Friday, March 10, 2017

The Most Insulting Thing About Sexism in the Media is How Basic It Is

Look, I am a professional woman. Part of my mantra is; thrive despite the sexism. That being said, I am picky with what sexism I must deal with. I don't go to Owino because the sexism there is too basic and I'm paid enough to curve it. Unfortunately, I find that the level of sexism among my fellow journalists is approaching that level of basic. I don't even know what I will do. I kenat!
For two days, a discussion on women in the media has raged on Twitter. Why do we have so many all men panels (manels), so few women voices in the media (22% of people interviewed, 12% of those who make the news), so few female journalists in as newsrooms (4 of 24 writers at The Observer reporters, although generally we have gender parity among working journalists). A lot was said. Then as happens in these things, the opposing side argued that women are either uninterested (especially in political discourse) or incompetent and potentially unethical if hired (see photographed text!).
Well, well, well... I am of course interested in political discourse. I even wish I was less interested. Trump keeps me awake at night and when I do sleep, I dream of Museveni and his dramas.
I'm competent. I made Senior Writer at The New Vision before my third year of employment there, way back in 2008. I now teach data journalism and manage media research at the African Centre for Media Excellence. I hold an honours MS in Journalism, from the world's top journalism school and write for Quartz, the bleeding edge of global digital journalism. I am not an ethical risk. You can ask Steve Coll of The New Yorker, two time Pulitzer Prize winner, Dean of the world's top journalism school. He awarded me honours in his ethics of journalism class and he, a New York Times editor, and a former NPR journalist with 25 years experience gladly agreed to be my referees going forward.
Now of course, none of this shows on my body when you meet me. What shows, is that I have a vagina. So I suppose one might be excused for assuming that a vagina is all I have to offer. Because you know, people with nothing to offer but their genitalia regularly walk into newsrooms asking for jobs or to sit on talkshow panels. I have in fact walked into talkshow studios with said vagina. Twice! But kudos to Ugandan journalists. Each time, they put me in my place.
The first was when a producer on KFM Hot Seat, asked me on very short notice to go over because he didn't have someone to take the 5th place. I showed up. Early. Andrew Mwenda, the host, was already there. He came out looking for the panelists, was pointed to me, and he asked, "are you a Ugandan journalist? How come I don't know you?" To be honest, I had never set eyes on Mwenda before then myself & I think the last time I tuned into his journalism was when he made the 'M7 killed Garang' insinuations on live radio. Even as a university student not studying journalism, it occurred to me that there had to be sources of analysis on public affairs that actually presented more facts than conjecture. But of course, I remained aware that he was practising journalism. He is Andrew Mwenda. You can't miss him. He didn't know me. There was no reason he should have. I knew him and thought his journalism standards have been less than stellar in the past. Yet, of the two of us, he was the one that felt entitled to being dismissive. He actually said he would not allow me into the studio because he didn't know me. I recited my CV and meekly walked into the studio when he got out of the way. When I took a seat, he still objected. I recited my credentials again but this time added, "I don't have to do this. I'm doing your producer a fill-in favour and I can walk out if you don't want me here." He left me alone, saying, "you work for Peter Mwesige. I know him." I couldn't be more proud to work with Peter Mwesige, but that wasn't the point. That was just the dog whistle to remind me journalism is a boys' club; something that actually would have annoyed Peter had he been there. After all, the organisation does actually have a fucking registered name and I had just said it. Anyway, we settled in, and I thought the show itself went fairly well, although one of my brother later texted to say, they should have allowed me more mic time. It's sort of hard on a 5 people show. Why do they put so many panelists on a radio show, by the way? Who taught them radio journalism? Probably not Sally Hership nor Ann Cooper! (Yes, I am throwing some Ivy League shade.)
The second time, a newsroom manager who had only met me at a conference that day and couldn't stop pointing out my good education (sir, you did wonders for my vanity), texted at about 10pm asking me to go to the studio at 6am. Again I did. Unfortunately, that good man wasn't the show host. A journalist (who really needs to attend my data journalism classes), was (in that breathless TV announcer voice they favour), bullshitting his way through numbers from a research study he hadn't read. The same one we were there to discuss. It wasn't a disaster. The two guests he had were familiar with the study and could steer the conversation. My main perspective on the findings was that they showed an unhealthy level of reverence to our leaders among the youths. "That's not how governance works. We need to be skeptical and that way remember to hold them accountable." That was the cue for the moderator to remind me I had come in with a vagina. "You are harsh Lydia. I am sure you have been in relationships. When something happens, do you just walk away? That is what you are saying. That we should be cynical not trusting." See, no man makes a statement about governance and is then bamboozled into a discussion on the relationships between girls and boys. But I'm not a man, am I? From that point on, I just wanted the show to end so I could go outside and kick a wall.
I am of course just one woman who has been on just two shows but pick any random female journalist and you will get an earful. My colleague Grace Natabaalo, talks the big picture of sexism in the media here. When she left The Daily Monitor for ACME, The Red Pepper reported that a sexy bumzella had changed jobs! Don't even get me started on how women are covered in those women's sections, often by female journalists. But, those are our colleagues, you people! Oba, what are we going to do, even? Other than drinking scotch at 9am, that is.

I would like to be on more talk shows but I'm not invited (I guess, planned guests don't cancel that much), but I would also hesitant to go. Studio are small spaces I generally prefer to share them with people I don't already want to punch in the face. I am also not keeping my long term faith in a Ugandan newsroom career. As I learnt when New Vision salaries were made public, that would be the wrong financial choice to make as long as I have a vagina.

So, yeah, newsroom managers, men who get onto talk shows because other men know them, and everybody else with Twitter time, can say all they want about how it's our fault. But people who become journalists are generally people who don't take bullshit. So, surprise, surprise, we aren't going to show up for your casual and basic sexism!