While it is argued that the technological powers of social media has grown faster than the structural morality to guide it, we cannot take for granted the voice that it has given women working in the media itself. Before the invention of the internet, the main voices of media were white, middle and upper class men.
Let’s look at the film The Post. The central cast is dominated by white, older men because they were, simply, the people in charge. Thankfully, to some extent, representation is improving.
The recent success of films such as Crazy Rich Asians (and last year’s smash hit Black Panther) has shown the world that representation in film matters more than ever. But this should not be restricted to film. If we are to improve the world, we must make sure that all possible voices are included. To do anything other than this would mean one group rises while other demographics stay put – at best – or are pushed down – at worst.
To take another example. While America, (and the world), still recovers from the confirmation process of Judge – now Supreme Court Justice – Kavanaugh, it is so important that we take stock of what has happened, and think about what we can do to make sure that such a fraught, partisan political process does not happen again. To make sure that women are not discouraged from being open about their traumatic experiences, but also to be teaching the right lessons so this never has to be a problem. (Less of the ‘what women can do to make themselves safe’, and more of the ‘teach boys consent and respect from an early age’).
Progress and accountability will only happen with a completely free press, who are unapologetic and unafraid. And this will only happen when a) freedom and SAFETY of the press is enshrined, and b) all demographics are represented.
On the 10th of October, the National Council for the Training of Journalists published a list of 238 of the most respected journalists currently working. 59 of these are women. So, about a quarter. While a lot of these names are instantly recognisable, (Caitlin Moran, Laura Kuenssberg, Fiona Bruce), it’s still an unfortunately small showing and even fewer on this list are BAME journalists.
There are names that are not on this list that arguably should be. Because, when we do get to see a woman smashing it in her field, whether through investigative journalism or elsewhere, it matters. Carole Cadwalladr and her almost-entirely female team uncovered a massive dark campaign behind the Leave side of the Brexit referendum – one of the biggest crises of democracy of our time. Recently, in the U.S., Jane Mayer (working with Ronan Farrow) wrote a blistering exposé on behalf of Deborah Ramirez, one of Judge Kavanaugh’s accusers. And yet, that shouldn’t be the first time I’m hearing her name. Just a brief Google search shows her scarily impressive CV from the last couple of decades – billionaires shaping the far-right; the war on terror; and the confirmation of Justice Clarence Thomas.
And let’s not forget some of our other fabulous British women, who don’t work in the investigative field but are incredible feminist influences. I recently had the privilege of attending an event with Caitlin Moran and Sali Hughes as part of the Birmingham Literature Festival. The evening’s topics ranged from underrated audiences (‘Teenage girls are the most despised group in the world’) to how sleeves should be compulsory (‘Why do we need to worry about our upper arms on top of everything else?’), and period poverty (Sali Hughes co-founded Beauty Banks, which aims to get toiletries and sanitary products to girls who cannot afford them). To witness Caitlin and Sali, both formidable writers in their own right, speaking about these topics was so powerful. They were articulate, eloquent, funny, assertive, and unapologetic. I left feeling uplifted and empowered.
Yes, there are women in media who, unfortunately, don’t seem to be holding women’s interests at heart. At worst, they could be seen as maintaining and lifting up the patriarchy. But, despite not agreeing with someone like Kellyanne Conway’s values or beliefs in the least, the fact that she was given the position she was, in Donald Trump’s campaign, shows what a woman can do when given a chance to be powerful.
And yet, this is still progress. Women are on our screens, reporting the news. They are writing in our papers, investigating and exposing important issues of our time.
When women get together in the media, we can see how unstoppable a force we can be. And that is something to keep striving for, and to celebrate.