The skirt, for a win (Part 8)

After jumping out of the Poison Dwarf’s car to escape his lust-dressed-up-as-apology — which I paraphrase here as “I behaved badly, it’s your fault, and I will make you pay” — I realized I better apply for jobs at other newspapers.

I sent out applications to a dozen newspapers across the country, including in the North. I’d always imagined I’d have to go somewhere remote for my first full-time job, and I was fine with that.

I also kept research and writing stories in my off hours, while evading the gaze and grip of the PD, my mentor, who I never spoke to for the rest of the summer. I contemplated going to his bosses to complain about his behaviour, but who? It was the ’80s and I was supposed to shrug it off.

Around me, my real or imagined competitors were dropping. One student took a scholarship to do an advanced degree in the UK, and another — the future editor-in-chief of the Globe — took a job at a regional paper after being told the Star had no jobs.

Of the three other female students, one ended up in a messy relationship with a married editor, a superior. He went on to give her a very bad performance evaluation. She was devastated when she received his bogus and cutting appraisal. It was a variation of the theme, “I behaved badly, it’s your fault, and I will make you pay.” She went on to become a leading justice reporter. Another female student quit mysteriously with two weeks left. She later became a leading columnist and award-winning writer.

It was an environment of extremes, both exhilarating and noxious. There were parties, drinking, intrigue and byline counts. It was fun, but often felt icky.

We all still assumed the three returning students from the previous summer would be hired, not least because they all got the best assignments. I envied their front-page stories and swagger, their easy way with assignment editors. Then one of them started golfing during the workday, or so we’d heard. We all speculated: wasn’t that a firing offense instead of a hiring offense?

For the last three weeks of the program, I was sent to the Star’s West Bureau, which was in Mississauga not far from the huge Square One shopping mall. I bought a brown leather jacket with shoulder pads and a fake lamb’s wool collar for $450. It was the most expensive item of clothing I’d ever purchased, but I figured I should buy it while I had a salary.

Soon, I would wonder if it was warm enough for Winnipeg.

When the Winnipeg Free Press offered me a job, I accepted and began to explore a move to the city I’d lived in as a child.

Quite honestly, I should have turned down the Free Press and taken a year to get off the prednisone and make sure my lupus was truly in check. But I didn’t have anyone giving me wise advice, and I still didn’t understand that I had an illness, the wolf, that would stalk me forever.

Meanwhile, no one had been hired.

The summer was about to expire and Labour Day weekend was upon us. I remember being in the West bureau finishing up an assignment when a call came in for me. It was the City Editor, Lou Clancy, who oversaw the paper’s huge army of reporters and editors. I didn’t know him well, but knew by reputation he was a man of few words.

“I’d like to offer you a job,” he said.

As a reporter. At the Toronto Star.

Me.

good secretary

I was to start a week after Labour Day as a general assignment reporter in the East bureau, located on the far edge of Scarborough. Me.

I found out later that the summer student who’d allegedly been golfing not working hadn’t been hired. (He’d go on to become a foreign correspondent for a major TV network).

“Wait!” I blurted before the city editor hung up. “Would it be OK if I came down to meet with you, discuss the summer, the job?”

Later that afternoon I was sitting nervously across from Clancy, who was behind his document-strewn desk. I thanked him for the job and then asked for a week off. I was exhausted.

I also asked for a Star car loaner to drive to the East bureau until I’d earned enough to buy my own.

He agreed to both requests. I was on a roll, so I decided to say what I’d actually come to say.

I told him what I knew. That the behaviour of some of at least one mentor and one editor had been completely inappropriate. My mentor had harassed me throughout the summer while an editor we all had to report to had a relationship with one of the female students.

“You are the biggest newspaper in the country. All this makes the program sort of a joke. It’s just not appropriate.”

He thanked me when I was done ranting, but that was it. In the ’80s, there were few policies against behavior that had always been commonplace.

I’ll never know if what I said had any impact, but the PD was never given another “sweet young thing” for the summer.

I was elated to have won the job of my dreams. So I had to get to it.

Over the next many months, as I tapered down on prednisone, I would learn what it was really like to try to work as a reporter with a severe autoimmune disease.

(NOTE: Top illustration is from1953 illustration by Harry Zelinski. Bottom image is from a Remington “noiseless” typewriter brochure).

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9 thoughts on “The skirt, for a win (Part 8)

  1. Rosemary

    Wow – the fact that you were confident enough to register your complaint with him is amazing. As you’ve said, sexual harassment was still the norm. What happened with the job in Winepeg?

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  2. Cathy

    Incredible story. You should turn this into a book. I couldn’t stop reading. I knew nothing about lupus until I read your blog. I honestly don’t know how you found the strength to push through your final year of university and those demanding summer jobs. Can’t wait to read the next instalment.

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    1. Shelley Page Post author

      Thanks Cathy….I honestly don’t know how either, but it’s because I didn’t know I could quit I think. It just wasn’t an option. So I kept pushing along…I think if I was at home I might of quit, but when you’re away at university it would mean leaving all my friends and my program and how I thought I defined myself. Thanks so much for reading…..

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    1. Shelley Page Post author

      Thanks so much….but these posts certainly are time consuming. Oh My Gosh…..How are you feeling about the time it’s taking and what you’re doing?

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  3. CA Jenkins

    Thank you for your blog. This week as I read your posts and the ‘metoo’ accounts, my years at Carleton School came flooding back (a couple years before you). The day of TV class I always dressed in baggy clothes. Although I was not pretty I was well endowed and the prof always brushed up close to me I elbowed him a few times. As you wrote, we were expected to shrug this off. After I graduated I believe he was charged but I never heard the outcome, or what happened to the careers of those complainants. I hope you are well.

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    1. Shelley Page Post author

      Hey Christine,
      When I started at Carleton, we’d all heard about the harassing profs and the J-school women who took them on. It was never really clear if they were punished or not, but I hope so.
      Carleton J School was where I first learned about the world of ‘powerful men’ and how they expected they could treat younger women — their students. I had no clue until I got there. From the get go, it made me so angry and I was constantly in a confrontation about it, which lasted into the world of journalism. I haven’t posted a “me too” anywhere on social media so far, and I think it’s first because I already wrote so much about this in this blog. But also, I resent the fact that we have to own up to things that we did not cause or provoke. The Carleton profs, the ones that are still alive, should post a “me too” and own up to it all. That would go along way to making sense of this.
      I’m well. Thanks for asking.
      Shelley

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      1. CA Jenkins

        Do you give writing workshops outside the OC? I would love to hire you for my women’s support group in Ottawa. PM me for a discussion if you might be interested. I have a chapter in a book coming out next year and also need promotional advice. Laurie M is a contact at the Star I may use (my former classmate).

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