Currently viewing the tag: "Sexism"

Nicole Brumley
Special to the RJRC

May 1, 2018

(Courtesy World Trends in Freedom of Expression, UNESCO via Creative Commons)

As a student journalist, I’ve been afforded the protection of speaking to a mostly liberal audience through campus newspapers. But, as a black female journalist, I know this protection will crumble when my work is showcased in larger publications. Having an opinion on social media while being visibly racialized opens the floodgates for abusive trolls. I know deep in my bones, however, that using my voice as a young black woman to talk about difficult issues and tell difficult stories is important.

A 2018 report by Amnesty International referred to Twitter as a “toxic” place for women. The study found that Twitter inadequately enforces policies when women report violence and abuse on their platform. Various journalists and writers reported receiving threats and targeted racism.

According to Amnesty International’s online poll, of the respondents who experienced abuse or harassment on social media, 29 per cent in the United States said they experienced threats of physical or sexual violence. Around half of the women who responded, 53 per cent in the U.S. and 47 per cent in the United Kingdom, said the abuse included sexist and misogynistic comments.

While the reality of online hate is a nagging concern, my commitment to highlighting controversial issues about race, culture and religion is unwavering. I have written about my own experiences with racism, black Somali women taking a stand again negative media representation, and Muslim women tackling social justice issues. I understand why racialized female journalists sometimes need to take a step back from social media when their personal safety and well-being is under attack online. But when it’s my turn – and I have every reason to think my turn will come – I hope I will be resilient in the face of pressure intended to silence my voice. A recent workshop organized by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre gave me some tools for doing this.

The April 3rd workshop, which organizers called “Entitled to Your Opinion, ” included a discussion of the effects of online abuse and a session that focused on ways to maintain your well-being when dealing with hate. Dr. Diana Brecher, a Ryerson adjunct faculty member and positive psychology expert, explained that coping training does not involve accepting harassment or giving up the fight to counter it. What it does offer is instruction on how to practice meditation and conscious positive thinking so that you can remain grounded and thrive, even when dealing with online hate.

Noor Javed, a Toronto Star reporter, talked about the backlash she experienced as a result of a story she wrote 10 years ago about polygamy in Toronto’s Muslim community. She reported about imams who officiated the marriages and also practiced polygamy, and the impact it had on women who were first and second wives.

Social media platforms weren’t as active at the time, Javed said, but there was considerable backlash from members of the Muslim community who criticized her on blogs and online forums, and even launched an email campaign against her. The story resurfaced recently, she said, because it is being shared online by right-wing Muslim groups.

And once again she is being “hated” because of it, only this time it’s on Facebook and Twitter where the story has been shared.

“It made me think ‘would I have written that story today?’” said Javed. “In today’s anti-Muslim political climate, I probably wouldn’t have.”

It was disheartening to hear first-hand how online hate and racism can influence the kinds of stories journalists report on. I realized how the intensity of online hate differs for various racialized women: Javed’s experience with online hate as a Muslim woman who wears a hijab, will undoubtedly differ from mine as black woman. But it’s also important to remember who benefits when these stories are told. Javed’s experience was case in point: She said that when her story first appeared, it started a much needed conversation about polygamy in the Muslim community and many Muslim women were happy to have a place to discuss their views on the matter.

Javed told workshop participants she has dealt with hate by occasionally taking some time offline. She also finds solace in the support she receives from her colleagues who understand the toll that comes with being publicly hated, threatened and verbally abused.

We also see publications like the Toronto Star taking action by disabling its comment section online – a move some argued posed a limit to reader engagement. I think the Star did the right thing: newsrooms cannot stand idly by while their journalists face a barrage of online abuse. Space for informed public debate is diminished when ignorance and hate prevails. Javed said the paper has also been understanding about giving reporters time off when they are feeling overwhelmed by online hate and harassment.

During her presentation to the 25 or so students attending the workshop Javed recalled being told by another journalist that “if you want to stay in journalism as a brown Muslim woman who wears a hijab, you will need to have thick skin.” As a black, female journalist, I hope that I will not only develop a thick skin, but have the necessary support and personal resiliency to tell difficult stories, and voice opinions some people just don’t want to hear.

Nicole Brumley is in her final year of studies at Ryerson’s School of Journalism. She has worked as the Communities Editor at the Eyeopener Newspaper. Nicole is also a reporter for RUtv News and a photographer.

Staff reporter

April 18, 2018

Ryerson School of Journalism associate professor and faculty teaching chair Ann Rauhala and National Post political reporter Marie-Danielle Smith discuss sexual harassment in the newsroom. (Amanda Pope)

Journalists who are sexually harassed by sources, on social media or in their newsrooms should document the incident, find a support network and be aware of how their union can help, panellists told an audience of young reporters at the Ryerson Review of Journalism’s spring conference.

