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A double-burden: the cost of being a female journalist

Gender-based violence against women journalists is a global problem that takes many different forms, including intimidation, rape threats and sexual harassment. As more than half of women journalists express concerned over their safety, this intimidation culture threatens to silence women’s voices and the stories they tell.

As semi-public figures, intimidation, harassment and violence is something all journalists face, simply for exercising their fundamental right to freedom of expression. Reporting while female, however, comes at an additional cost. Countless unwanted sexual invitations arrive via Twitter, through personal Facebook messages or by emails, undermining their value as professionals. Broadcast journalists are repeatedly facing abuse, being told they are too fat or ugly to be on air. Over and over again, their faces are photoshopped onto pornographic images. In the social media comment threads, they’re labeled as “angry c*nts”. On top of being targeted for their journalism, women journalists are also abused based on their gender, sexuality and appearance, with these verbal attacks being the most virulent when covering controversial topics, such as immigration or politics, in addition to topics generally associated with men, such as gaming.

Whether it’s coming from an unsatisfied reader or an upset official representative displeased with a certain piece of news, the highly sexualized tone of these attacks makes it difficult to respond with a rational counter-argument. Some journalists [RA1] end up using word-blocker functions on their social media accounts to completely block words like “hot” or “sexy” in their comment sections. However, if ignored, these provocations can worsen and multiply. Some female reporters fall victims of “doxing,” a practice that involves digging for and publishing private information online, putting not only them, but their families at risk. Moreover, digital-based violence often lays the foundation for future physical attacks, that often start with rape and murder threats. Sadly, some perpetrators don’t stop at intimidation. According to UNESCO, recent years have witnessed an increase in the murder of female journalists worldwide.

No story worth dying for

Combined with the strong pressure from their superiors to engage online, they often feel they have no choice but to face this toxic, and potentially fatal, intimidation culture. This is too high of a price to pay for a number of female press members as Nada Josimovic, programme coordinator at Free Press Unlimited, has put it: “There’s no story worth dying for.” That’s why nearly one third of female journalists consider leaving their profession due to various attacks, reports the International Women’s Media Foundation. While some simply quit journalism in order to safeguard their emotional wellness, even among those determined to stay, around 40% have admitted to dropping controversial articles in order to avoid the anxiety, stress and fear that goes in hand with these violations.

Less women voices, a less equal society

As fewer women journalists can freely report, fewer women and women’s issues end up being represented in media. However, when such behavior is being normalized, even encouraged at the very top of the political chain, it becomes difficult to address it at a systematic level. But without an extensive solution, the silencing of women’s voices - that are already shockingly underrepresented in the media - will continue to furtherly deteriorate the already unequal media landscape. And since media constructs our reality, it also reconfirms inequality in society.

If journalists truly are writing the first rough draft of history, as the common saying goes, then we have a moral imperative to make sure they are gathering as many viewpoints as possible.

By Klara Avsec



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