Confronting sexist rhetoric and gender-based obstacles as a female reporter
Pry your eyes off my legs—I am not here for your gaze, I am not just an object to stare at. Don’t call me sweetie, I’m not here to be your date. I’m here as a reporter—to interview you, not to put up with your excessive and inappropriate passes. I’m not here to have my credibility undermined by your overt sexism.
I’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons in my two years working for The Concordian and in my first year of journalism school. However, a hot topic I find lacking in the curriculum is how to deal with sexism, harassment and constantly trying to be taken seriously—all things that seem to come with the territory of being a female reporter.
It’s not uncommon for my attentiveness and eye contact during interviews to be interpreted not as traits of a diligent reporter, but rather, as flirting that encourages inappropriate behaviour from some. This has often made me extra vigilant when I have to interview men.
In the last year and a half as a news reporter, and naturally as an intuitive person, I’ve become familiar with the insinuation of certain types of eye contact and non-verbal communication. Oftentimes, the interviewee’s body language and eye contact are just signs of attentiveness to my questions. Other times, it’s almost impossible to ignore I am being sexualized and thought of in an objectifying way when I’m trying to do my job.
Body language is one thing, but the commentary is another. Whether it’s before, during, or after an interview, it’s never an appropriate time to ask if I’m single, free later or pose any other questions about my personal life. While my interviewee is always informed on the nature of the interview and article I’m writing, I’m never given the same outlines for the way I will be hit on or undermined as a female reporter.
The thing I love most about being a journalist is meeting and speaking with people who have a variety of opinions and aspirations. However, sometimes those in positions of power have been troublesome. I’ve found myself in situations where male faculty at Concordia think it’s appropriate to ask me invasive questions, or even to ask me out on a date. I’ve even encountered people who will request coverage of an event as a sly attempt at getting to know me better, hoping an interview will turn into a date.
There have been many times where I’ve gotten the impression that my gender undermines my credibility and judgement in the eyes of the people I collaborate with and report on. I once had a source question my choice of words in an article, only to ignore my response for a month, then eventually respond with an apology—followed by asking me out on a date.
Not only are some of my own experiences as a reporter troublesome, the language used towards female reporters is also problematic.
Too often, the response I receive when I mention I’m a journalism student or a news editor is, “I can totally see you on camera,” or “You would be a great news anchor!” Yes, these are nice comments—but when you break it down, it’s easy to see there is an immediate assumption that how I look is what makes me fit to sit in front of a camera. It undermines my capability and my work as a journalist, and is essentially presumptuous, sexist rhetoric.
Since this issue seems to be deeply rooted in our society, I believe media outlets and schools with journalism departments should take it upon themselves to better tackle sexism and address gender-based obstacles that non-male counterparts may face in the field. It’s important and necessary to learn how to professionally handle instances of sexism, racism or any other kind of mistreatment.
Graphic by Florence Y