A few months ago I wrote a piece here about my growing frustration at rape terminology being used as part of the American election campaign. The piece also touched on the general slippage occurring around gender issues. Or perhaps in a more nuanced explanation, how there seems to be a reluctance to engage with the gender issues that still remain in our society and culture.
This reluctance ranges from dismissal or that old classic in gender debates; a twisting of everything to make those speaking out about discrimination etc dance to prove the negative. And when you do, this is dismissed or an excuse is found not to engage with the evidence presented. When these people are challenged to prove gender equality, equal representation, the twisting becomes more profound and in many occasions the debate then becomes personal.
A few days ago I posted Clementine Ford’s International Women’s Day article Are Women’s Voices being Gagged to a New Zealand journalism Facebook forum Kiwi Journalist’s Association (KJA).
Essentially Ford argues the following;
“If the media is a portal through which we see the world, how does the conspicuous absence of women and their voices skew how people experience the world around them? Across the board, the facts show that women are significantly absent from that mirror the media reflects back onto society. Women operating in the public space are constantly reminded that their presence is a privilege, not a right – and that privilege can be taken away any time they break the rules.”
My reason for posting an Australian Fairfax created article in an NZ journalism forum was two-fold. One, the NZ media does not work in blessed isolation despite some of the protestations of those who objected to the article ( Fairfax owns a large percentage of the NZ media market), it’s posting and my defense of it. Secondly, the content of Ford’s piece is indicative of some of my experiences working in NZ media until I left the country in 2010 and I strongly believe illustrates the boy’s club type structure the media generally speaking operates from.
To clarify, my posting of the article wasn’t denying progress around gender issues but it was a statement that there are still considerable issues around gender that the media industry in NZ has an obligation to address.
In some ways a majority of the reaction to my posting of the story is indicative of what I feel is the boy’s club mentality in action. That I should be grateful for what I have and to raise my head above the parapet and question the status quo isn’t the done thing. I am aware of the ramifications of speaking out and continuing to do so. There is an implicit risk to speaking on gender issues; I will be labelled as difficult and I feel there are possible career implications.
In the discussion I was constantly asked to prove the inequality, which I along with a few other brave women journalists did. These studies were predominantly international and therefore were declared invalid by those protesting against Ford and our support of her argument. When NZ studies were produced these were also largely dismissed and then the statistics of the Massey University study were used as a justification for why there would not be parity and gender equally in NZ media for about 30 years ” because of the statistics.” When I asked, repeatedly for evidence of the gender equity and pay parity in NZ media none was offered and, in what I feel was a rather patronising tone, I was told I didn’t understand the argument.
I would like to post the thread in its entirety here but the KJA Facebook group is closed and by invitation only. Out of respect for my colleagues and the group I will not post screeshots nor I will identify those who were particularly unhappy with my call for proof of equity in the NZ media industry. That said the administrators ironically proved Ford’s argument by closing the thread and “gagged” the female voices speaking out with evidence and experiential knowledge of how the NZ media can work for women.
I admit I hold KJA in far lesser regard due to the exchanges that took place in the forum and their lack of framework around gender issues that daily effect a large number of their membership. It also, from my perspective, speaks to the state of the industry that very few women spoke out about their concerns in an open forum and some male journalists felt free to behave in an unprofessional and sometimes bullying manner.
A number of women did contact me privately and thanked me for speaking up and for confirming that they weren’t “going insane”. To those women, thank you for your support, it was an unpleasant run in which ultimately proved Ford right – I am appreciative of that. The article is not as one person stated “facts obscured by emotive, partisan twaddle.”
Here are some further links speaking to the issues and general position of women in media. Please note all of these links were used in the KJA discussion thread.