Building Gender-Sensitive Media

The perception of equality between men and women and the equal opportunity they should have is called gender sensitivity. Those who work in the media fields should be sensitive to gender. Otherwise they will fall into the trap of society-accepted definitions (religion, culture, government-defined male and female).

Do we, as journalists in general, have a gender sensitive perspective on the message we collect, write and publish? We must ask ourselves this question. No matter what opinion a journalist has, he/she will have to follow the Code of Ethics without biases when working in the media. 

Here are some things we need to focus on:

  1. Conceptualization of male/female in the tone of the message we carry. 
  2. Women as sources for news.
  3. Words used when we write.
  4. The status of the woman in the pictures we use.
  5. Women’s voice and participation in all matters.

Let us look at some of the issues that the media is dealing with women to draw attention.

During the 2004 tsunami, there was increasing coverage in the media of women weeping with their children on the laps, mourning for their husbands. What message does it give? The message was to tell that ‘many men and children died in the tsunami.’  But what is the truth? Most of those who died in the tsunami were women. Some electronic media, when broadcasting live, showed weeping men also, but later on, it was edited mainstreaming women instead. 

What is the reason for this?

It is because of our perception towards male and female behaviors. It is deeply ingrained in everyone’s mind that the cries of women are more powerful when we depict tragedy. This has become the general perception of the media. There is a common belief in society that men do not cry, so when a woman cries even the devil would show mercy on her. Journalists are no exception to this. 

This is where we need gender sensitivity. The journalists should ask why they impose their beliefs on an audience. Why not show scenes of both men and women in a tragedy? 

This mentality has been created with social and cultural practices. We accept these as everlasting principles. Through this we have formed a picture that male behavior is such and female behavior is such. And we continue to repeat these definitions. We are also making these definitions a reality in the minds of people through media. This is stereotyping. We publish and draw pictures of men as a source of strength, speed, and valor, but when it comes to women, we show softness, kindness, and elegance. Even if we receive alternate news, it is not intended for publication. Why? 

We violate the basic rules of the media industry by stereotyping. We violate the principle of facts of truth, fairness and accuracy. We also make male and female stereotyping more permanent.

By doing so, we reinforce the prevalence of gender inequality in society. Gender is neither permanent nor eternal. They are only social and cultural roles that men and women are expected to play. If we accept that they are changeable, we can publish news with an open mind.

When interviewing ordinary people and professionals for news stories and illustrations, we have to ask ourselves whether women’s voices are included. More than half the population is women. Their voices must be taken into consideration in politics and economy as well.

Women make up 52% of the global population. But the media deals with less than 10 percent of women’s affairs. Most of them are also in connection with domestic affairs, relationships and aesthetic topics. They rarely portray a woman as a contributor in successes of politics, economics and technology. Even when it does happen, women are given a sympathetic posture or are in restrictive positions. For example when talking about women in the economy in Sri Lanka, the media only talks of problems faced by estate workers, garment employees, domestic servants, etc. They rarely talk of women’s entrepreneurship and their successful contribution to the economy. The same is true of politics.

The media places more emphasis on a woman’s personality than on her intellect. The publication of a woman’s picture on the front page in weekly newspapers has long been a tradition. It continues in the magazines to date. It is uses as a tactic to lure the readership, even if there is no news value to it. It is the process of depicting the figure of women and engraving that in the minds of people as status of women.

When publishing news, let us avoid the gender biases that we cause with the use of our language.

Let us look at the following headlines :

Husband arrested for killing wife’s paramour” and 

Husband’s involvement with another woman: wife commits suicide.” 

If a woman has a relationship with a man outside of marriage, that man is called paramour or illicit lover but if male has a similar affair, we just write “man’s involvement with another woman”. Why is this…? Because it is considered a great sin if a female has such a connection but if a male is in a similar situation, it is not regarded as a serious problem. This is gender bias.

At the same time, when collecting and publishing news about sexual violence against women, the Code of Ethics for Journalist gives clear guidelines.

The habit of writing news concerning sexual abuses in a manner to impress the reader should be done away with. There is a debate and controversy among journalists over whether newspapers should publish cases such as the ‘sexual abuse and murder of a seven-year-old girl’ and ‘luring schoolchildren by giving gifts and engaging them in homosexual activities’. Many argue that they should be published to raise awareness among the people of such criminal activities. Whatever it is, the respect of the victims of abuse should be protected when publishing such news stories even if it is for the benefit of the society. Care must be taken not to increase the pain and suffering of the victims.

Dos:

  • Approach more than one source for views or comment when writing a news story or narrative articles.
  • Ensure there are women’s opinions.
  • Make unbiased effort to collect missing information and opinions.
  • Get out of the stereotyping of women who have been sexually assaulted.

Questions to be asked:

  • Whether equality properly maintained when it comes to women in articles?
  • Are women approached with dignity and recognition when they speak as news sources?
  • Have the Gender Role ever been made into reality castings? – In the industry – How female are being portrayed…?
  • Has the plurality in women’s personality emerged?
  • Has efforts taken to reflect variety of angles to understand women’s choices, ability and interests?

Don’ts: 

  • Creating stereotypical image of female – Building up the concept that women as easily submissive to emotions and temperaments and incapable of investigation.
  • Portraying the female according to the wishes of the men. 
  • The myth of beauty – Physical characteristics used for male and female are obesity, age, skin color, clothing etc.
  • Violence against women – The normalizing the occurrence of violence and presenting violence as a woman’s choice.

It’s a myth to say that if women work in the media, such a situation would not arise. Both male and female journalists should be gender sensitive. 

Written by: M.S. Thevagowry

Leave a Reply