Let me start by congratulating the previous week's International Women's Day of our readers. The past year was a significant one for women's rights, with movements such as "Me too" and the outrage it caused. It also called for self-reflection in fields of work apart from Hollywood, even though it originated there. The past year drew attention to society's ingrained biases and also how they affect our everyday lives. So, let us do the same and take a look at our own vocation.
First of all, we have to accept that media has always been a patriarchal field ever since it first start. Unfortunately, this did not change over the first quarter of twenty-first century. This applies both in the case of the representation and the end product. The number of women as media administrators or journalists is still lower than that of their male counterparts, while the language and wording of the media are still far from ideal. Even when written by women, news articles about women sometimes still contain unintended bias and discrimination. This problem does not have a simple solution, as the discrimination cannot be solved simply by refraining from using certain phrases or words.
What we have is a problem of representation. Women are either being ignored by our media or they are being misrepresented with faulty and biased assumptions and information.
Although this subject loosely coincided with International Women's Day this year, it is not the first, or even second, time we have approached it in Reader's Corner On December 15, 2014, we looked at the media's approach to the issue with the article titled "Patriarchy of the media" and emphasized how the status quo adopts an unacceptable motto of "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil". We said that "However, when relaying news of this type of violence, we must be careful not to create an incentive effect or even transform it into pornography. If news of this nature is handled sloppily, then it will serve to normalize such violence, and the result will be dire: Both men and women will start to see it as a mundane affair, and some may even adopt it."
Almost exactly a year after that, on December 21, 2015, we wrote a second article titled "Patriarchy of the Media, does it continue?" which aimed to look at the progress and also criticize inaction. It also examined the results of the Conference on Urgent Action to Stop Femicide that took place on Nov. 27 of that year, which allocated a big part of the conference to the media's attitude toward the subject and largely resulted in a critical report card for the media.
Objectification of women
When looking at the news and TV programs in any given period and investigate them thoroughly, the following problems become apparent:
Media equates women to their bodies and exploits them. The content about women is largely comprised of subjects concerned with entertainment, tabloids and sexuality. Women are being objectified every day without there any visible efforts to reverse it. Such content is sometimes dressed up and marketed as emancipatory for women, though instead they merely repeat the problematic portrayals seen in the past.
Media clearly differentiates societal roles between men and women. Unfortunately, the media is largely behind society when it comes to this. It commonly portrays women as secondary, bound and dependent to other parties. Not only does our media fail to encourage and educate women in their pursuit of rights, but it also reinforces the biased and problematic perceptions of them in the society.
Most commonly, the media portrays women as victims. You do not even need big spreadsheets to find this. Just a look at your preferred media organization's publication over a couple of days will reveal how women in the news articles are often victims. What is worse is that this coverage not only fails to improve their situation but actually worsens it, adding to their suffering. Sometimes it ensures that the victimization of the women in question stays permanent. Their privacy gets blown away, personal rights get damaged while their private lives become public. The exposés on women are also higher compared to similar content on men.
The normalizing and justifying wording and language are still prevalent in news articles about violence against women. The same sexist perspective repeats itself with every news article, despite repeated warnings, criticisms and debates. This perspective usually conjures up mitigating factors for men's violence and looks for a way to blame women, often by finding them faulty or lacking in some way.
Media also has a tendency of seeing and presenting women as consumers rather than producers. In "authoritative" fields, such as politics and economics, women are largely missing. They are confined to morning shows and "light" subjects in day-to-day operations.
When talking about woman and media, it is both disheartening and necessary to talk about news articles on violence against women. In this context, our colleagues should pay close attention to the following principles:
The news articles on violence against women must be treated differently than news of a normal fight or everyday violence. We must approach violence against women from the perspective of public good and responsible journalism. We can neither turn a blind eye nor risk overexposure by desensitizing the society to this problem. Finding a balance is the key. This can be done with a problem-oriented approach instead of an event-oriented one.
While reporting on these stories, we must stay away from the tabloid approach, sexualizing references and the pornography of violence at all costs.
There can be no implication of women deserving the violence in question; instead of splattering it across the pages of newspapers, the rumors or details about the private life of women must stay exactly that, private. Any expressions, statements or wordings that can lead to a perception of justifying or understanding the perpetrator must be avoided completely. Do not sprinkle such excusing terms as rage, infidelity, passion, anger, unemployment, bankruptcy, jealousy and honor in the news article.
The news article in question must not contain sexist perspectives, derogatory expressions against women or clichés. Let us provide couple of examples to this: "Honor killing," "going astray," "falling in love," or "dirtying (and cleansing) honor" are just some.
Failing to follow these basic principles not only increases suffering to the point of rendering victimization permanent, but it also paves the way for future perpetrators, as these faulty news articles reinforces the societal pressure and justifies their actions.
At the end of the day, both the representation of women in media positions and the media's portrayal of women in news articles remains far from ideal. If we are to achieve meaningful strides in woman's rights, a sizeable portion of the responsibility lies on the shoulders of journalists. As I said before, the public good and responsible journalism must always be at the forefront of our minds.
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