Feminist commentator Jill Filipovic was criticized last week for lamenting the lack of female voices in the conversation about Syria. Many women are speaking and writing about Syria, she pointed out in a Guardian article, "yet the media narrative centers the opinions and voices of male commentators. And actual Syrian women who may have something to say? Or female Middle East experts who live in the region or are from there? Forget about it."
Women covering Syria — and there are a ton, as this Buzzfeed article confirms — were pissed:
If this woman bothered to actually read about Syria she might notice that most journalists who cover Syria are women http://t.co/jYl4Es43DO— Liz Sly (@LizSly) September 14, 2013
Buzzfeed pointed out that there are more women on staff at British and American publications in the Middle East — and that the Beirut bureau chiefs of The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, and Telegraph are all women — but that doesn't mean much to your average reader, who notes bylines (most freelancers working in Syria are male) and pundits, not editors. It seems like some of Filipovic's detractors felt too personally slighted to see her point: she didn't argue that women weren't writing about Syria, just that their voices weren't as amplified as their male peers:
The dearth of female voices on Syria and on national security and foreign policy generally isn't caused by a lack of female experts. It's a combination of problems: the journalistic and national security boys' network; the assumption that national security is a "hard" issue dominated by men; the reading of authority and intelligence into the male voice; and female (and particularly liberal female) insecurity and hesitancy to discuss anything on which we don't believe ourselves to be experts.
Buzzfeed interviewed a number of women who said it was all about self-promotion:
But the broader issue, many women in the field said, is that despite the numbers, women are less likely to nominate themselves for awards or promote their work on television and radio shows where journalists appear on expert panels.
“I will always say yes when someone calls me for an interview, but I’ve never pursued it,” said an American freelancer currently based in Cairo. “I was so shocked when I found out one of my male colleagues regularly calls shows and puts himself up as an expert on this or that topic. It had really never occurred to me to self-promote like that.”
“Women have a habit of putting themselves down. Some women are worse than others about it,” said Sarah Topol, an award-winning freelancer based in the Middle East. She said she’s also noticed a strong trend of men promoting themselves and their work.
“When I look back on some of my interactions with male colleagues, I can’t tell you the number of times a man has sent me one of his stories and said, read this!” she said. “I don’t know if a woman has ever done that.”
As a reader who wants to help boost awareness of badass female reporters, what can you do? Read, share, promote, nominate, and even simply email women you admire to tell them how much you appreciate their work.
Image via AP.