Monday, 18 November 2019

Odd shots, 07: Misogyny aimed at female journalists

This is the seventh post in a series about the ways that people online blame the media for society’s ills. The title derives from an old expression, “Don’t shoot the messenger.” The first post appeared on 24 August but there was an earlier post on 18 February this year titled ‘Don’t shoot the piano player’.

This survey started on 3 September and went until 29 October. Times shown are Australian Eastern Standard Time except after 6 October when daylight saving kicked in, meaning times shown on days after then conform to Australian Eastern Daylight Time.

There is general awareness in the community of the problems that women face on social media. This was illustrated well on 30 September at 9.13pm when an account called History Scientist with 14,371 followers tweeted, “This tweet is okay because Twitter only let on sober and responsible people who wouldn't use it as a license to harass women they come into contact with.”

And on 3 October at 3.29pm a female lawyer I follow and who has 1820 followers tweeted, “Dude who lost his shit and sent a string of abusive emails after innocent inquiries to clarify meaning then thinks he can lecture others on appropriate behaviour.” The tweet contained an animated GIF showing a female singer tossing her hair as she stood on-stage.

But when it comes to journalists who are also women, some in the community think special rules apply. For example, on 3 September at 4.09pm an account named “Voltaire’s bastard” (with 5381 followers) tweeted, “Sharri *hairflick* Markson. Chris Lilleys [sic] greatest character yet. #BoycottMurdochNumptyNews” Markson works for the Daily Telegraph, a Murdoch paper.

One person who understands the problem well is Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) TV host Julia Baird. On 3 September at 10.05am she tweeted, “Just got this email in response to my latest [New York Times] column. It's truly amazing, how hateful people are. And don't worry I am ok, just illustrating what can happen when you exist in a public space and express an opinion.” The image included with the tweet said, “Here’s to cancer! We cannot wait until cancer eats your bones you baby-murder-supporting bitch!” Baird had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2015. It looked as though, from using Google, Baird’s column had been removed from the New York Times’ site. I checked to try to find it on 24 October.

Guardian journalist Melissa Davey brought my attention to the problem of misogyny against female journalists again, on 17 September at 9.03am, when I saw a tweet from her that said, “This piece made me cry, not least because Kate is a dear friend of mine who has overcome so much adversity and who does so much for others yet was attacked in the most vile way, attacks which continue to this day.” It came with a link to a story by a freelance journalist named Kate O’Halloran that detailed how, one day when she was using Twitter, she had been attacked mercilessly for a mistake she had made in relation to something seen on TV during the broadcast of an AFL game.

On 3 October at 6.36am Jessica Huseman, a reporter with the US media outlet ProPublica, tweeted an image showing a threat from someone she had received (see below).

Huseman commented, “Ah, social media. Thanks @instagram!” In response to this, Patricia Rossini, an academic at the University of Liverpool Department of Communication and Media, tweeted, “If that doesn't go against @instagram's community guidelines, I don't know what does.” Then, adding her own take, Julie Posetti, a research fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University, tweeted, “Dear @instagram via @facebook, How on earth can you decide that this threat of sexual violence against a female academic ‘does not violate community standards’?? The patriarchy is alive, vulgar and threatening online.”

What to do about it though? Maybe some humour? In this vein the ABC’s Julia Baird tweeted on 5 October at 3.35pm, “Spent the day at my mum's aged care home, visiting residents with my oversized dog. He licked hands and faces, made people giggle. A nice antidote to the ongoing onslaught of nastiness in my feed today. Here's a happy Saturday cartoon.” Here’s the cartoon that came with the tweet:

In response, on the same day at 11.01pm freelance journalist Sandra Eckersley demonstrated solidarity by tweeting another cartoon:

On 7 October at 3.19pm a long thread started on Twitter from a former journalist named Jennine Khalik. She has over 15,000 followers and used to work for Crikey. It seems that she angered some people in the Muslim community by supporting homosexuality. The sniping had gone on for years and she had moved to a job outside journalism because of the bad conduct of some people. Some of her comments follow here.
I tweeted one thing, and it has completely spiralled in the last 24 hours. The same people have gone after other women journalist friends, but have gone after me the hardest. I don’t know how else to say this: leave me alone. I saw a lawyer when one of them threatened to confront me in person at the Sydney Writers Festival because I was speaking at two events. She was basically encouraging a pile-on which might have led to me being removed from the events. 
I did not want to bring attention to this. But I have to defend myself for posterity. It has been 2 years of quietly speaking to friends & employers about what to do re rumours, defamatory tweets. 
I resigned from my job at Crikey (a team I adore) for another non-journalism job get away from being in the constant firing line. I don’t have the emotional bandwidth for bullies. I am laying low.
On 9 October at 6.27am the auto magazine Jalopnik tweeted, “’Not to be sexist, but...’ What it's like to be a woman who works in car journalism.” The tweet came with a link to a story on their website by Alanis King that went, in part:
For those of us who work in and around cars, the hate and harassment comes at work, where we should just be able to clock in, do our jobs, and clock out, without all of that.
Journalist Michelle Rafter retweeted Jalopnik’s tweet with a comment of her own, “Even though women represent half of all drivers and most of new car buyers, women journalists who report on cars get all the trolls.”

