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Being female and a journalist in Latin America

Eight female journalists, eight countries, eight stories, eight circumstances with both different challenges and issues to be faced. This is the daily life of female journalists in Latin America. Español

Women's March Brazil, 2017. Source: Wikimedia commons. All Rights Reserved.

Previously published by Cerosetenta and available here.

Estefanía Avella, journalist for 070

Being a journalist and a woman in Latin America is going against the grain. In the 21st century we must continue defending, defending ourselves as women able to challenge power, to set an agenda, to defend equality, to take editorial decisions, to reach management positions, to put an end to the idea that politics and justice are exclusive and reserved themes for men.

Not only do we face a profession historically dominated by them (like many others), we also face a media co-opted by capitalist interests and dominated by men. In the most ordinary of journalism exercises we face sources, interviewees, men who show off their power and that delegitimize us as journalists for the simple fact of being women.

Because of this, because we belong to an unequal profession, like many others, today on March the 8th, we wanted female journalists from eight Latin American countries to tell us what they face, what they reproach, what they cannot stand and what they are fighting against in their daily journalistic exercises. 

 

Jineth Bedoya, journalist and founder of ‘No Es Hora de Callar’

Sexual violence is the second most committed crime in Colombia, and it is one of the crimes that places our country dishonourably in second place among others of the hemisphere where crimes against women are committed the most, after Mexico. In our country, female journalists are victims of this sexual violence in a systematic and typified way.

The first thing we must understand is that sexual violence is not limited only to rape, we must also include harassment, abuse, actions implicit in overreaching power or wanting to impose that power through harassment.

In Colombia, there are very few journalists who have dared to speak up about what has happened to them as a woman practising in the field. Some years ago it was not even possible to think that journalists could report they had been victims of harassment or other forms of sexual violence.

But it is clear and out in the open today that in the newsrooms, and especially in the exercise of their profession, women suffer this type of violence. As in all cases, women's bodies are used to obtain favours, to supply information or to deny it. But also to take advantage of women's status as journalists. There are more cases than we think of sexual violence and rape, especially in the rural regions of the country.

The problem is that the harassment is normalized and it is difficult to think of a policy that is focused only on female journalists. Colombia needs a policy but above all, measures to protect all women.

What is clear is that the heads of our media outlets, boards of directors or directors, must have clear policies on what the behaviour and especially the care of journalists should be like in the workplace.

In ‘No Es Hora de Callar’, an initiative that seeks to give a voice to victims of sexual violence, we have held workshops to train journalists on the appropriate way to cover sexual violence. But we have also worked to make journalists understand in the newsrooms that those behaviours they speak of in their articles are often replicated in the work environment.

Unfortunately, male journalists often do not measure their behaviour and have attitudes that can manifest themselves into harassment or that facilitate the invasion of the intimate and private space of female journalists. 

I believe that one of the major conclusions that this work leaves us with is that journalists made harassment normal. They believe that female practitioners have to let themselves get touched up or that they have to acquiesce to certain suggestions to maintain their practice or their work.

‘No es hora de callar’ speaks clearly of where the limit lies but also makes them understand that what they do in their work is often captured in their texts, and that is why we end up with footnotes with a re-victimizing language, with texts that always attempt to shift the full weight of responsibility for an act of gender violence towards the victim and away from the perpetrator. 

Source: Cerosetenta

 

Natalia Arenas, editor of Red Harvest

Journalism today places me in a privileged position, as a woman and a journalist, allowing me not only to observe and reflect on the struggle of women, lesbian, transvestite and trans women's movements, but also to tell it, to feel like a tiny grain of sand in a much bigger uprising - this huge feminist wave in Argentina which aims to visibilize gender issues.

Our profession, however, is not exempt from the violence and sexist discrimination that has characterized this patriarchal society for centuries. In Argentina, our profession is precarious (like many others) and women are the ones who suffer the most.

On the radio, we are still called upon mostly to tell the time and temperature or, at the most, to talk about fashion and cooking; On television, beautiful faces continue to have greater opportunities and in the graphic media, men's firms continue to lead the few women there are. At the very top of journalistic companies, female names are practically not listed.

