Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Stella Says...It is irresponsible for newspapers to print sexist material

by Stella Ramsaroop

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 14 November 2006)

Last week, in a news conference to congratulate the new Democratic Speaker of the House on her party’s victory and welcome her to her new position, the President of the United States said he had sent her "the names of some Republican interior decorators who can help her pick out the new drapes in her new offices."

Maybe this was partisan jesting, which is how Nancy Pelosi – now third in line to the presidency – took it. Or maybe it was Bush's sexism peaking through. One has to wonder if he would have made such a statement if Pelosi were a man.

Sexism is still far too prevalent in today's culture, as is obvious from a photograph promoting a Digicel cause in last week's newspapers. This was brought to my attention by a letter to the Editor from Vidyaratha Kissoon on November 9 when he scolded Digicel for “commodifying the human body, especially women's bodies.”

The photo in question, as described by Kissoon, displayed scantily dressed women next to men who were fully clothed. He said in his letter, “It is insulting that the newest investor in Guyana believes that Guyanese society must be so depraved that women's flesh must also be used to sell cell phones.”

Had this photo opportunity included men who were also in beach apparel and this group of people were at Splashmin's to have a day of fun, it would have been appropriate for the women to be dressed as they were.

However, since the men were completely dressed and the women were not, one can only conclude, as Vidyaratha had concluded, “The women were Digicel girls, only there to provide enjoyment (to heterosexual men and lesbian women?) it seems.”

I agree completely with Vidyaratha. However, I am going to go one step further and say that any newspaper that printed this material is just as guilty of advancing its sexist statement as the company promoting it.

Apart from laws that safeguard against libel and slander, journalists often work by a self-imposed code of ethics that expects them to seek truth and report it, minimise harm to sources, subjects and colleagues, act independently by being free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know and to be accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other.

Newspapers usually have predetermined filters to weed out the most offensive material. However, the level of offensiveness is often based on the reader.

For example, I would be highly offended at an item that objectifies women, as was Vidyaratha. It is my belief that this type of material does a great amount of harm to society and should not be printed in newspapers or magazines.

If a company or a person wanted to publish material that promoted racism, the newspaper staff would reject the material without a second thought. So why are photographs that promote sexism allowed in these newspapers that have female readers?

Moreover, why is it that the only protest I encountered against this affront came from a man?

Don't get me wrong, I am glad to see there are men who will stand up for women, but where are all the women who are outraged at this blatant sexism?

It is my belief that the one and only reason women have been treated as second-class citizens – or worse – for so many centuries is because they have done nothing to stop it.

When women started to stand up for themselves and declare that they wanted the right to vote, they got that right. When women said they wanted to get an education, they fought for that right and got it. The question still remains about when women will demand that society put a complete halt to its sexist ways and treat women with the respect they deserve.

Newspapers are the backbone of society. It is irresponsible to continue to allow chauvinistic “advertisements” to permeate a culture where domestic abuse abounds while the women struggle to take their rightful place as citizens.

Moreover, it is simply duplicitous to print columns and editorials that speak out against sexism in the same newspaper that carries material that promotes chauvinism.

The print media cannot have it both ways, either sexism is wrong and should be rejected completely or it is right and should be allowed to saturate society. Which is it?

Email: StellaSays[at]gmail.com

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