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

It’s Almost 2013 and Yet We Still Have to Write About This Stuff December 19, 2012

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.

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