The two-day event, #MediaToo: The #MeToo movement has hit Canada, what’s next?, explored how journalists should report on sexual violence in the media and also deal with their own experiences.

“When awkward things happen and someone crosses the line in a way that isn’t criminal or isn’t ‘serious,’ journalists just kind of brush it off and move on,” said Marie-Danielle Smith, a political journalist for the National Post. “They make you feel uncomfortable and I think those are the moments we don’t talk about enough and this culture stays alive because we don’t talk about it.”

Smith, who reports on Parliament Hill, gave an example of her own decision to remain quiet rather than confront harassment. She said she was alone with a senator while interviewing him in his office when he asked her to move from her chair to sit right next to him on a couch. “You don’t mind, do you?” he said, and made a joke about how he “wouldn’t bite,” Smith wrote in an article for the National Post three years after the fact.

Smith said she decided to go public with her experience because for many decades cases of sexual harassment on Parliament Hill have been silenced and offenders have been protected. It was time, she said, to start talking about these issues so the harassers would suffer the consequences.

Smith said that after she told her story in the newspaper and opened up about the misconduct she’d dealt with, she learned that her mother – a former staffer on Parliament Hill – had dealt with similar situations. Her mom, she said, remembers a man patting his lap in invitation for her to sit on him while they were alone in his office in the 1980s.

“Talk about it with your friends and family,” Smith told the nearly 40 student journalists in the audience at the Ryerson School of Journalism. “Don’t close yourself off. It’s really easy to internalize these things, you kind of get in your head. The way to avoid that is to share outwardly when you can. If you have someone you trust that you can speak to about it, that’s great.”

Ann Rauhala, an associate professor of journalism at Ryerson and the faculty teaching chair, advised journalists who are sexually harassed by their sources or in the newsroom to write down the details of the incident. This practice has the same calming and self-care effect as talking to a friend, she said. But it also ensures there is a record of what happened: “You’re all journalists, you know the power of controlling the narrative and having accurate and complete notes … It makes it clear, it makes it more real.”

This is exactly what radio host Katie Summers did when she was sexually harassed by Jacob Hoggard from the Canadian pop-rock group Hedley. Attending the panel via Skype, Summers, the co-host of AMP Mornings with Katie and Ed on Calgary’s 90.3 AMP radio station, described what happened when when Hedley appeared at the station seven years ago.

After she told Hoggard she was a longtime fan, Summer recounted, he said, “‘Oh cool, well, maybe if you’re lucky I’ll let you come out into the back alley with me and’ – I don’t want to say it because it’s graphic – but he basically said I could give him oral sex, if I was lucky.” After that, she said, Hoggard “gave my butt a quick little slap and out the door he went.”

When she decided to go public with her experience of sexual harassment, Summer said, her notes helped her to accurately recall the event and also reminded her of how awful the experience had been. Hoggard did not respond directly to Summers’ allegations, but he released a statement apologizing for how he has treated women over the past 13 years. Toronto police last month confirmed that the sex crimes unit has opened an investigation into the Hedley frontman. No charges have been laid and police did not reveal who filed the complaint.

Rauhala said incidents of sexual harassment can be less obvious than what Summers experienced, but they are still harassment.

“Sexual harassment isn’t necessarily the gross, shocking stuff that happens to some people,” she said. “It is so subtle, so fast-moving that many times people stop and say, ‘Did that just happen? Was that an accident that he brushed my breast as he handed me that piece of paper?’”

Inappropriate and sexual comments are also ‘weapons’ used to harass journalists in subtle ways, Rauhala said. By way of example, she recalled the period in her career when she was promoted to the position of foreign editor of the Globe and Mail – the first woman to hold that job. a gossip magazine subsequently characterized her as “the compliant Ann Rauhala,” implying she must have slept her way to the top.

Journalists, she said, should not allow those smaller experiences to go unaddressed amidst all of the horrific, overt cases of sexual misconduct: “Think about what a nasty little weapon that is,” she said. “The weapons are getting uglier now … but don’t let the big weapons distract you from the little ones that will affect you everyday. I do think that sharing them with other women and finding [support] is helpful.”


Staff Reporter

The large number of young women entering journalism today are well positioned to challenge sexism in the newsroom, veteran journalist and author Vivian Smith told about 100 aspiring reporters earlier this month.

“Just your sheer numbers mean that you’re going to have more influence in newsrooms,” said Smith, who spoke at the Ryerson University School of Journalism about her recent book, Outsiders Still: Why Women Journalists Love – and Leave – Their Newspaper Careers.

