Pressures women face in newsrooms
SEXUAL advances, deciding whether to wear heels or flats, juggling household demands and finding that inner super woman – female journalists said that a male-dominated media industry left them having to fight harder.
Gathered at the Women in Media summit at the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (Wan Ifra) congress in Durban, female journalists and editors from around the world shared their experiences in the newsroom in which they battled to be considered equal to their male counterparts, and at the same time manage household duties in an industry with long hours.
Chair of the SA National Editors Forum (Sanef), Mahlatse Gallens, who is also the deputy political editor at News24, said working as a journalist and being female came with many pitfalls.
“I’ve had politicians who have hit on me. They feel it’s okay to talk about my physical attributes openly, and are not even shy to tell me to wear a dress with no stockings when I come to interview them. Apart from that, you still get people who think women cannot be a boss, or are too young to carry out the job.
“When female staff members become passionate about a discussion and want to air their opinion, they are called emotional. We really need some super powers to be the mother, wife and journalist always on call and monitoring what’s happening in case we miss something that’s news. I wish I knew how to be that super woman,” said Gallens.
She said she wished she had set more parameters in her earlier days as a journalist.
“I wish I found the balance earlier. Journalists need family time like any other person, more so to provide that support in dealing with a demanding career. They need their weekends and to be with their children,” she said.
Former editor of Huffington Post SA, Verashni Pillay, shared her story of why she resigned when a controversial blog passed through their checks and balances, landing them in hot water.
She added that as a female, there was a misconception that “hard work equated long hours”.
“In fact, I have seen women who return from maternity leave come to the office with more focus, because they concentrate on the work that needs to be done, so that they can leave the office at a good time to be with their children. In fact, they are more productive,” said Pillay.
Helje Solberg, chief executive of VGTV in Norway, said she faced a dilemma when returning to work after maternity leave.
“I love being a journalist, but I also needed to take care of my baby. They wanted me back in the political department and I told them yes, but on condition I could leave at 2pm twice a week. And I got it,” she said.
Kjersti Løken Stavrum, chief executive of Tinius Trust in Norway, said it was important to have a supportive family when working in the media industry.
“I worked long hours and in fact I was not able to help my children with their homework. Thankfully they did well, but this is what happens in this industry,” she said.
Jordan’s Junama Ghunaimat, chief editor at Al Ghad paper, said she had to explain to her children that she was “not like the other moms”.
“I explained to them that I am different, that their mom travels and does not work at home, but in an office. And thankfully they understood,” she said, adding that when she was appointed to her position, the newsroom did not know how to react.
“I was the first editor-in-chief for an Arabic paper. I heard people ask ‘how could we deal with her’. It’s tough to be a journalist in the Middle East, never mind being a female one,” she added.