Feminism in Journalism

Media Baithak, a community center of sorts for media workers and related professionals is a vibrant space for intellectuals to come together to exchange dialogue and ideas to bridge the gap between media, state and communities. The geometrical wall art puts one at ease and the subjects often difficult to talk about do come about easier to debate and discuss with a roomful of strangers. The main idea is to initiate conversations about things one may hesitate to discuss online, on account of online hate or bullying. Or simply the lesser found liberty of having a discussion and articulating your views on a sensitive subject in a safe space which is open to debate but not judgment. Gender, has and will be, an ongoing debate in this era in terms of equality, competency, opportunities and even identity.

In Pakistan, gender has some hard imposed rules and criteria with near-zero tolerance for questioning it and is equated to biological sex. Debunking the stigma around this subject, Digital Rights Foundation held a workshop titled “Bringing Feminism to Mainstream and Digital Journalism,” to identify and initiate dialogue about workplace as well as social female-centric issues and conjure solutions, even as unheard of as ‘female’ camerawoman.

To start the discussion on the agenda, late obviously since Karachiites can never seem to make anywhere on time, the DRF training team began with an anonymous vote of roles the attendees think are exclusive or better executed by men and women. While most mainstream jobs got the neutral vote, interestingly enough one yellow post-it said ‘leader’ and was categorised under men. Talk about clichés. An attendee, who will stay anonymous, says in her experience men do better in leadership roles and oft time’s women fail in positions of authority, specific to personal experience, as a boss. While that may only be valid to a specific experience, the idea of condemning all women to said stereotype is contributing to the larger chunk of the patriarchal bargain that women get for climbing their way to leadership roles. How often a woman at the top of the hierarchy is judged extra-critically for being a ‘female boss’ instead of just a boss?

Further critiquing this mindset, attendees took a look at numerous job roles, also a daily life and often downplayed issue, where designations are gendered male. Be it the hilarity of “female chairperson”, “female staff member”, “lady lawyer” or “female journalist”; we as civilisations are successfully and without question, catering to the pre-conceived notion that job titles are male.

Succeeded by Najia Ashar, a journalist and founder of Media Baithak, conducted a session on challenges women face in journalism, a list that runs long. In Pakistan, women only have five per cent representation in journalism. From being assigned stories around soft reporting to being compromised on competency for issues like mobility, safety, harassment in the field and casual sexism in the workplace.

Taking the floor next was Sabin Agha, political and crime journalist, on the subject “Gender sensitive reporting: issues and guidelines” and highlighted the double standards in reporting news and making headlines with a misogynistic viewpoint. “Gender stereotyping and gendered language in news reportage is a by-product of patriarchy and always favours balance tilting towards males. News media appeases the male gaze. “It is by the males, of the males and for the males,” says Agha. Talking about reporting 101, she lists down the basic tools and highlights how there is no insistence on making news headlines female centric to make it click bait. For example, “Mother of three elopes with lover”. I’ll leave my readers to dissect the problematic elements in this headline as an exercise to understand various levels of misogyny in our culture.

Ending the session on a serious issue of the digital era: Online hate. There is a common misconception that the online world is not the ‘real’ world but bullying on social platforms has serious repercussions offline including defamation, character assassination, compromised mental hygiene and in worst cases, suicide. There are multiple factors at play but focusing on bullying and how it translates offline, is a matter of crucial importance. Women in journalism who voice their opinions or findings online are often victim to online abuse, leading to self-censorship. Considering the implications of state censorship, the online world that works in real time and more, it is a real challenge to eliminate or counter online harassment, one that doesn’t seem to have a solution so far.