Caribbean women journalists and those testy moments with men

BY JEDIAEL CARTER Staff reporter carterj@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, January 09, 2016

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Women have been breaking the proverbial "glass ceiling" and continue to make strides in the competitive man’s world. As they continue to work and achieve greatness, some women are of the belief that despite their intelligence, they are often belittled and objectified by men.

The recent interaction between Jamaica and West Indies cricketer Chris Gayle and Australian sports journalist Mel McLaughlin has attracted numerous comments about the lack of respect and objectification of women worldwide.


Gayle, who in a live television interview made comments that were deemed to be inappropriate to the reporter during the Big Bash League Twenty-20 cricket match in Australia on Monday, was fined US$7,000 for his remarks.


After scoring 41 from 15 deliveries for the Melbourne Renegades in a win over the Hobart Hurricanes, Gayle invited the obviously perturbed TV reporter to go out for a drink, made remarks about her appearance then referred to her as "baby".


In a Jamaica Observer enquiry, Jamaican women journalists have admitted to have been in similar interactions with what some described as the "powerful men" in society.


"I’ve had occasions and I’ve just simply said, ‘Look, I’m here to work and this is about work.’ I’ve had one sports person I asked to interview and he said, ‘Will you go out with me?’ and I said, ‘and if I say no does that mean I don’t get the interview because if that’s what you’re saying, then I don’t need the interview,’ and I got the interview," outlined Dahlia Harris who worked as a sports reporter.


Highlighting that the phenomenon is nothing new for Jamaican reporters, Harris said: "Reporters in entertainment have had occasions to extents like this. I’m sure people in the business field, I’m sure people have had occasions with politicians," she said.


In agreement, one other broadcaster said that in her years as a journalist, she has been in multiple situations where males have been inappropriate with her while she tries to conduct her duties.


"I work in mostly political media, so I do have to deal with a lot of men in powerful positions and I do end up interviewing a lot of them. And I’m not sure if it’s because it’s radio where it’s something that can be stopped and edited or there is no camera to capture it, but I do encounter a lot of situations where men take the opportunity to flirt with you, especially if you’re a young girl. Whether you’re attractive or not, I don’t know if that has anything to do with it, but a lot of the times I am interviewing men and they do stop and make sexual remarks or snide remarks or say, something like ‘oh, after this we should go get a drink’ or ‘You should call me’ or they do slip me their business cards and say, ‘You should call me so you and I can meet up personally outside of work,"’ the reporter who identified herself as JP told the Sunday Observer.


She outlined that in two instances she has been "tricked into a date under the guise of it being for work purposes" and of a professional nature.


Another woman reporter who requested anonymity stated that she too has faced uncomfortable, inappropriate advances while conducting her duties.


"Basically, male interviewees sometimes want to ask you for your number or just touch you or hug you inappropriately," she said.


But for reporter and producer at Nationwide Radio, Devi Seitaram, she has not faced such a situation in Jamaica, but in her homeland – Guyana – where she worked as a journalist for four years.


"I have actually been in a situation like that twice. I was 21 years old working at a TV/newspaper company and one time, while on assignment, I was invited to a private pool party for two by a minister of government. He also acquired my number somehow and sent me messages which were out of character," she recalled.


"I was also approached for a dinner "date" once by another minister. It was stunningly awkward. I was outraged but stunned when I mentioned the incident to my male editor and he recommended I go on this date to solicit information. It felt like a suggestion of prostitution for news," she continued.




How do you react?


When asked how they would react to the male advances, the women said they ignore them and reiterate the purpose of the encounter.


"I’d simply just bring them back to the purpose of the interview. I’d say OK we’re here to talk about cricket though and not about me’, and bring it back to the point of discussion," Harris, like the others, stated.


They also conceded that they would not report the matter, admitting that they may have taken it lightly.


"I’ve never actually reported it before, probably because I overlooked it because I didn’t want any trouble. But seeing that it is the issue, I guess we should be seeing that there is a law in process to tackle the issue. I guess if it happens again I’ll definitely need to address the person or tell my supervisor or something, but I’ve never actually reported it before because I’ve never thought of it as anything until now," one reporter stated.


When asked whether she reported the matter, Seitaram questioned the notion and suggested that it would be unlikely that people would believe her.


"Report? To who?" she questioned. "We live in a region that does not take rape reports and stalking reports seriously. Imagine me going to the police station to tell the police his boss – the minister – sent me lewd messages ... you get the point," she continued.


