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Journalist Neha Dixit Spills The Beans On The Shocking Realities Of Women Journalists In India

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By Devadutta Bhattacharjee:

Ever thought of what goes on behind the black curtains of the glittery world of media? In a liberal world such as ours, many women have very strong and clear voices. And it’s the media that has been largely responsible for raising the volume of those voices; giving us the platform we need to assert our rights. But sometimes, we get a glance behind that curtain, and that sight is quite shocking.

neha dixit

Some of the most outstanding journalistic contributions to the society have been made by women. We all know of journalists like Frances Fitzgerald and Gloria Steinem. Closer to home, Aditi Khanna of PTI has been named the first woman president of Indian Journalists Association. But indicators like pay gap, unequal incentives and relatively important topics assigned to men, are evidences that gender bias is rampant in many media offices.

Matters which are considered to be “masculine” like sports or political opinions are mostly written by men. In a country like India, where there is a long history of women suppression, this inequality is reflected even more in workplaces. The opinions page is largely dominated by men as well.

The inference from all of this- It’s not that women don’t have an opinion; it’s just that media houses don’t find those opinions important enough.

I got a chance to speak with Neha Dixit, a prominent independent journalist who writes for The New York Times, Outlook, Yahoo Originals, Al Jazeera, Foreign Policy, Fountain Ink, Scroll, Open and others, about this issue and here’s what she had to say:

In universities and colleges offering courses on journalism, we see quite a lot of women. However, CNN reports that 60% of all newspaper employees are men and 80% of newspaper op-eds are written by them. Why do you think women are less significant in the job sector of journalism?

Opinions on deeply political issues are considered more of a male domain; in fact, all serious issues are thought to be in the male domain. Even if organizations cover women’s issues, it’s seen as a separate topic and not treated as a mainstream issue. That is why the more important stuff is given to men and not women. Men end up writing editorials or opinion editorials more than women because it is assumed that if a woman writes, she’s going to write about a very stereotypical understanding of women’s issues and women’s stuff, like family, duty, other such things and it’s not really treated as political or important.

The news of women being sexually harassed or threatened at workplaces is not new, the most recent of them being the accusations against Tarun Tejpal of Tehelka. Why do you think this happens so often?

I would say that it is not specifically Tehelka but such cases have been reported in a lot of organizations. It is just that they have not been covered by the media extensively. It comes back to the same answer, that again, there is a deep level of hypocrisy when we write about justice, women’s human rights but at a policy level, they are not really implemented in many media organizations. It’s just the larger reflection (of these incidences). So my point is that it’s not just Tehelka, there have been hundreds of such cases in the past and they haven’t been really talked about because then, if the media starts reporting media, several skeletons will fall out of the cupboard.

The second thing is that all media organizations follow a neo-liberal model which is a very anti-worker kind of model, and that is why these things are not acknowledged the way they should be.

Do you think media itself is responsible for sidelining women, ultimately affecting women in this very profession?

I don’t think it is only the media that should be blamed for this. It is the society as a whole; we have a very patriarchal attitude towards women. Even when we talk about women’s rights, our understanding is inside a very patriarchal domain. We want them to be patriarchal and capitalist domains, we don’t fight for larger causes. The other more important thing is that it is a larger reflection of the kind of attitude we have towards women. Especially when women start asserting themselves, start fighting for their rights; they are seen as troublemakers. So I wouldn’t say it is restricted to the field of media alone. It is a problem across domains; an assertive woman is seen as a troublemaker, and women’s rights are also seen in a very patriarchal, neo-liberal way. I think that is the problem.

Has there been any incident of gender bias in your career till date?
I wouldn’t specifically say gender bias, but I, like many other women colleagues of mine, have noticed that if there’s a serious story, it’s always a man who should write it. There are always doubts regarding whether a woman reporter should write the cover of a political or a more serious story or not.

What would be your message to all those aspiring women journalists out there who want to break traditional barriers?

I would say that you have to keep challenging yourself and keep challenging the people around you. The moment you start succumbing to the set of ideas that are presented to you, you have co-opted and you’re agreeing with that situation. Try to break the status quo and keep doing whatever needs to be done.

In a scenario like this, women aren’t completely blameless themselves. Often when we see men dominating in some manner, many of us tend to shrink amongst ourselves, making way for their voices to mute ours. Years of social conditioning has done this to women in general, the rule doesn’t apply differently to women in journalism.

The media, glows in the light of being a liberal and independent institution. It grieves the death of Helen Thomas, a pioneer in the world of journalism; it has been responsible for bringing into light several women’s issues. But the same media which reports that only 11% of the Parliament members in India are women is the one discriminating on the basis of gender in its own offices.

Gender bias can be seen in many institutions, be it corporate, political or any other form of representation. But in journalism, this balance becomes particularly important. The world needs to realize that we have broken out of our traditional roles a long time back, and that won’t be possible unless it is evident enough.

