The World’s Longest Revolution

02Jan10

[picapp align=”center” wrap=”false” link=”term=pakistan+women+protest&iid=848492″ src=”7/c/d/7/Pakistani_Journalists_Protest_478f.jpg?adImageId=8762070&imageId=848492″ width=”380″ height=”253″ /]

Not too long ago, I was at a media event. As most media events go, unless the occasion has been organised to comment on women in the profession, they are usually male-dominated with a smattering of women present. Here we had about half a dozen men and, including me, two women.  There was a while before the conference began, and so it was that we all settled down for a cup of tea. The dynamic was very interesting.

In this herd of high-profile aggressive journalists, I chose to sit next to the only other woman present. Soon enough it became increasingly evident to me that the last thing she wanted was to create some semblance of sisterhood. My colleague was much more interested in being ‘one of the guys.’ She spoke in tones to match theirs – overly assertive and masculine to the point of being macho. The men quickly fell into a banter that varied from fraternal camaraderie to the kind of strutting one sees at the Wagah border or at cockfights.

After the hierarchy had been established between the men  (I must admit it was all too predictable), they isolated the woman who was trying so hard to be accepted into their peculiar little ring, and began to make fun of how much she talked. Well, that’s rich, I thought, coming from a bunch of men who make their living off talking. The woman laughed along, denying their allegations. After their badgering continued for a while, one man (again the predictability was just killing me) put the reason behind her conversational habits to…her gender. Shock and awe! I bet you didn’t see that coming!

How threatened could they possibly be by this one woman (I had chosen to play silent spectator so was not gauged as much of a threat) that they wanted to use these elementary school bully techniques of subversion?  Make sure that she won’t talk by launching off on a long critique that she talks too much because she is a woman, which is a stereotype she is fighting ever so desperately!

At this, another one of the bantam bunch took a brave step in defence of the damsel in distress. You’re seeing her in polite company; if you heard the way she really talks, you wouldn’t accuse her of womanly habits. Wow! I didn’t realise that to display characteristics that we, women, have been trained to adopt practically from birth warranted the verb, ‘accuse.’ Here, the woman, delighted at being rescued, guffawed and made some mention of a mother and/or sister.

Before you decide to pass judgment on my female peer, keep in mind the circumstance. It is a fact that like most professions, journalism too is male-dominant. Consciously or subconsciously, a woman would ask herself how to cope in such an environment. Can you fault her for choosing to take the tough route (frankly, there are no easy ones available) of simultaneously rebelling and conforming? If you think about it, even when she rebels against her conditioning and expectations that exist of a woman, she conforms by adopting a masculine style in her profession.

[picapp align=”center” wrap=”false” link=”term=woman+silhouette&iid=3758048″ src=”0/f/c/6/Cellular_Telephone_Radiation_b6db.jpg?adImageId=8762078&imageId=3758048″ width=”380″ height=”434″ /]

This brings me to another event – one in which I was an attendee rather than a participant. It was the launch of a report titled ‘More Women In Media: The Way Forward’ and put together by a non-government organisation called Uks. I listened to women speak about their experiences in the media, and more specifically in the field of journalism. A couple of senior women journalists talked about the women’s movement of Pakistan, and how it was much more difficult when they came into the field. It is true that our foremothers (and why is it that we perpetually hear of our forefathers but never of foremothers such that even as I write the word, it seems odd like a non-word) have paved the way forward for us, but is it much easier now?

While it was heartening to read in the report that ‘there is an increased amount of coverage of women and women’s issues now’, it was distressing to be reminded that ‘not enough women in media organisations have attained senior positions due to a lack of fair professional opportunities.’ It made me wonder at how Dawn, arguably the most prestigious and progressive newspaper in this country, has never had a woman editor. Can it be that in six decades there was not one woman who was worthy of that position? And while we praise increased coverage of ‘women’s issues’, it makes me think of the language we use – women’s issues. Imagine a world where we would be doing news stories on men’s issues.