This is a hard context in which to be a woman and a journalist in Argentina. But also fascinating and challenging nonetheless. The feminist movement managed to create an agenda not only in the media but also in the political realm.

In Argentina, we are living through a historical moment, the result of years of struggle and strife: the proliferation of the safe and legal abortion debate. And being here at the right time and place to tell this story is a privilege. A cooling effect for the many "hazards" of the trade.

Source: Cerosetenta

 

Pia Flores, journalist for Nomad 

Chauvinist societies, such as Guatemala, suffer from their need to restrict women. They try to control them so that they do not grow, do not move, do not talk, do not think outside of what machismo tolerates. One way to exercise and maintain this power is with cultural ideas about what kind of women exist and how they position themselves within the logic of a macho society.

They are dichotomous, and classified according to their movement in the private-public space, their makeup, their clothing, their style, their way of speaking, their interlocutors. The women raped at home qualify as a tragedy. The woman who is raped one night while returning from a party at night is responsible, was asking for it with that skirt. All for being a woman.

Female journalists by definition came out of this dichotomy. We are outside all the time. We try to get in and be in the right place and the moment in which things happen. We do not talk only with women or only about certain topics. It is a total provocation, and necessary, in a machista culture. When I work with information sources that are men, this manifests itself in certain power games.

One example was when I requested public information from an officer of a National Civil Police unit who I had interviewed a couple of times. It was about a murder related to extortion and gangs in Guatemala and the information, both written and visual, was strong.

Before handing me the information, the officer told me: "I hope it won’t affect your dreams, miss, we don’t want to give you nightmares".

I wonder if this is also said to my male colleagues. If the officer were a woman, would she have asked me the same question? I doubt it. In both cases, I doubt it.

Inside I laugh at the absurdity that someone considers it prudent to verbalize such a comment and how ridiculous the commentator was. But I'm the one who has to take the trouble to really consider what to answer, a consideration I do not think he made.

Another example is male sources that translate the interest in their story or the information they provide you into an intimate opportunity. Suddenly you get messages off topic, personal questions, or invitations. As if in exchange for being or making a source one has to pay with letting oneself be 'conquered'.

As if it were a desperate attempt to regain control of a situation after having been exposed or having shared information and the only way is to return to his conviction that women are objects to be conquered.

In both cases what is at stake, I think, is that we do not fit in. As women, we do not fit into one of the female archetypes that makes machismo feel comfortable. In no case do they take you seriously; They cannot, because this kind of equality would be threatening.

The message, in short, is that I, as a woman, should not be there in their macho heads. But as I chose this profession, am I the one who must put up with them? No, they have to change. Let's continue provoking.

Source: Cerosetenta

 

Sol Borja, deputy editor of GK

Political journalism in Ecuador has traditionally been reserved for men. In the traditional media, the representative figures in that area were, for the most part, men.

Less than a decade ago, a little more female presence began to be seen in the coverage of political issues, although even now in some large media outlets, politics is reserved for male journalists and even women who have expressed their willingness to cover these issues, are relegated to the coverage of environmental, social or entertainment topics.

In an area such as politics, which has been dominated by men, it is a hostile terrain for female journalists. Male politicians find it difficult to be approached, questioned, asked and cross-examined by women.

They tend to treat us with condescension, to make jokes or to comment on our appearance, none of that they do with other men. I have been called "rude", "insistent", "aggressive" or "bossy" many times for doing the same job as any male journalist.

It is a huge challenge for female journalists to confront this male environment, especially when they feel threatened by a well-informed journalist, ready to ask diligent questions and willing to press for answers. That attitude, necessary in the exercise of journalism, is seen as "aggressive" if it comes from a woman.

There are even men and women who are surprised and uncomfortable (not always consciously) that a woman frontally addresses political issues, especially when that includes interviewing male politicians without concessions. 

For me, it is a constant challenge to face these scenarios and even to open more spaces for other younger journalists, showing that women are as capable of covering politics as any other area that interests us.

Source: Cerosetenta

 

Arysbell Arismendi, reporter and editorial coordinator of the PoderES platform of El Faro 

According to my personal experience, as occurs in society in general, the first obstacle for a female journalist is the fact she is a woman. Being a woman both because of her gender and physicality, and because of the social construct that has normalized what she should be (historically).

