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.
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,Â 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.