Of course, this is not a Pakistani problem; it is a global one. The BBC News channel recently ‘bowed to age rage’ as the Times put it, and recruited three mature women as newsreaders. The argument was that it was and continues to be perfectly the norm for fat, balding old men to be reading us the news, but women past a certain age no longer provide the glamour they are supposed to bring to the screen. This is especially a problem with the American networks – Fox, MSNBC – where you see the news studios dominated by blonde blue-eyed women with big hair.

In some ways, perhaps it is better for women, but in most, the struggle is not over and it appears that it never can be for the world’s longest revolution.

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14 Responses to “The World’s Longest Revolution”

  1. 1 Vikram Kumar

    the gender equality can only be established in classless society. The historical process of the enslavement of woman is integral to the creation of class society.
    Regards
    Vikram Kumar

  2. 2 samir

    a good approach in bringing out balance in gender related issues in Pakistan specifically for women journalists. thanks for putting our attention to something which must be a part of the process of progress.

  3. 3 Zameer Abbas

    In the first event , why did you choose to be silent? I think the woman’s battering might have been diminished with your participation….

    • Thank you for your comment, Zameer. It’s funny that you should hold me responsible. If I hadn’t written that I chose to be silent, you would not have known. We all have different ways of coping with and reacting to violence.

      Also, I’m not sure that she envisaged the ‘banter’ as a battering. Not to mention, it would be rather presumptuous on my part to intervene in an attempt to ‘rescue’ a senior.

  4. 5 Zameer Abbas

    You are welcome and i appreciate the way you highlighted the problem faced by women in our society. Since you were there, you could better assess the situation and respond accordingly. I wrote what came to mind at the end of reading your piece.In my view, given the mindset we men have developed over the decades about women, it will take a lot of efforts on the part of women( the woman taking the “banter” is a case in point) to make us realize that a woman is much more than just being the fairer sex.

  5. great! i see this every day in the field. female journalists are forced to choose between “respect” and “honour”. in order to gain her male colleagues’ “respect” she has to try and fit in with them,… but when she does that the men view her as though she has lost her “honour”. so, often, female journalists get boxed in to covering only health and social issues and “womens issues” etc.

    good post!

  6. 7 sehrish

    so glad you highlighted this naveen. ive definitely witnessed such situations in my professional life. its a form of violence that often goes unnoticed. unfortunately society does not bestow even a percentage of the confidence to women that it does to men. also, i think in such a male dominated enviroment it becomes very important for women to other strong women as professional mentors. sad that gender can play such a role on ones profession.

  7. 8 Shaista

    Dear Naveen,
    This post is on a subject so close to my heart! Gender is about men and women, you have to take men along to tackle the issue of more inclusion of women and in Pakistan it is a long long road to equality! as perhaps in the rest of the world. You have very well summed up the challenges professional women face out there!

    If you ever get a chance, do visit the Sewall-Belmont House and Museam, house of America’s sufferage and equal rights movement in Washington DC. I had the pleasure of watching the Iron Jawed Angels (a movie, available on DVD) as part of a group there. You will be surprised to note the challenges women had to face even in a country like the US. The women got the right to vote as late as 1920!

  8. 9 Saba Kamran

    Naveen awesome blog!! Even though i have so much to do at work but i just had to give this blog a full read.. great work! 🙂

    Doesn’t Dawn Newspaper (Images Section) have a female assistant editor? If we can be assistant editors then we can surely be editors too.. We’re almost there, but first we have to stop getting annoyed when guys tell us we-talk-too-much-coz-we-are-women.

  9. 10 wendeth

    I came to PK in 2004 specifically to interview and research female journalists in Pakistan. Unfortunately for me the few I could find also lacked professionalism, but I did meet some great people. The one thing I said then…and I still fairly believe today, is the “good” news for women in journalism (or any field really) in Pakistan is that they can look at the suffrage movement in the U.S. and other equality issues and take heart that things CAN change, but it also takes the women to suffer through for the future. I wish all the best to you Naveen, and wish I would have come to learn about you then, I bet I could have learned a lot. I am glad to have come across this blog and look forward to following it.


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