Due to the brevity of this testimony, I will only give a few examples of what bothers me, that I consider disrespectful, as a female journalist.

Just as I have felt uncomfortable when I walk down the street and an unknown man focuses his eyes on my body or blows me kisses or calls me "love" or "doll" to get my attention, without allowing or accepting it, I have also felt uncomfortable when a politician or public servant smiles at me and runs a hand over my shoulder without even having said a word to him.

Or when already seated to begin an interview, I explain to him that the conversation will be between both of us regardless of the direction of the camera that records, and the deputy responds: 'I don’t need it, you’re too pretty to look at it'.

Or when days after a conversation in which you question a parliamentarian regarding the conflict of interests that may exist between owning a company or business and its public function, he comes and from afar blows you kisses as a form of greeting.

They take a position that the female journalist has not produced. You are not sitting with a friend or a man who invites you on a date to court you, who through your own choice you have allowed them to do so; you are sitting with an official to ask him why his policies are inefficient or why he has a wealth of more than a million dollars that does not come from his salary as a deputy.

Therefore, just as the female journalist treats them formally and creates the proper distance required, out of respect for their person and the position they hold, the interviewee must do the same.

A female journalist is not expecting to be treated as -only- a woman, but as a journalist.

Source: Cerosetenta

 

Macarena Gallo, journalist for The Clinic

I am Macarena Gallo, I am 36 years old, I am a journalist and I have interviewed about 200 men in my twelve years of trade.

Due to my slender build, no make-up look and young appearance, whenever I have had to interview people linked to culture - which is my specialty, (supposedly sheltered from all the ills of the world and where one is supposed to deal with well-thinking people and blah blah blah) I have had to prove that I am not a “little goat”, as we say to young girls in Chile, who are leaving university. 

That is, a ridiculousness that is not required of any man. Even male journalists who look many years younger than me. They are treated as equals and none of this is a topic and it is not on their radar. But for us, yes. Because, just like me, there are many that are the same. Whether they look younger or not. It's a gender thing, unfortunately.

I still remember an interview I did with Raquel Correa, dry humoured, the best at the art of interviewing. She was always characterized by her rude and frontal character.

Even Mamo Contreras, the director of the DINA, the secret police of the dictator Pinochet who exterminated hundreds of Chileans during the military dictatorship, trembled before her. Well, when she was not interviewing, she was the most timid being on the planet. Unable to kill a fly.

But, she confessed to me, that when she was interviewing she had to take out the actress she had inside to assert herself. I mean, she did not tell me, but she turned into a real bitch. She has been my all-time role model.

All this time, they have portrayed me as a “small goat” without journalistic experience. That tires me, really. It is exhausting that you are always being questioned professionally just for being a woman and more so for being feminist.

Because, whether we want to or not, you always have to demonstrate, even if you do not want it and there is no reason to do so, that you are ready to talk to them - beings from the other world: your interviewees. In this sense, the interviewee has never failed to ask me as soon as I greet him: "And you, really, are a journalist? I thought you were still studying. " And the idiots laugh. And I put on the face of hehehe. Because who wants to be the serious bitch of a journalist when giving a first impression.

That is, one has to accept stupid comments and play dumb. A paternalistic attitude from the interviewees that borders on the strange, attitudes that unfortunately I have also seen many times among my own business companions and progressive friends.

More than ever I have seen myself in situations in which the interviewee, someone culturally respected, has mansplained me. It has made me feel like an empty person. They have spent extensive minutes demonstrating that they know it all and that I know nothing. A ridiculous exam.

I must admit that I am not so woman after all - I am not going to victimize myself either - and I have taken advantage of those situations to get men to talk and say stupid things and then publish them (bitch forever). To them I go with the flow, I tell them that I did not understand the explanation they gave me and I have them speak to me like guys for minutes.

That, I think, has been my way of surviving that stupidity and making my way through. It's hard to admit it. But it is like this. On the one hand that is. Because why speak up when you have to deal with harmful patterns of behaviour concerning your own gender.

