So where are all the women in journalism?
One student magazine set out to address the issue in an inspiring panel session at the University of Warwick recently.
Reporting on WiJ’s findings last month, The Guardian’s Amelia Hill wrote: “Male journalists wrote 78 per cent of all front-page articles and men accounted for 84 per cent of those mentioned or quoted in lead pieces, according to analysis of nine national newspapers, Monday to Saturday, over the course of four weeks.”
As part of their ‘Breaking Into Journalism’ conference in October, The Student Journals – of which I’m deputy editor – hosted an all-woman panel discussing ‘Access to journalism and breaking through the glass ceiling.’
Organised by our (male) editor, the panel featured Dawn Foster, from The Guardian’s Comment is Free, and Fatima Manji, a reporter from Channel 4, and was chaired by our deputy culture editor, Anishka Sharma.
The three women kicked off with a general discussion on the problems of breaking into journalism, with the emphasis on the intersection of gender, class and race issues.
“A lot of the discrimination is very subtle now – it’s the fact that you’ll get passed over for a story, passed over for a promotion,” Fatima said.
“Women are less well represented across the industry,” she said. “Male voices are often the ones that get heard.”
Nevertheless, both journalists conceded that women are not always necessarily helpful to each other.
“It’s not just men who are oppressing women. There are women who get to the higher levels who feel that they have to behave in a more masculine manner,” Fatima said.
Dawn agreed, adding: “Once you get to a senior level, [women] worry about not being taken seriously.”
Another problem blocking women’s progression in journalism is the perceived lack of female experts.
“If you know female experts, then encourage them to offer their views, quotes and interviews,” Fatima urged. “There is a lack of confidence among women and minorities,” she said.
A new project which aims to counter this is The Women’s Room, a database of female experts launched by Catherine Smith, Caroline Criado-Perez and Yvonne Aburrow, in response to Radio 4’s Today Programme repeatedly failing to find female experts to discuss women’s issues.
Caroline Criado-Perez told The Guardian: “Too often, ‘expert’ is defined as a white middle-class man. That doesn’t reflect the huge expertise and variety of experiences we have in society. Instead, the media again and again draw on a small privileged group and the knock-on effect is that all those other voices aren’t heard.”
Back to the panel.
Dawn and Fatima were split, for the first time in the discussion, on the question of quotas.
“It’s quite helpful,” Dawn said, referring to The Guardian’s positive action schemes for disabled people and ethnic minorities, and the fact that Comment is Free makes a point of commissioning at least five women a day.
Fatima was more sceptical, however, saying that there remains a stigma around quotas because “it will allow others to see you as the person who only got the job because of their disadvantage.”
A young woman in the audience asked: “How do we stop the demonisation of feminism [in the media]?”
Dawn said she thinks the problem is partly down to the media’s prioritisation of middle-class feminism. “We need to have different kinds of women talking about feminism,” she said.
Fatima added: “A movement against the establishment, calling for change, will quite probably be seen as negatively by many. If feminism starts to be seen as a positive thing I’d be worried about it becoming watered down.”
At the end of the session, the final question from the audience was from one of the many aspiring male journalists in the room: “There are a lot of male, white, middle class kids here – how can we avoid being scumbags?”
Faitma laughed. “Some of my best friends are white middle class males! And you may well be all of those things, but you’ve turned up to this seminar on the glass ceiling. It’s about a state of mind – what you think rather than who you are.”
“Try to be self-aware,” Dawn added. “It’s possible to discriminate without meaning to.”
Judging by the reactions on Twitter, a lot of aspiring female journalists went away feeling as inspired, as I did, and a lot of aspiring male journalists left with plenty to think about, too.
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