Delegates at the STUC women’s conference unanimously backed an NUJ motion to improve representation of women in the press and stop media sexism.
The motion calls on women and trade unionists to fight back and call out examples of poor treatment of women by the media and to press for responsible reporting standards demonstrating respect for women, eliminating objectification and sexualisation and focusing on their ideas, abilities and achievements rather than their appearance, personal life and how they dress.
The conference was held in Glenrothes, Fife from 30 to 31 October 2017. Freelance journalist Claire Sawers of Edinburgh freelance branch moved the motion on behalf of the NUJ.
She said “We at the NUJ share the same frustrations as our sisters here. We find ourselves back, once again, talking about the various ways that our colleagues in the media continue to misrepresent women. Each of you will have examples, sometimes very recent ones, of ways that women are sexualised, blamed, humiliated and discriminated against.
“The problem doesn’t only apply to women being reported on in the media. It affects women employed in the media too.
“The recent #metoo campaign was a fresh example. It’s worth remembering too that this was a grassroots campaign against sexual assault first created ten years ago by a black activist Tarana Burke. Her original hope was to create a catchphrase to be used from survivor to survivor to let people know that they were not alone.
“A few weeks ago, Facebook and Twitter were suddenly filled with examples of sexual assault, everywhere from Hollywood to Holyrood, from Westminster to the workplace, the dancefloor, public transport and everywhere in between. While cathartic and important in many ways, some of the negative reactions were unfortunately another reminder of the work that still needs to be done to call out examples of irresponsible reporting from the media, and those that accused some women of just ‘jumping on the bandwagon’, rather than acknowledging just how widespread the problem is.
“Sarah Vine, for example in her column in the Daily Mail, spoke scathingly about some of the women reporting sexual assault saying, ‘Not one of those who’ve contributed appears to have stopped to consider the repercussions of their desire to land a part in this gruesome drama: how, by clambering onto its hashtag bandwagon with their own often utterly banal stories, they risk trivialising the suffering of victims of genuine abuse.’
Sawers went on to say: ““At times like this, the media has an opportunity to speak out. To be very clear with its language on where it stands, to do all it can to encourage women to come forward, safe in the knowledge they won’t be victim blamed, accused of exaggerating, or further interrogated, or harassed or disrespected, and to find ways of giving women a stronger public voice.
“The terminology can be vital. ‘Sex pest’ for example, is an inappropriate term to use. It likens sexual harassment and sexual assault to a wee kid being annoying. The word ‘monster’ makes out that attackers are walking about looking like something from a horror film, where we know fine well, that they are often pillars of the community, or our pally colleagues, our trusted friends.
“The NUJ has recently been working on a project on women in journalism in Scotland, with support from the Scottish Government and the STUC, to find ways of supporting women who work in the media, and also examine the ways that women can be better represented in the media.
The NU motion was supported by Denise Christie of the Fire Brigade union, who hit out at newspapers describing firefighters as firemen and highlighted the #FireFighterSexism hashtag.
“I am sick fed up of being called a fireman. I’m not a fireman, I’m a firefighter. We hear it week in, week out, we hear it on the TV, we see it in the newspapers and we see it in the media.
“Every time you see the term fireman it makes us invisible it makes wee girls think they can’t grow up and become firefighters, that they can’t have a career as a firefighter.”
The NUJ has produced guidelines on good practice for reporting on sexual violence and harassment. They are available here.