Journalist Sahar Maher On How Women Reporters Face Discrimination And Strive To Be Appreciated
- IWB Post
- June 6, 2019
While the world boasts of judging an individual by their merits and talents, for a woman her gender plays a far greater role. For instance, on one hand, a male reporter is appreciated for securing a high-profile interview but when the same feat is attained by a female reporter, her looks and the fact that she is a female are called the reasons for her success. Her qualities are undermined, something which Pakistan-based journalist Sahar Maher is well aware of.
In a recent article on Elle, she talks about how she has to be very conscious of the image her social media profile presents, especially because she is a woman and is already under scrutiny for the very fact.
“I take pictures of myself as frequently as the next person. However, I rarely post these pictures—even when they please me. It takes a marriage (my own) or my first book’s publication to merit a selfie’s appearance on my social media feed. Why do I not feel free to let you know I #wokeuplikethis or that I’m #blessed?” she said.
She shared how, as other female journalists, she too ditches her makeup, wears men’s kurtas, and stays away from florals or bright colors when she is working. “When reporting, I do not wear a lick of makeup, no perfume, nothing that will assert a part of myself that can create a barrier between me and my interviewee. I’m not alone—many reporters say they won’t wear a hint of lipstick, they’ll always make sure to carry a scarf or dupatta (“otherwise the man will spend the entire time speaking to my breasts,” one woman explained), some will ditch their contact lenses for glasses and braid their hair tightly rather than leave it loose or in a topknot. Are we overthinking the importance of our appearances?” she said.
She recalled the time when she was in a small town in southern Punjab (Pakistan). She was speaking with a local reporter about the murder of a woman there and as they drove through the town’s marketplace, she realized that there were hardly any women on the streets. Some of them who were there were all clad in burqas which had no cut-outs for the woman’s eyes, which left them to somehow manage to look through the burqa’s dark fabric.
Sahar was interviewing one of the men there and asked him whether there were many female journalists in this town.
“Our women don’t do that. The way that you’ve decided to just get up and come here—they don’t do that,” he said.
“In these moments, the clothes I wear or how I present myself cannot erase how I am perceived: a woman who has no business being there, asking questions, going places where she is not welcome,” she said.
As maintaining her personality in such situations, she talked about how she has to do the same when posting online. “For those interviewees who are already suspicious of me, a stream of selfies only renders me two-faced; the loose, men’s kurta and the dupatta-covered head becomes an act,” she said. “And increasingly, as potential editors or fellow journalists encounter my social media self before they have met me or seen my work, I worry that after a scroll past pictures of dogs or clothes or brunches or selfies with my husband or my sheet-masked-face, that bias may kick in and they’ll write me off as frivolous or silly.”
When it comes to job interviews, women are basically judged on the fact whether they are married or not? Because if they are then “they’ll eventually ditch their jobs once they get married. They’re asked why they ‘need’ a raise if they’re married— it’s not like they have to support themselves or a family, right? And if they’re single, daddy foots the bill for everything, doesn’t he? Do too many “soft” stories, and you’re a “lady reporter”.”
“Get picked for a plum assignment and you’ll hear whispers about having taken some man’s rightful place. Land an interview when others have not, and it’s probably because of your looks. It takes time to care less about this bias,” she said.