Veteran journalist and author Vivian Smith spoke at the Ryerson University School of Journalism about her recent book, Outsiders Still: Why Women Journalists Love – and Leave – Their Newspaper Careers earlier this month. [Ilina Ghosh]

Veteran journalist and author Vivian Smith spoke at the Ryerson University School of Journalism earlier this month about her recent book, Outsiders Still: Why Women Journalists Love – and Leave – Their Newspaper Careers. [Ilina Ghosh]

“When I was doing this, [I was] one woman [at a table with] seven or eight men and it was all very interesting to them, but not that important. So keeping up the conversation with your numbers, with your mass, is really important and I hope that you do that.”

Smith got her first job in the women’s department of the St. Catharines Standard when women were just getting started in mainstream journalism.

“We were in a little tiny room that was behind the bathroom and we had the exciting task of writing up weddings and recipes and trying to bully our feminist features into the women’s pages.”

By 1980, she was at The Globe and Mail, where she would spend 14 years as a reporter, editor, columnist and manager – and have two children.

Smith says it was an era when women journalists were “sidelined, ignored and scrutinized” at the Globe and other newspapers. Efforts by women at the Globe to lobby for child care services remains one of her “favourite failed adventures,” she said.

“Of course we were all pregnant, so management basically waited us out and never put out a daycare survey to see what kind of daycare people might be interested in… I think the union did finally put out a version of this survey and nothing came of it because all the people that were pregnant at the time went off and had their babies and disappeared. Problem solved.”

According to Smith’s research, women have dominated Canadian journalism schools in numbers for the last three decades. However, women still make up only a third of editorial staff and a quarter of managerial positions at newspapers.

“The higher up the ranks you go; the fewer women you see. When you get to the top 25 papers in Canada by circulation there are only, at my last check, four women as publishers or editors-in-chief,” she said.

Outsiders Still is a collection of conversations with 27 women journalists from five different Canadian newspapers. The youngest was in her mid-20s while the oldest was 61. Smith said she was able to identify distinct generational differences among her subjects

Smith calls senior participants, those 45 or older, “lucky survivors,” because they repeatedly attribute their success to luck.  

“All the time they kept informing me that they were just so lucky they got that internship way back when, they were lucky that that guy gave them a job, they were just lucky that they were in the right place and the right time, and they were just lucky that their husbands could take care of the kids,” Smith says.

She refers to women in the middle of their careers as “self sacrificing hard workers [who are] still pretty insecure about their jobs.”

These women, Smith says, are rising in the ranks, yet cannot fully accept that they deserve the positions they have earned. She quoted Hamilton Spectator city editor Carla Ammerata in the book: “We think, as women, that ‘I’m not smart enough to be in that position. I don’t have enough experience, what are they doing promoting me?’” Ammerata told Smith. “We are all our own worst enemies in some ways.”

In Outsiders Still, the youngest group of female journalists are characterized as “individual strategists” who are far more concerned with keeping their jobs than sexism. These younger women, Smith says,  believe that gender inequality is something they can “handle.”

Smith’s research also shows that women who are journalists see themselves as much more than simply purveyors of news.

“The main joy, the main satisfaction these women got from their work as journalists, whether they were a columnist or a managing editor or a reporter, was they were voices for the voiceless. The role of being a social advocate was really important to them, rather than ‘just reporting the news,’” Smith said during her presentation.

Smith began her research for Outsiders Still in 2008 as part of her doctoral thesis and spent four years collecting information, all the while worrying that the issue might be resolved before she finished her research.

“I was always worried because I thought well, what if I’m too late and gender inequality in the newsroom is solved by the time I get this done?

“I really don’t know what I was thinking at all,” she said, laughing. “Gender inequality is even more persistent than I am.”

Smith said the turmoil in the news business is also taking a greater toll on women than men. Studies show, she said, that women journalists more than men are feeling the stress of their jobs and are either considering leaving or actually are leaving the profession in greater numbers than their male counterparts.

“A lot of women were telling me [at journalism gatherings] that they were going to quit newspapers or they had done so already, feeling frustrated and burnt out… Being female seemed to define their careers in a certain way and all of these women’s voices were missing from the national conversation. And the papers where they worked continued to reflect a fairly narrow view of society.”

She says women journalists juggled motherhood and their careers as best they could, “while at the same time, trying to push the paper toward issues of importance to women and to more people and [pointing] out sexism in news coverage whenever we saw it.”

In the end, however, Smith says it just wasn’t tenable for many women “to remain at the extreme end of the macho culture in newsrooms.”

Sexism in today’s Canadian newsrooms, she says, continues to be widespread and has simply taken on a new form.

“An overt hostility towards a few women has been replaced by a systemically reproduced inequality that ends the careers of many women who manage to enter the field and that limits the progress of those few who stay and seek to make change through their work.”

As one of the senior journalists in Smith’s book put it: “Journalism, like many other professions, is easy if you have a wife at home.”