The stories were coming regularly from different women who practice journalism. On 12 October I saw a post on Facebook from a person who used to teach me, for my journalism degree, at university, and who still works as a journalist, and who had appeared on a TV program in recent days. She said, “More on trolling. I've been trolled a lot and most of it has focussed on my gender. I have learned to manage this, no problem, and I rarely engage because life is short. This time, because I suggested we open our borders to Kurds, it's all been about my religion. Amazingly anti-Semitic. I've reported about 30 accounts to Twitter and not one has been found to be in violation of Twitter's policies. Anyhow, I think I've blocked them all now but there is one tweet which just says ‘She's Jewish, isn't she?’ As if that explains anything or everything.”

Network Ten ran a story on its website on 29 October about a journalism student who had been at a climate change rally in the Sydney CBD and who had then gone, with friends, to the Paragon, a city pub. The bouncer had told her to take off her hijab and she had refused. The police were called. She later received an apology from the company that owns the hotel, but they gave her an account of events that was, she said, incorrect. 
"I was humiliated, I felt violated, and more than that -- now I was being gaslit to convince me that my response to the violation of my basic rights was an 'overreaction'," Iqbal wrote [in an article on the website 5why].
The problem also extends to female politicians. On 9 October at 8.37am Ginger Gorman, an author, tweeted, “I'm about to address the Commonwealth Women's Parliamentarians at the Parliament in SA. I'll be explaining why #predatortrolling against female MPs and journalists is a democratic threat. Here's the latest example via @abchobart.” The tweet came with a link to a story on the ABC’s website that was titled, “Tasmanian councillor Rachel Power announces resignation citing 'personal attacks', social media comments.” The story by Lucy MacDonald was dated 2 October and the first paragraph ran:
A Tasmanian councillor has announced her resignation live on radio, saying ongoing "personal attacks" and social media harassment have taken "too much" of a toll.
Gorman’s book is titled ‘Troll Hunting’.

“Many thanks to all who responded to my thread on the importance of airing different views. I do still worry about the level of abuse aimed at some of our guests, & it is especially targeted at women of colour, Indigenous people, Muslims. Respect matters & has a material impact,” Baird tweeted on 7 October at 12.44pm. I haven’t included the Twitter thread she referred to, at least not in this post. It will be in another post in this series, a post about the ABC’s ‘The Drum’ panel show.

Jay Rosen, of New York University, tweeted on 12 October at 1.02pm, “I get a lot of hate tweets. (But nothing like what outspoken women and people of color receive. No comparison intended.) Recently there has been a shift. I have always been a corrupt poisoner of young minds. In the last two weeks I have also been called mentally ill. This is new.”

The types of criticism that outspoken women in the public sphere are burdened with can be quite specific. On 5 October at 2.02pm BuzzFeed tweeted, “’Narcissistic, self-indulgent, worthless, cruel: criticisms leveled [sic] against social media influencers and young women who write about themselves sure sound a lot a like [sic],’” the tweet came with a link to a story by Shannon Keating, the media outlet’s LGBT editor, who is based in New York, about how self-revelation stories and the internet culture of today had resulted in writers being recognised on the street as well as criticised by some in the community. The story contained this:
“If a woman writes about herself, she’s a narcissist,” [writer Emily] Gould told the New York reporter, Curtis Sittenfeld. “If a man does the same, he’s describing the human condition. But people seem to evaluate your work based on how much they relate to it, so it’s like, well, who’s the narcissist?”
The Sittenfield story referred to in the quote above was published on 22 April 2010 and was titled ‘The Art of the Confession’. Keating’s story went on:
Futile as it might be, we’re all trying to cling to these distinctions — to maintain our humanity, our selfhood, our creative drives, as things separate and apart from the capitalist internet project.
And later:
It’s horrible to admit it, but part of the reason I wrote about my experience of falling in love with someone on a cruise, and leaving a long-term partner in the process, was because I was trying to convince myself — as well as all the strangers who’d read about it — that, in the end, I’d done the right thing. Some writers have gloriously thick skins, or the whole reason why they write is to offend and get a reaction out of people. I wish I could say I had a stronger sense of self, but the truth is, for the most part, I just want to be liked. To be assured that I am good: if not a good person, then at the very least a good writer. Why write anything at all — in a throwaway tweet, in an online article, in a book, wherever — unless you want someone to appreciate what it is you have to say?
Posetti announced this month that she would be helping to conduct a study into the misogyny that is aimed at female journalists. She would be canvassing widely within the profession to unearth information about the problem.

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