'I've experienced sexist microaggressions as a female journalist and I'm lucky'
‘When I began my broadcasting career there were incidents of everyday sexism,’ Sky News presenter and anchor Sarah-Jane Mee begins.
It’s sad this is par for the course for women working in the media and comes as no surprise, particularly as the 41-year-old is speaking to Metro.co.uk amid the fallout from Laurence Fox’s misogynistic attack aimed at political correspodant Ava Evans.
Sarah-Jane explains that in her early career, she would often be in a team meeting and, as the only woman, would be expected to fetch and greet guests. Sports fans would comment on her appearance. At press conferences, no one assumed she was a journalist- there to conduct interviews.
However, compared to some women working their way up the TV industry, Sarah-Jane believes she’s had it relatively easy. ‘I’ve been really lucky,’ she admits. ‘I think I came into the industry at a time when a lot of women had done the hard work for me. So I came into an environment where I had a lot of male allies.’
When she did encounter sexist microaggressions, Sarah-Jane said she would call out the behaviour, having ‘always been good at sticking up for myself’ and having that instilled in her at a very young age.
But she acknowledges that pointing out sexism is ‘hard’ and that many of her female colleagues became ‘one of the lads’ to cope. ‘It was just easier to fit into that mould to just get through the day,’ she adds.
‘I know women who have said that they changed themselves to fit that shape and actually, you’ve got to change the shape to fit yourself in. I think more women are realising that now and being more confident about that. Women are helping women. Male allies are out there as well. It’s not an us against them.’
It would be remiss to not ask Sarah-Jane about Fox, who, during his vile rant in reference about Evans said: ‘Who would want to shag that?’
‘It was really upsetting to watch,’ Sarah-Jane says of the footage. ‘And, obviously, it’s totally unacceptable. GB News has admitted that and now it’s up to Ofcom to see what happens next.’
Fox refused to apologise for his remarks and said he stood by ‘every word’, branding his attack as ‘free speech.’ Sarah-Jane points out there’s a ‘massive difference’ between free speech and hate speech of any kind, including misogyny.
She continues: ‘It shouldn’t be allowed in any shape or form. And I think this is a timely reminder not to be complacent about the kind of attitude towards women that we’re trying to stamp out.’
Fox made the comments during Dan Wootton’s GB News show. Fox and Wootton, who apologised for his response to the rant, have both since been suspended by the broadcaster.
Sarah-Jane kicked off her career as a runner and later a producer on Sky Sports before making the leap in front of the camera as a presenter on ITV Central, where she became the face of Central Soccer Night.
In 2008, she joined Sky Sports and has presented shows on the channel including Cricket AM and What’s The Story. She was given her own show, The Sarah-Jane Mee Show four years ago and is readying for the Monday launch of her new programme, The UK Tonight with Sarah-Jane Mee.
Sarah-Jane has reported on everything including the Queen’s funeral and even answered an unexpected phone-in from Sir Rod Stewart, who lamented the state the government had allowed the NHS to get in.
But the one story that has stayed with her throughout her decades-long career was the fall of Kabul, Afghanistan. After the city was captured by the Taliban, the British government actioned its largest evacuation since the Second World War. But they only took ‘eligible’ locals and British citizens, meaning thousands were left behind.
The horrifying event happened not long after Sarah-Jane, who married branding agency exec Ben Richardson, had her daughter in 2020 during the pandemic. She saysthe scenes of parents handing over babies her child’s age to American soldiers will stay with her forever.
Sarah Jane says: ‘I was covering it in a studio, I wasn’t even on location, I think that’s something that will always stay with me, because it made me just realise people say, “Oh your view of the world and your view of the stories you cover will change once you became a mum,” and I was like, “Absolutely not. I’m a professional: I approach every story the same; I don’t get too emotionally invested.”
‘But that really got me because what it all boils down to really: people at the heart of any story talking about the impact it has on their lives.’
It’s this premise – deep-diving into the human cost of headline news – that has partly inspired her new show, The UK Tonight with Sarah-Jane Mee, which will air Monday to Thursdays for an hour at 8pm.
The show will cover topics such as the move towards GP telephone appointments and the hidden homeless, as well as what’s going on in the world of showbiz and TV. Sarah-Jane teases there will be ‘big name’ interviews but can’t give the game away.
She adds: ‘We’ll cover pretty much everything if you’re talking about it down the pub or around the dinner table or at work. We want to reflect that on our show. It’s very much a conversation with the people of the UK.’
As for her advice for young wannabe female journalists, Sarah-Jane says simply: ‘Go for it.’
She adds: ‘Nothing is off-limits. There’s gonna be loads of twists and turns, There’s gonna be loads of sideway steps and there’ll be times where you’re just like, “Oh, I’m just not making any headway.” Things happen. Just keep going. Just keep going. If it’s your dream, work hard, and you’ll get there.’
The UK Tonight with Sarah-Jane Mee will be live Monday – Thursday at 8pm on Sky News (Freeview channel 233) starting Monday October, 2.
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