Can more in-house 'gender editors' fight sexism in journalism?

·3-min read
To overcome sexism and improve the representation of women in the press, some editorial offices have created the position of 'gender editor.'

A handful of newspapers and news sites around the world have created the position of "gender editor." This position, born shortly after the Weinstein affair and the MeToo movement, aims to improve the representation of women in the media. But more than three years after its appearance, this initiative is struggling to gain ground."

In their report released earlier this month on the occasion of International Women's Day, entitled "Sexism's Toll on Journalism," Reporters Without Borders pointed out that French "newspapers still assign a predominant place to men in their content (83.4 percent of the people appearing on the front page are men and 74.4 percent of those writing op-eds are men," according to a report entitled "The place of women in the media in a time of crisis" that was submitted to France's ministry of culture in September 2020. On average worldwide, 10% of print, radio and television stories are about women. A percentage that rises to 26% if we take into account the press online, according to the latest report by The Global Media Monitoring Project published in 2015.

To help combat this overrepresentation of men, editorial teams have created the position of "gender editor," starting with the New York Times. A pioneer in this area, the American daily newspaper appointed journalist Jessica Bennett to this position in the fall of 2017, in the wake of the revelations of the Weinstein affair and the MeToo movement. Her goal? To better cover the news through the prism of gender.

Since then, Mariana Iglesias has held the same position at Clarin in Argentina, and Lénaïg Bredoux in France at Mediapart. In Spain, El Pais speaks of "gender correspondents" with Pilar Alvarez and the website eldiaro.es has opened a position of "senior gender writer." The Washington Post, in the United States, has a "gender columnist" in the person of Monica Hesse while BBC World has recruited a "gender and identity reporter."

An educational role

"It is not only a question of placing a woman in our stories from time to time, but also of giving them a real presence in the themes we cover. For example, sexual violence and feminicide are subjects that the press has long considered as miscellaneous and marginal facts of private life, this is not the case with us," explains Mediapart's Gender Editor Lénaïg Bredoux in the columns of the Revue des Médias.

In its 'toolkit for media treatment of violence against women,' French association Prenons la Une aims to root out ordinary sexism. This educational work also takes the form of posing questions within editorial structures when it comes to feminizing names of professions or the use of inclusive writing.

Faced with this issue of representation, the profession has yet to find an equilibrium. In a documentary aired in France's Canal + on Sunday night 20 women who are sports journalists such as Estelle Denis, Nathalie Iannetta, Isabelle Ithurburu, Clémentine Sarlat, testify about sexism, both online, on social networks, and within the editorial offices. While the documentary directed by Marie Portolano and Guillaume Priou focuses on the sports world, it illustrates a much more global problem. As the recent report by Reporters Without Borders outlines, 73% of the gender-based violence experienced by women in journalism takes place online, while the field and the newsroom are far from being safe spaces.

According to French news site Les Jours, an earlier version of Sunday's documentary included accusations raised by two journalists against Pierre Ménès, a sports commentator who works for Canal+, in footage that didn't make it to air.

Louis Tardy