JP told the Sunday Observer that she did not report it when she first started working, but instead consulted a senior colleague who at the time told her it was a part of the job.


"I have said it in passing to Dionne Jackson Miller who is the president of the Press Association of Jamaica because every now and then when they’re having meetings with certain bodies they do send out an emails to say is there anything you want me to discuss with so and so bodies, and I have put that down before but I’ve never gone in and made like a special report. I guess because I haven’t been touched or nobody has ever tried to rape me or anything like that, and I have heard that it is part of the job, I just kind of got used to it," she said.


She explained that she was encouraged by her senior to be polite to maintain a good relationship, but like the Australian reporter, to control the interview.


"What I was told is that try to keep the relationship good enough that they will want to have an interview with you again, but don’t be too mean because they do hold a grudge, that’s what I was told. So be nice enough that they will talk to you a second time, but don’t be too nice or don’t be too mean," she outlined.




Feeling threatened


The women told the Sunday Observer that because of these occurrences they would sometimes feel uncomfortable and threatened in the field. The discomfort, one lamented, would come in light of the fact that these men are often "who are high in stature, very popular or accomplished [and]... think that they can say [and] do things and not be reprimanded."


"I mean, I have been in a situation where an aide to a minister was seeking to date me and I politely said no and he proceeded to angrily curse me out and walk behind. I was trying to walk away from him and he was following behind me cursing and so on. So sometimes I do feel threatened, but I would say more or less not all the times," JP lamented.


Seitaram, who admitted that she has felt threatened when she was younger, said she soon developed a mechanism to alleviate this fear.


"I always ensured I did not go on assignments alone. I always took along a cameraman or photographer. Mainly that was also to protect my reputation as well. A scandal could say I was involved with someone when I wasn’t. The man would get big up while I am regarded as the recently acquired trophy, and I have always been careful to keep my reputation spotless... it’s easy to become the news as a journalist, hence being careful about going places alone," she said.


For Harris, however, she believes that there has never been a reason for her to feel threatened. Referring to the Gayle-Mclaughlin interaction, she said: "I can honestly say this is one of the bad situations, but I’ve had many good situations. I think for the most part the Jamaican male athletes have been very respectful of me, and I think at times protective when we are overseas and we have to deal with other athletes and other sports people. So I wouldn’t say that this is something that was widespread for me at all."




Why this happens?


When asked whether the media landscape in Jamaica had on impact on the way women journalists were treated, the ladies agreed whole-heartedly. They attributed this to the way Jamaicans and Caribbean nationals, on a whole, are raised and on their cultural upbringing.


"I think it has to do with our cultural upbringing. I don’t think I’m in a position to speak on culture and that kind of stuff, but I do feel the way that we are brought up as men and women in Jamaica does impact how female broadcasters are seen, female broadcasters are treated; the respect that we gain or not gain because of our gender," JP stated.


"Culturally, we have become accustomed to men behaving like Gayle. Not sure it is a good thing or bad thing, but I would laugh it off and ignore it. Saying that doesn’t justify, or neglect to agree that his actions were inappropriate," Seitaram said.


Additionally, Harris highlighted that the way women reporters are treated by female managers also has an impact on how they are treated.


"What may shock a lot of people is not so much what the men have done in my experience, [but] it’s how some of the women who are responsible for management and administration treat women in general and the pressure that they put on women to look a certain way, to behave a certain way, and that for me was even more painful… because I don’t believe that women should be the ones pressuring other women to look a certain way in the media and that has been my experience," she stated.


"The media actually portrays women as sex objects, always in skimpy clothing, always being targeted by men; you know, in the songs we are objectified and all of that, so I guess we become so unaware that we are being treated unfairly, we actually accept it when we shouldn’t. In some of the countries those things cannot happen, so I guess the media has a big role to play in that," the anonymous reporter stated.


Harris stressed the need for journalists to "go back to standards" and take control of what has been happening over the years.


"We have to go back to standards, because I think over the years we’ve just allowed a little bit and a little bit and a little bit and I think the grey area has become such a large area that now things that shouldn’t happen are becoming the norm. So I think what Chris has done is open the dialogue for us to go back to the table and to say how do we address this," Harris said.


"I think you just have to put your foot down at times and I like to talk about standards, that as the interviewer, when you go into the situation you have to try to set the environment as best as possible.That’s what you have to do. You have to take control of the environment," she continued.


 

 

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