Call it condemnations of sexual abuse and all that. There is no need for them to tell you "it won’t build up to a witch hunt and end up targeting all men" and all those unusual explanations that one hears.

In other words, a female journalist, who also identifies with feminism and touches on topics linked to the cause, is always questioned. That is, she loses "objectivity", her work is sometimes questioned and loses its validity. That really ticks me off.

Source: Cerosetenta

 

Yamlek Mojica Loáisiga, multimedia journalist for Confidencial and digital magazine Niú

Journalism in Nicaragua is a task full of limitations and difficulties. All powers are currently monopolized by the government and its officials are prohibited from giving statements to the independent press.

Instead of the answers, which they have to give us by law, they just insult us and discredit us. But women face a bigger barrier; When a journalist has questioned officials such as Mario Valle, deputy of the National Assembly, or Bayardo Arce, economic adviser to the presidency, they respond with comments such as: "Send me a male journalist and I’ll answer him" or "you’re a poor manipulated kid. "

In Nicaragua, we have grown up within a patriarchal system that normalizes extremely misogynistic behaviours. Here, practically every day, we write news about rapes or atrocious femicides. And journalists are not exempt from this, inside and outside the newsrooms.

We are diminished for how we dress, what we say and how we do it, the style of our hair, who we go out with, what we upload to our social networks, among other factors that would be irrelevant if they were male journalists.

The results of the last Global Media Monitoring, published in 2015 and including Nicaragua, indicate that only 41% of the people that are read, seen or heard in all of Latin America are women. In Nicaragua, although there are no statistics, the percentage is even lower.

When this small number of women within the media reach positions of power as producers or editors (positions where there are not many women), no matter what merit we have, we are accused of sleeping with the boss to obtain the position or our authority is not respected.

In addition, sexual harassment by bosses, colleagues and sources makes work more difficult for us; when they are rejected, they get offended and try to sabotage you. 

Being a female journalist in Nicaragua, without a doubt, is a great challenge for me and my colleagues. However, women continue to produce quality journalism, reporting the closest to the truth, opening spaces that historically have been closed off, and, above all, loving our profession. Due to that love we feel, we just have to fight. Fight and succeed.

Source: Cerosetenta

 

Luz Mely Reyes, co-founder and general director of Efecto Cocuyo 

When I was a journalist just beginning my career, I had one of the most violent experiences of my life. When I got pregnant and joined the struggle to protest over the wages of my colleagues in a small newspaper where I worked, I was subjected to a dismissal, harassed and even "dropped" back down from a recent promotion that I had been granted for my performance.

That was 25 years ago. Fortunately, female journalists are no longer punished for getting pregnant, however, in the Venezuelan newsrooms it is maintained that despite the large number of female reporters, the highest positions are still in the hands of men.

I have seen that in practice and it was also corroborated by a study carried out in 2015 by Luisa Kislinger. According to figures reported by the researcher Kislinger, the Venezuelan media consists of only 17.9% women. I was the first female director of a media outlet of national scope in the country, El Diario 2001.

Today, in Venezuela only four or five women are directors of a media outlet, all of them from the interior of the country.

There are certain features that we have normalized. For example, in another study on Global Media Monitoring, 98% of television presenters are in the 19-34 age group, which reinforces the stereotype of a young woman in front of the cameras. This stereotype is even worse in sports television media, where "it became fashionable" to hire women more as models than as journalists. 

To the few women who do political analysis, on many occasions, instead of attacking us for the content of what we write, they do so because of our gender. There are also less frontal actions: they cast doubts on our arguments or make our work have less impact than the equivalent of a male colleague. 

But the most common is that in Venezuela, there is a normalized phenomenon: courtship. Many male sources assume a position of power over female reporters and they believe they have the right to make inappropriate comments or invitations while we are working.

I experienced it when I was a reporter for political sources and when I was in the role of supervisor, the journalists told me about the inappropriate treatment at the hand of certain leaders many times. Once, a young reporter went to interview a deputy and he put his feet on his desk and stroked the area around ​​his testicles.

I told her to describe it in her text, but she was afraid of possible reprisals. In this culture, where courtship and compliments are allowed, this type of harassment is very much disguised.

Source: Cerosetenta

 


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