By Aminata E Sanyang
“We’ve seen your ground-breaking work but the courage you mustered to cover crimes is unusual for a female journalist”. I received this feedback and more after the airing of my stories on the special Anti-Crime police unit established to combat crime in the country.
I accompanied the unit on several raids in crime zones across the city to produce an exclusive feature on police efforts to mitigate criminal activities in the metropolis. But the coverage of a ground-breaking investigative piece by a young female reporter seemed to have surprised many. Well it appears the crude underworld of crime and dramatic police raids was no turf for a girl but I guess surprises are just great to dismantle these stubborn and timeless perceptions about women.
Many expect female journalists to focus on coverage of beauty and fashion, domestic and social issues, cuisine and the organised world of staged events. Any other arena brings questions, doubts and the all killing patronising line, ‘Great Piece, incredible’, well incredulous indeed when the generally held notion boxes female Journalists in a limited gendered space. A picture of heavy makeup, strapped high heels, pen, notes, jots and then a mind-numbing story follows.
One might think it’s cute to assign female journalists to such coverages but the fact is this trend reaffirms the misconstrued perception that female journalists are lazy. The established practice of assigning male journalists to cover important coverages also models this notion.
Women in journalism are shouldering mammoth burdens and unremitting barricades but patriarchal forces induced into the nook and cranny of the media are draining the zeal of women in Journalism. Women are determined to work in areas they are passionate about and despite more women venturing into Journalism than men, most women eventually have to leave the space for their male counterparts, due to many reasons and other natural bases they struggle to beat.
The Gambia has scores of women in the field but only a few ever climb to higher echelons. Most become disillusioned and move to other sectors after years of being entombed at the same level, supplemented by unrelenting challenges and a concoction of uncertainties.
“I became a threat to the male dominated leadership after doing my masters in Journalism; they purposely kept me on the same level. It was clear they wanted me to quit and not rise to their level”-Anonymous
When a female Journalist gets married, the probability of her institution abating her duties is high, even if she was up to task, she is likely given insignificant responsibilities, because a man has put a ring on her finger. Perhaps the outlook is once you’re married you have broader responsibilities that span beyond work.
But proper support mechanisms can make all the difference if employers uplift women shouldering domestic responsibilities to boost their profession. However, what we see often is a progressive degradation of responsibilities suppressing women’s abilities. These reasons and a lot more have delayed the career of many vibrant female Journalists, whose insightful stories we should have continued to read on newspapers, whose faces we should see often on screen and those we should be listening to on radio.
Schedules have been the most contentious with many usually using that line to justify moves to shake off women’s schedules cutting down essential duties that lead to visibility and promotion. It all boils down to the lack of trust in a woman’s abilities to handle multiple tasks. This makes it difficult for women to rise through the ranks of leadership in the media infrastructure.
A female journalist has to break confines, strive beyond the usual just for her work to be seen and recognized and it takes a negative comment from someone to crash all that down. Many are unacquainted with hitches women face and deep-rooted social norms, environments can greatly influence the way we think and approach issues. The same set of unproven notion has conceptualized that camera operation is a man’s job. We’ve seen this clearly embodied in the camera sectors of all media houses men dominate the space with only a few female camera operators or none occupying any spot at all.
The few in the field struggle every day to work amid customary discrimination.
Because media work unlike misconceptions perceptions of ease, requires strength, inventiveness and vigour and women that venture in this work face different challenges exacerbated by functional disparity, underpinned by the absence of trust in women’s abilities.
“Threats make women feel more vulnerable and question their work as journalists, a job that is itself under threat” Anonymous
Women in the media often receive negative pushback for the slightest issues and mostly choose to ignore it or suppress such experiences because fighting back brings more repercussions. For ages female Journalists have been clipped under these circumstances, reeling from its pinch for ages. A smart woman in a male dominated atmosphere becomes a threat to male counterparts. Such hostile settings have teared women’s strength apart, dampened their spirit and driven many to question their abilities.
On the positive end, we are witnessing a surge in feminine strength and solidarity, introducing variations of responding to these threats to triumph above discrimination, excel without margins, delete a negative comment or make light of it.
Few young female journalists were entrusted with the management of the socials of an institution; they boosted followership and added its credibility.
However, censures sprang from men, amongst them women who have disregarded the “Lift each other up” mantra. Being female and young, these smart young ladies undoubtedly mastered the art of investing their energy and time aptly, they moved with their heads held high. They distinguished criticisms meant to improve a person and the one projected to damage a great initiative. Patriarchal traditions in the media always extract faults against female Journalist doing spectacular work.
Society has the stereotypical impression that women working in certain sectors have levels limited for them and their achievements are repeatedly questioned.
Every woman in the media should know these challenges existed for years.
It is up to you to brace up for this fight, by refuelling your passion towards the profession, set boundaries and don’t’ limit yourself, because your capabilities are unbounded. You have to know this is not a race with the male Journalists; you owe no one that energy but yourself.
Aminata E Sanyang is a vibrant young journalist working at the state broadcaster, GRTS.