Journalism and gender equality

10. Gender stereotypes in journalism /

Journalists need to understand that gender stereotypes attribute characteristics to women and men that they did not choose. They are everywhere, influence the way we judge and behave, and can lead to discrimination.

Because of their gender, women and men are assigned characteristics that they have not chosen.

A stereotype is an opinion on a category of individuals, an opinion on (women, Africans, Asians… Arabs, Chinese, etc…).

These opinions, in most cases, are not based on any personal experience or knowledge, but merely reproduce commonplace judgements. Stereotypes are always discriminatory, even if they seem at first glance to value a gender or a social group.

“A stereotype is a fixed caricatured representation, a preconceived idea, a ready-made opinion accepted and conveyed without reflection, concerning a human group or a social class.”

Women are attributed “feminine” characteristics: they are said to be “gentle, attentive, maternal, flirtatious”. While while men are attributed “masculine” characteristics such as “courageous, strong, determined”.  Society’s expectations therefore differ according to gender: If a man cries, he is not a “real” man, if a woman shows authority or an appetite for a male sport such as football, she is not a “real” woman.

Because of their gender, women and men are assigned characteristics that they have not chosen. Gender stereotypes lead to differential treatment of women and men and thus to discrimination. For this reason, we must question our stereotypes and ensure that they do not influence the way we act.

Stereotypes of femininity and masculinity lead to reductive visions of the role of women and men in our society. Many prejudices still exist and can make life difficult for a person who does not conform to the norms of masculinity and femininity, regardless of sexual orientation.

These implicit and explicit rules governing the role and status of men and women have also invaded newsrooms and influenced the division of labour.

At the heart of newsroom feminisation is a gendered distribution of services and sections, as well as journalistic skills and specialities. Women working in sports departments tend to be assigned to cover sports that are perceived as feminine. In some newsrooms, women, perceived as passive/cautious/hesitant, are most often assigned to documentary research, while men, perceived as active/reliable/assured and capable of “catching the ball on the fly and running with it” (a sports metaphor), are sent out into the field.

In the minds of some editors, women are better at checking the news, while men are responsive to “hot” news.  As a result, the former remain in the newsroom, practising “sitting” journalism, while the latter regularly leave and practise “standing” journalism.

This gendered assignment hides a logic according to which women have to prove themselves, while men benefit  a priori from the confidence placed in their potential and adaptability.

Women are often perceived as endowed with “natural” qualities (meticulousness, repetitiveness, care, dedication, concern for others, patience…) linked to the role they play in the private sphere. This naturalisation of their know-how has the effect of preventing recognition of their professional qualifications.

They occupy few positions of responsibility in newsrooms, are used for their physique for hosting programmes, and find their career progression halted by glass ceilings despite their competence.

Stereotypes are established from childhood.

Children learn at an early age what it means to be a boy or a girl through a multitude of activities, opportunities, encouragement, suggestions, overt behaviours, secret behaviours, and various forms of advice.
“Socialisation” helps to introduce children to social values, as well as examples of socially acceptable behaviour and gender roles.  What a woman should be and what a man should be.

 Many studies show that parents expect their sons, more frequently than their daughters, to be independent, self-confident, ambitious, hard-working, intelligent and willing.

Whereas they expect their daughter to be kind, lovable, attractive, to have good manners, make a good marriage and be a good mother.

The family is the child’s first reference group and therefore much of what the child learns is filtered by the parents. When parents tell their offspring that a big boy doesn’t cry, they convey the stereotype that men are strong.

We imitate appropriate behaviour to become in some way acceptable members of society and gender stereotypes become firmly entrenched beliefs.

These stereotypes are often at the root of acts of violence against women.

A CFI project in partnership with France Médias Monde

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