Brassy Broad: How One Woman Helped Pave the Way to #MeToo (Bink Books, September 2021), by Alison Bass, is a memoir that charts the author’s award-winning career in investigative journalism, beginning in the 1980s, interwoven with personal background.
Bass began working in newsrooms during the pre-social media era; sexual harassment, abuse of women, and gender bias were all-to-often the norm and rarely addressed. Bass experienced her share. Raised in an unusual cooperative, egalitarian community (Bryn Gweled, founded by Quakers in Pennsylvania), the author believed in her right to grow professionally, and to research and report on important stories. She wasn’t one to take “no” for an answer. Often, being the squeaky wheel did not endear her to management, and the author found herself relegated to assignments that held less interest and opportunity for breaking important news, particularly women’s untold stories, which were her passion.
Her accomplishments as a journalist are notable; many of her stories made a difference in people’s lives by daylighting abuse and suffering. She was the first journalist in the nation to expose the common practice of male psychiatrists having sex with their female patients and how that abuse of trust devastated survivors. As a reporter for The Boston Globe, Bass was the first to write about the molestation of children by Catholic priests (a decade before the Spotlight investigation chronicled in the Oscar-winning 2016 movie). Researching the lives of sex workers, including spending considerable time with them, resulted in her acclaimed nonfiction book, Getting Screwed: Sex Workers and the Law.
The memoir’s title harkens to her days with The Miami Herald in the early 1980s, where the editors didn’t know what to do with a “brassy northern broad.” While Bass may have been a “brassy broad” in the eyes of some of her male co-workers, she was also juggling multiple roles and responsibilities, as was expected of most married women. There were times when, of necessity, giving birth and the exigencies of raising children stalled her career, placing limits on her time and freedom that her male counterparts didn’t experience.
Unafraid to rock the boat in the face of criticism and censure, Alison Bass was dedicated to putting her journalism to good use by consistently searching out stories of marginalized groups. In part this was due to her upbringing, which instilled values of empathy and open-mindedness. Also, as a Jew, she and her family faced prejudice and harassment. When church authorities called on the editors of The Boston Globe to stop reporting on the abusive priest or “forever be damned,” Bass had this to say: “Since I didn’t believe in a vengeful Christian God, I wasn’t worried about my soul. An editor at one of my first newspaper gigs had told me that if an article about a controversial topic didn’t piss someone off, I was doing something wrong.”
Brassy Broad is a worthy addition to the canon of memoirs of trail-blazing women. Readers who enjoy true stories that reveal strength, character, and perseverance will enjoy Bass’s memoir. Writers, journalists in particular, will enjoy the personal stories behind the major news stories Bass covered, and the glimpses into the newsrooms of decades past.