Creative commons licence, credit: Roger H. Goun

The dangers of being a woman in journalism

Why has violence against female journalists become so normalised?

I never wanted to be a journalist. As a small child I favoured many prospective careers- a princess (no eligible princes to marry), a nurse (scared of blood), a midwife (I needed a biology A-Level, which my teacher tactfully told me was potentially not the best idea), and a teacher (jury is still out on this idea). I never wanted to be a journalist, and yet here I am, writing articles for The Glasgow Guardian, and applying for work experience placements at Sky News. Journalism has fallen into my lap, and I am absolutely terrified of pursuing a career in it. In a recent study published by the International Centre For Journalists (ICFJ), it was revealed that female journalists are now more exposed to online violence than ever. Nearly three quarters (73%) of their survey respondents who identified as women said they had experienced online violence, and one-fifth (20%) said that they had been attacked or abused offline in connection with the online hate they had experienced. These statistics are much higher for Black, Indigenous, Jewish, Arab, and lesbian female journalists. You only have to glance at the replies to tweets from prominent journalists to see the vitriol that they face from trolls every day. Death threats don’t always stay online either: the death of Maria Elena Ferral Hernandez in March 2020 proves this, as does the exponential growth in the number of female journalists being murdered. In 2021 the percentage of women among all journalists killed almost doubled, rising to 11% from 6% the previous year. 

Writing in Gutiérrez Zamora, a town on the Gulf of Mexico, Maria Elena said that “In this new political landscape, the fight for power will bring carnage … Without a doubt, there will be more political crimes in this region.” 18 days later, she was killed for doing her job. Everyone has the right to feel safe while doing their job, so why are journalists any different? The nature of reporting can often be controversial but disagreeing with how a person is presenting a view or an event does not mean they deserve to fear for their safety. Being a woman already comes with a level of fear that most don’t experience: covering your drink on a night out, not walking alone in the dark, avoiding eye contact with the group of men walking towards you, begging your friends to text you when they are home safe, and sharing your location every time you get into an Uber. These are just steps that most women take in their everyday life. Now, imagine if you knew there were people out there who genuinely wanted to hurt you, and who had made this explicitly clear. Female journalists are scared for their safety, and rightfully so. 

It is obvious that the upward trend in violence against women in journalism has been hugely motivated by the ideological divisions within modern day politics, and the ease at which comments can be targeted via social media. Social media companies have not been able to (or are not willing to) try and put better protective measures in place. There is no need to verify your identity when creating a Twitter account, meaning anyone can hide behind anonymity. It is easier than ever to send violent threats, and harder than ever to discover who is sending them. 

I have spent the past few years of my life saying that my goal is to be the BBC Political Editor. I’m not sure I want that job anymore. Maybe I’ll revisit the idea of being a princess (my inner six-year-old would be thrilled!), or perhaps I’ll become a teacher. Whatever career I ultimately choose, I want it to be one where I don’t have to take any additional precautions. Maybe journalism isn’t a career that will fulfil these criteria, but I hope eventually it will. 

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