political vertical and her prior and subsequent work writing about fashion and dating in no way hamper her news judgment and political acumen. Just as the show aims to destigmatize female sexuality with glimpses into the young women’s nuanced dating lives, it also attacks a media culture that pigeon holes female journalists and narrowly defines and trivializes the umbrella of “women’s issues.”

Different women are interested in writing about different topics, ranging from sports and business to entertainment and political issues. Writing about one of these issues should not disqualify a woman from sharing her voice and input about another issue. Women should be able to write about sex and fashion one day, and write about how a new federal budget proposal will affect low-income elderly Americans’ living standards the next, just as male journalists and columnists can write about sports games one day and politics the next without being told to “stick to the ol’ pigskin.”

What young women are interested in writing about and reporting on is up to them, and they shouldn’t be sidelined and silenced for being feminine. Their interests, voices and ideas matter and are worthy of respect, and shouldn’t be shut down. This is all part of The Bold Type’s brand of what Kat Edison dubbed “stealth feminism” in the show’s pilot — women reclaiming and redefining small things to make a huge difference.

Kylie Cheung is a sophomore majoring in journalism and political science. She is also the editorial director of the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Grab Back,” runs every other Friday.