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  1. Green Lantern

    It’s female president, not woman president, just as it is male president and not man president.

    1. meghna

      The reason there are certain reservations for women in this country is because traditionally women have been treated as an inferior class. If they are given separate seats in a bus, it is only because 4 out of 5 males try to feel them up. The same number of males still feel that the role of a woman is limited to the kitchen and the boundaries of her home. The day men understand that women are not objects to be felt, or unpaid labour, and treat them as equals, we won’t need any sort of reservation in the country. Also, one cannot compare statistical data of another country to India, because Canada never had a tradition of sati, nor was any woman murdered over dowry.

    2. Babar

      Kindly explain the reservations for women in office and politics. Thanks.

  2. Babar

    Women have seats reserved from them from buses to the political arena to the corporate world so please save me the gender bias talk. As for work, women take humanities in college, work easier jobs than men, fewer number of hours than men, and take leave during pregnancy, and then compare their pay with men. As for politics, women want to be safe while men are willing to risk their life.

    1. Devadutta

      Dear Mr. Babar, thank you for reading the article and there is absolutely nothing wrong with you having an opinion of your own.
      However, your words have done nothing other than amuse me. “Women take humanities”? Really? Ever heard of Marie Curie, Elizabeth Blackburn, Jane Goodall? You compare seat reservation in buses with equality? Spoken like a true cynic of the patriarchal society. Have you noticed the other non-reserved seats of public transport? All chock full of men. Ask any girl to go stand in that crowd, she won’t go because there is a high chance she might get felt up. The day that girl voluntarily goes to that compartment chock full of men, that is the day you can successfully use this argument. I for one, am against reservation of any kind as well, but not for the same absurd reasons such as yours. Good luck trying to make this world a better place with your narrower-than-a-syringe-needle personality.

    2. Babar

      Statistics are not comprised of a handful of people. Have you ever heard of the hundreds of thousands of women all over the world who do take humanity. Furthermore, all you have in your defence is to talk about how reservations in buses is not gender bias. I can tell you why you are wrong with that point, but looking at the personal attack in your comment at the end, I do not wish to embarrass you further.

    3. Ritu Sharma

      Mr. Babar,
      Let me begin by telling you this that reservation in buses and special ladies compartment were never demanded by women as a prerogative right okay ? It became a necessity after the the rising cases of molestation on one hand and rise in the number of women working from every family.And secondly , I depreciate the fact that you consider humanities as a course/subject to be an easy task!! Enter any humanities classroom answer a 3 hour paper and then we shall take it further from there. Moreover because of people who have a rigid and obstinate mindset like you, humanities as a course has been termed as feminine and even if a guy who is interested in the course might think twice before taking the “so called easy course”

      I am mature enough to not take a man v/s woman issue on this because the article just points out few facts which you may not agree and you have full right to express it. But, Mr. Babar women should be payed less just because they work for less hours and take maternity leave is an argument that not many men would buy. I assure you. And as far as the entire thing of taking risk comes , I strongly disagree because it takes lot of risk on the part of any woman to give birth to a child. You and I re examples of that risk taking .
      Lastly, the article nowhere stereotypes men / women so why you Mr. ? Who on earth are you to say that all women take up easy jobs , maternity leaves etc ? You have right to opinion not bash any gender.Nor you represent the entire male fraternity nor I represent the entire female fraternity and your comments just show how stereotypical can person be .We ll re individuals first and so we should only speak for ourselves and not take the load of the entire universe!!!!!

    4. Babar

      I depreciate the fact that you consider humanities as a course/subject to be an easy task!!

      Ma’am, I never said that humanities is easy. All I have stated is, rather clearly, if more and more women today choose to pursue a course in humanities, then obviously their career choice will be different, which will affect the statistics and explain why there are fewer women as compared to men in other fields, and of course, be payed less than men who choose to study science and mathematics.

      Mr. Babar women should be payed less just because they work for less hours and take maternity leave is an argument that not many men would buy.

      Anyone who works fewer number of hours or takes a leave or any purpose will obviously be paid less!

      Thank you.

    5. Babar

      *takes a leave of for any purpose ….

    6. Ritu Sharma

      Sir, you HAVE NOT AT CLEARLY mentioned about the statistics issue. If you would have said that earlier I wouldn’t feel the need to mention it. Who are you and me to decide which course a woman should take? And why so worried about the statistics ? It is the individual preference whether to choose humanities or not.And just because we want to achieve some statistics rate to be at par with someone, would not do such a stupidity of playing with respective careers.

