United and no longer silent - Women’s seminar ends on a high note as attendees reveal the gender backlash
LAUSANNE, July 31, 2020: “I had a college football coach kiss me in a hotel hallway as we both walked to our respective rooms. I quickly got away from him and went into my room. I had to interview him the next day. I even had an editor on my first job kiss me in the parking lot before I could push him away. But I still had to work with him.”
This was Christine Brennan’s nightmare many years ago. But back then, speaking about such repulsive advances was largely perceived as a taboo. In the face of such uncomfortable circumstances, Brennan had to ignore, remain polite and even smile in some cases, while trying to protect her principles and professionalism. “No one spoke up about these things back then. All it would have done would have labeled me a complainer and potentially derailed my career. So I just kept right on going. Nothing was going to stop me,” she explains.
In recent years campaigns like #MeToo and #LetHerSpeak have triggered a global revolution by inspiring women to share their experiences and openly condemn sexual harassment and all forms of abuse - verbal, physical, psychological and even economical, however, even today, many women in the sports media can still relate to Brennan’s experience.
THE GENDER BACKLASH These demeaning and troubling issues were brought to the fore during the final session of the AIPS Seminar “The Cost of Reporting while Female”, under the topic; The Gender Backlash, which was thoroughly discussed by a seasoned four-woman panel comprising Brennan, Rica Roy, Georgina Ruiz Sandoval and Dorothy Njoroge.
BECAUSE YOU ARE A WOMAN While introducing the topic, AIPS Vice President Evelyn Watta painted a picture of how women in newsrooms are viewed in the first place. She recalled an incident where she succeeded in getting a difficult interview done, but instead of getting compliments for a job well done, she was told: “We knew you would get it because you are a woman.” A flawed reaction that implies the stereotype of the woman as a sex object.
“I'm not here as a woman,” Watta insists. “I'm here as a journalist. I got the story with my journalistic skills. I did not go there and put my femininity on the table.”
In the words of Georgina Ruiz Sandoval, sports journalist and TV commentator, “when many of us receive only assignments that our male colleagues are not interested in or are not sports with a media impact, the feeling of not being measured with the same stick is evident”.
Known as the “voice of cycling” in Latin America, Sandoval has covered 19 Tours de France in a row, in addition to four Giro d’Italia and five Tours of Spain; as well as other races on the World Tour calendar. From 1998 to 2015, she covered a wide range of live events and syndicated programming with ESPN.
She adds: “For a female journalist, there is nothing worse than to feel that her interviews and editorial concepts are perceived as soft and with no substance.”
THE KITCHEN According to Dorothy Njoroge, the chairperson of the Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK) and the Ag. Head of the Journalism and Corporate Communication Department at the United States International University-Africa, the progress women have made in being able to infiltrate into fields originally seen as male preserves is threatening male privilege and has led to “a proliferation of negative actions aimed at keeping women ‘in their place’.”
Brennan is an award-winning sports columnist and commentator for internationally recognised news outlets, yet she still gets countless tweets telling her to “go back to the kitchen”. “I thought, oh, no, you don’t want me there. You don’t want me in the kitchen. I’m not a good cook,” is her sarcastic reply.
In the absence of Pamela Morinière, the head of the campaign and communications department at the International Federation of Journalists, who was originally one of the panelists, but couldn’t join in due to personal reasons, Watta shared the findings of a survey done by the IFJ in June.
IMPACT OF COVID-19 About 600 women journalists from around the world were interviewed for this survey, which established that “unfortunately during this time (of the pandemic), gender inequalities increased in the media.”
Njoroge also pointed out that gender-based violence has been on the rise all around the world, especially during the COVID-19 period. “For example, in Kenya, calls to the GBV hotline have gone up by 50% according to the gender minister.”
Her ongoing study on the impact of the pandemic on the lives of women journalists in East Africa has shown that “while workplace sexual harassment has declined, online violence against women journalists has increased”. Also the women journalists say “they have been disproportionately affected by job losses in the media” largely because they have domes