It’s Almost 2013 and Yet We Still Have to Write About This Stuff

I do feel a twinge of guilt at the hipster irony of being the white girl here (there’s a joke somewhere I am sure) but can we talk about this article from The Telegraph?  With the title “The Unique Advantage of Female War Reporters in Muslim Countries,” we are treated to the special version of the weak sauce “third gender” argument, because, you know, all Muslim men only respect white women professionals, the third gender; and we (white women) have special access to Mozrab field reporting. The article starts out with an anecdote about how a Telegraph reporter, Phoebe Greenwood, noticed while reporting in Gaza that she was surrounded by female reporters in the lobby of a hotel and that this occurrence — an almost exclusively female pool of war correspondents — has become common to the point of almost banality. It is a cute anecdote, but more worrisome is the superficial analysis that comes after it: she explains away female war correspondents as being part of a “third gender,” not male, female enough to be protected, but not female in a bad way like the ladies back home, whose place is in the kitchen, or something.

In other words, the “third gender” goes something like this: Big Bad Arabo-Muslim-or-Otherwise-Brown Men give White Women access to Information that Non-White Women don’t have.  I was hoping that I was reading it wrong and that she meant all women reporters, but no, she meant us. Ms. Greenwood goes on to state (my emphasis),

“The Muslim men treat with us a kind of deference and actually talk to us about the war, their strategy and their weapons – which they wouldn’t do with the women of their country. At the same time they would very rarely harm a female journalist as most Islamic militants don’t want to behead a woman or kidnap them.”

Yeah, just like that. So in other words, we have some sort of special bent on stories because we’re Western? Because Muslim Man living in Back Homeland = Islamic Militant?

The premise of this third gender biznazz bothers me on many levels. First, did the Arab Spring happen or what? Because I remember it did, and that a lot of citizen journalists on the ground and in the diaspora put their lives on the line and/or died to get the word out.  If you look at the big voices of the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions, is there really that big of a gender gap in the Egyptians and Tunisians on the ground fighting for truth? Why do Western women have to swoop in and save the day for the truth? Is that really the case? While this article plays lip service by dropping some “ethnic sounding” names as being female war reporters as well, you cannot obscure the fact that “third gender” usually means “white”, or at the very least, “not from there.”  Why can’t we look at the challenges all reporters face from all walks of life instead of listening to white women pat themselves on the back about how gender equality has “finally filtered down?”

Secondly, journalists are always a target. Women are always targets. These too are not concepts specific to the Arab Spring movements or the conflicts in Gaza or Syria, so I don’t understand why women war correspondents are supposed to be safer or something at the hands of “Islamic militants.” like Islamic militants are running the show in these places. Why was the term “Islamic militant” used when its relevance is tenuous at best to the situation in Gaza and completely irrelevant in Libya, another place mentioned in the article?  Furthermore, to find out why there might be more female war correspondents than before, why not speak to resources like Rory Peck Trust or Reporters Sans Frontieres in order to figure out the reasons why, instead of just relying on the testimony of one staff reporter to explain the answers? I can’t help but shake my head at the fact that this article, despite having its place in a serious media outlet, was written by someone who apparently just wanted to wing it and/or has a superficial grasp of the details. So much more of substance could have been said. And I’m not saying here that non-locals don’t have a role to play in getting the word out, I’m just trying to figure out why this article implies that our testimony is somehow easier or better.

Finally, on a very tangential note, my inner crazy cat lady (ok, outer crazy cat lady) is riled up at the fact that, yet again, we are treated to the Mommy Track at the end of this article. Didn’t you know? Mommies can do anything, even field report from combat zones, but you know, it is “different and harder” to be on the front lines when you are a mommy. That’s fine, but it is yet another example of how women are really only women once we can “do it all”, where “doing it all” necessarily means giving birth. It’s a tiny soapbox of mine, but yet another example of where women’s place in the media mainstream is tied to our procreation status and yet another part of this article where weak anecdotal evidence from one person is used as a source.

  • M. Lynx Qualey

    On the last note, I was charmed the other day when interviewing Saudi novelist Mohammad Hassan Alwan, and he talked about balancing writing novels with being a parent.

    And on the other stuff: what a load of self-satisfied, orientalist, bullshit nonsense.

  • JoFro

    I don’t see the problem with the Telegraph story, to be quite honest. This was the opinion of a woman who was reporting from a conflict zone. She has first hand experience of the situation. Are you saying her opinion is nonsense? Then prove your point! Have you talked about this situation to female Muslim journalists? Are there quite a few known female Muslim journalists, who happened to be non-white, reporting from major conflict zones? Are they the norm or even a minority? If you do, then please include their views into your article or better, link us to their views. If you haven’t, then on what basis are you claiming her opinion to be false and worse, patronising?

    Did it ever occur to you there could be cultural and yes, even religious reasons, for the situation she observed in Gaza, where there seemed to not really be any non-white Muslim female reporters or are you just annoyed that some non-Muslim white girl, who is risking her life to get you the news from Gaza, has the nerve to make an observation about the region that does not conform to your views of the place and perhaps of your faith? Which is it?

  • anneke

    @JoFro. Here is a story of 4 non-white female journalists (both from Gaza and not) who reported on the war to Al-Jazeera (and that is just Al-Jazeera, not any other news agency), and were very active doing so.
    Watching also other non-English newsstories on the war in Gaza, I have seen a few more female journalists, reporting from Gaza and other areas in the region.
    So there were non-white female reporters, and often women from the region. They were hardly the exception…

  • Linda Binda

    All I could think of, while reading Nicole’s reception of that Telegraph article (I haven’t even read the article, yet, and I just know that the proposal must be bogus on its face) is, what about Lara Logan?

    Remember her, everybody? Lara Logan of 60 Minutes? Got fondled, had her clothes ripped off, and was pulled at all directions by a mob of men in the middle of celebrations at Tahrir Square in Egypt back on Feb. 11 last year? What about what happened to her that makes any of this nonsense about white women being especially advantaged to cover news in the Middle East (or anywhere else, really) have any basis in reality or make any sense? What rubbish.