      And yes another thing , you clearly stated that women who work for lesser hours and take maternity leave will be obviously paid less. Sir obviously maternity leave can be applied only to women and I think you are mature enough to understand why!!! So it is futile to debate on that.
      Also Sir , the only good thing about your comments is that you give newer perspective to the same old issue. And I m sure you are mature enough to use the words like “some ” , “generally” men or women and not take the responsibility of both the sexes and term just women take up this and men do that… al…

  3. Babar

    I don’t need a man, but ….

  4. Monistaf

    Aren’t women tired of playing the “Victim” card? Equality under the law is not a guarantee for equality of outcome. There is nothing preventing women journalists from freely practicing their professions. You already have equality under the law, but you are not happy with the outcome, so you play the “victim” role and blame discrimination, and sexual harassment for the unfavorable outcome. 80% of all newspaper op-eds are written by men. Well, 70% of all homeless people are men!! 90% of all victims of violent crimes are also men!! Why don’t you fight for equality there too? The media in India is already one-sided and favors women heavily when it comes to reporting gender issues. Why is it that the rape of a girl in New Delhi gets so much media and world attention where as very few people have even heard of the brutal beating to death of a Dalit boy for stealing flowers. How do these issues get reported and publicized if your claim of systemic patriarchal domination, gender discrimination and sexual harassment is true? May be, the “male dominated” profession of journalism is being sensitive to social issues on both sides of the gender divide!!

    1. Devadutta Bhattacharjee

      A woman who is strong enough to gain extensive education, required qualifications etc to become a journalist, would not WANT to play the victim card, have you considered this?
      Any piece on bias against women, does NOT mean we are blaming the other sex for it. If you would’ve read the article dispassionately instead of reading with already formed opinions of your own, you would’ve picked up on that. For every crime you bring forth against a man, I can cite three more against women. Sitting and comparing percentages of crime against men vs women is not the way you contribute to ending them.

    2. Babar

      You have talked about male domination and gender bias in your article, and have been met with an apt response. When you are not been able to defend your absurd theories in a rational manner, you start beating about the bush, trying to change the topic.

      According to the Canadian statistics on gender equality:

      Men commit suicide at 4 times the rate of women, live an average of 7 years less than women,
      account for more than 95% of all workplace fatalities, are murdered at a rate 5 times that of women, women receive physical custody of 92% of all children of separation, and men only 4%, women are acquitted of spousal murder at a rate 9 times that of men, men are sentenced 2.8 times longer than women for spousal murder, etc.

    3. Monistaf

      “would not WANT to play the victim card”. That is exactly what you are doing!! “CNN reports that 60% of all newspaper employees are men and 80% of newspaper op-eds are written by them”. That is playing victim by crying out loud and saying that more men are writing op-eds. What, or who is preventing women from writing op-eds? If people like Neha Dixit and Aditi Khanna can make a mark in spite of all the “Patriarchy”, it means that the system is open to anyone with the skills and resolve.
      “Any piece on bias against women, does NOT mean we are blaming the other sex for it.”. You are!! You talk about gender bias, unequal pay and incentives and topics assigned to men and attribute these as some of the reasons you do not see equal numbers of men and women journalists.
      “If you would’ve read the article dispassionately instead of reading with already formed opinions of your own”. If you had written the article without already formed opinions and with a bit of investigation, you would have realized how ridiculous it is. May be you should have interviewed a male journalist as well to get a balanced opinion.
      “For every crime you bring forth against a man, I can cite three more against women”. You cannot. Check the report for the year 2012 from the National Bureau of Crime records in New Delhi. Only 10.6% of the IPC violations are crimes against women. So, for every instance of a crime against a woman, there are nearly 9 crimes committed against men.
      “Sitting and comparing percentages of crime against men vs women is not the way you contribute to ending them.”. Right, because the truth hurts and is not in your favor. But, spending all our air time and media bandwidth on women’s issues will definitely contribute to ending it!!

  5. Monistaf

    Oh, and by the way, the gender wage gap is a myth as pointed out by Babar below. You can watch the “Factual Feminist”, Ms. Christina Hoff Summers explain it on youtube. She too started of with the “Gloria Stienhem” brand of “Radical Feminism” and realized how outdated and irrelevant it was. I have never understood the argument for gender wage gaps. I can guarantee you that if there are 100 men working the same job, they are all being paid a DIFFERENT wage, which means some of them are being paid less. That is because, in the world of free market economies, how much you get paid depends on your experience, your education and most importantly your ability to negotiate a fair wage. The last time I checked, women claim that are equally capable in all these areas. No one is forcing you to take up a job where you think you are being paid less than your worth. It is a free country, go and find another job that pays you better. Instead, you choose to sit there, play the victim card, and claim that you are not being paid enough simply because you are woman.

  6. Babar

    Women today are fighting for their right to study humanities and then mention discrimination when they find more men in other professions.

    I Chose Humanities Over Science Not Because I Am ‘Dumb’

    Interested In ‘Humanities’, Go For It

    Here’s What It Really Means To Study Humanities In India

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