Changing Narratives: Gender in the media
Systemic issues, gender bias, known stereotypes and queerness were just some of the topics discussed by a panel of experts during the “Putting Gender on the Media Agenda” webinar hosted by fraycollege and the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) on Tuesday, 01 March 2022.
The webinar was a culmination of the Gender Justice Training Programme – a six-month programme presented jointly for South African and Ugandan journalists – supported by the IWMF.
Speakers Dr Florence Ebila from the School of Women and Gender Studies at Makerere University, Iranti Communications Manager Nolwazi Tusini and feminist author Gail Smith joined moderator and fraycollege CEO Paula Fray to shed light on issues facing women, non-binary and LGBTIQ+ persons in the media.
Gender sensitivity in the media
Dr Ebila, who has researched the representation of gender in African women’s autobiographies especially political autobiographies and autobiographies of women in conflict situations – noted: “The question I keep on asking myself is, do we have more gender sensitivity in the media right now? Do we have a better attitude? Are we having better conversations regarding women in the media?”
She said the kind of experiences that women have in society reflects in what they write – and how they write.
Dr Ebila said journalists can’t just talk about someone’s representation in literature as one category: “When you compare the gender representations in the literacy texts, the disparities are clear.”
Ebila suggested that journalists, particularly women, become deliberate and aggressive in challenging stereotypes.
“Let’s involve the men who are allies – they will help us to break the walls of a lack of representation in the media,” Ebila said.
Queerness and gender
Tusini, noting that gender did not simply mean women, said stories and the portrayal of gender in the media tend to exclude issues of queerness.
“Gender isn’t just about ciswomen. If we’re talking about gender, we need to make the LGBTI community part of that discussion. I think it does women a great disservice and invisiblizes the queer community in dangerous ways,” Tusini said, adding that if journalists participate in the “neutrality” and “unbiasedness” in newsrooms — “which is a lie” — the ways in which stories are told about people who are queer and black, will continue to perpetuate stereotypes.
As a former journalist and social commentator, herself, Tusini said she’d rather not go live with a story than broadcast or publish content that doesn’t represent the people from marginalised communities properly.
She said: “We need to be deliberate about the messaging we allow to pass through our hands and into the media space. If you consider yourself a gender scholar, you need to interact with the queer community.”
Shaped by our stories
Feminist author Smith says literature creates who we are: “If you are a journalist, you have been formed by the literature that you’ve read.”
She suggested that there was a deliberate and wilful dumbing down of the media we consumed, adding that the presence of women isn’t good enough.
“If you don’t take control of your own narrative as a journalist, someone else will,” Smith said.