Ever wonder why there are so many photojournalist couples? Because no one else can fucking stand to date us, that’s why.
Sure, there’s the inevitable power struggle, bitter jealousy and utter resentment that comes along with the relationship, but I think we all know that it’s better to date within the circle than outside of it. Besides, do you really think your non-photographer significant other gives a shit about your new card reader? I didn’t think so.
I have wanted to be a photojournalist since I was in junior high. I was always watching CNN or NBC or ABC growing up, listening to the stories from abroad. I would listen and watch in awe of the reporters, videographers, writers, and photographers that were overseas, putting themselves in the midst of danger, all because they believed in speaking untold stories worthy of our utmost attention. I’m now in college with the dream of following in their footsteps, attending the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism school at Ohio University, majoring in photojournalism. As I grow up, I realize that these reporters don’t live in a world filled with rainbows and butterflies. They are assaulted, kidnapped, threatened, and killed. Being a woman wishing to enter this field is not easy, and it is only for the “aggressive, assertive, and strong” with a “constant desire to prove [them]selves, to show that we can play in that environment,” as ProRepublica's Kim Barker said when she described the kind of women attracted to international journalism.
Men and women have always had determined roles in society and as we leave the past behind us, those roles and ideals get left in the dust as well. Women began to gain the most independence during World War II when they filled the open positions in factories left behind by men that went to fight. They began to take on the persona of “Rosie the Riveter”, and their thirst for liberation grew ever stronger. Despite the common male belief that women were too incompetent to do such work, women stepped up - and did the job well. It was during this era that women were taught to follow what they believed in, pursuing careers and options not previous available to them.
Flash forward to 2014, and women are as independent and strong as ever. In careers such as international journalism and foreign correspondence, however, they are constantly questioned about drawing the line between following their dreams and pursuing what they believe in, and putting themselves and their families in danger - which leads to serious criticism of these women. Some of these women are okay with this blurred line. Christina Lamb is one of England’s most renowned foreign correspondents. She is married to Paulo Anunciacao, a fellow journalist with whom she has one son. After spending months in the Middle East in 2003, Christina went to Marrakesh for her husband’s 40th birthday. After she received a phone call during the trip from her boss about a series of al-Qaeda attacks in Casablanca, she decided to go leave her vacation spot (which wasn’t far from Casablanca) and check out the attacks. While her husband relaxed at their hotel, she said she “drove to Casablanca at top speed to wander around shattered nightclubs and hotels and interview bloodied survivors.” Many other female reporters all across the world voluntarily face the same situations, and are often harshly criticized for doing so. Alex Crawford of Sky, who is a mother of four children, said that it is “frankly really insulting and very, very sexist. I’m working alongside today the chief correspondent who’s a man who’s got three children and there will be no one who says: ‘What do you think you’re doing, how awful, what are you doing to your children?’” According to an analysis for more than 200 war reporters conducted by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard, most of the women who take these dangerous jobs are “more likely to be single and better educated than their male colleagues”, but “no more vulnerable to post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or overall psychological distress.” The women that risk their lives to provide accurate and important information are often thought less of when compared to the men they work with because 1) they are just as, if not more, qualified for the same position, and 2) because they are “reckless” for risking their emotional connection to a family. Even though society has accepted women in leadership, technological, mechanical, and basically every other position, when it comes to female journalists, many cannot wrap their heads around why women would want to enter such a dangerous field. Female journalists are often not favored by the large groups of people who believe that a war zone is not a place for women, regardless of what they are doing there - fighting as a soldier, working as a journalist, or anything in between. Lindsay Hilsum, Channel 4 News’s international editor spoke of this difficulty: “I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a consistent distinction between men’s and women’s reporting of wars and revolutions. But I would say that when a man does the weepy, human side he is regarded as empathetic and sensitive, but a woman may be perceived as ‘not coping’ if she shows emotion.”
Hilsum’s statement is also a glimpse of the sexism that many female field journalists deal with on the job. Women have always been a sexual enticement and symbol for men all throughout history. Because of their gender, not only did women not have the rights to vote, own land, and other basic rights (and that only goes for American history), but they have also been forced into silence about assault and sexual harassment through fear and threats that have been carried out far too many times.
Sexism, gender discrimination, and assault are things female journalists have encountered both home and abroad. Amy Wallace writes about the backlash she received after publishing an article on Wired.com about an anti-vaccine movement and it’s leader, Paul Offit. She was harassed through online comments and email. She was called a prostitute, and “Evil Bitchweed”, and other things not suitable for printing here. She also received threatening letters. “An anti-vaccine website Photoshopped my head onto the body of a woman in a strapless dress who sat next to Dr. Offit at a festive dinner table. The main course? A human baby.” In the same article, Wallace talks about a similar event that happened to Amy Harmon who in the New York Times wrote about a proposed ban on genetically modified organisms on Hawai’i Island. Food Democracy Now, an advocacy group, Photoshopped Harmon’s head onto a woman in a leopard-skin bathing suit, posted it on FDN’s Facebook wall, and “showed a smiling Ms. Harmon on the beach, holding hands with the chief executive of Monsanto, the biotech and company. “New York Times writer Amy Harmon travels to Hawai’i … falls in love with GMOs,” the caption said.”” FDN later defended the photo as ‘satire, not sexism’. This is not a rare occurrence, and it’s happening in our own backyards to American journalists from the most renowned newspapers in the country. This harassment to female reporters “is not designed to hold reporters accountable for the fairness and accuracy of their work,” Wallace said. “Instead it seeks to intimidate and, ultimately, to silence female journalists who write about controversial topics. As often as not, even if they’ve won two Pulitzers, as Ms. Harmon has, these women find their bodies - if not their intellects - under attack.”
Any form of harassment, sexism, or assault is unsanctioned and horrific, but the attacks that women reporting abroad endure are surely the worst of all. The Committee to Protect Journalist’ 2011 report of sexual violence and journalists worldwide showed that most of the victims of sexual assault were women on assignment, and a survey done by the International Women’s Media Foundation and the International News Safety Institute, 76% of women said that they were physically assaulted on the job but did not report harassment.
Every day in the international news industry, a woman is attacked, kidnapped, raped, or assaulted either verbally or physically. Many of the reasons for this are because of the stereotypes, sexism, and mysogyny towards women today. Take a look at #YesAllWomen on Twitter. See what is happening to the women all around you. This is not abnormal, and that is the biggest and most terrifying thing of all. The world is changing every day, and the social spheres of gender roles are overlapping, and will continue to do so. It is our job as citizens, as reporters, as women, as men, and as humans to not accept the evolving world around us. It is our job to not yield. It is our job to lower the attacks on not only female journalists, but the women all around us. I believe in #YesAllWomen. I am proud to be a female in the journalism industry.
I believe in a future where female journalists will not have to fear more than they already do, just because of their gender. I believe in this future. And I believe this future is attainable.
Links to the articles referenced: