The Second Sex: “Editor calls for A Skills Audit for SA’s Journalists”

The Second Sex At work. Jedi Ramalapa 2008. Spoof. pic by Candice Klein
The Second Sex At work. Jedi Ramalapa 2008. Spoof. pic by Candice Klein

03 October 2013.   After reading Simone de Beauvoir’s seminal feminist book, The Second Sex, I was quite dumbfounded; unable to find a way of condensing the book into a summarized book review.  The book brought up so many issues for me – in-fact all of the issues that I have been grappling with as a girl, teenager, young adult to a fully grown woman who is still fighting to resolve personal yet universal issues relating to all spheres of human life from my relationship with my parents to my sexuality, reproductive health, work, vocation and  motherhood in an effort to emerge with an identity which is uniquely mine and not informed by others – though it is – from others that I can define myself. I found myself to be a textbook case of a woman in all the respects which de Beauvoir analyses.  Yes I did think to myself that why hadn’t I read the book before? Maybe I could have “avoided” some unfortunate decisions and situations that I put myself in over the years. But I also realized that it is all those experiences that have shaped  who I am, and made me very receptive to  the heady reality  being a woman.

My life experiences have helped me understand the book  – to see myself, read of me and my personal development  in black and white. I am her – the woman she rips apart who “pretends to work, who is looking for prince charming, who still yearns to be loved, to be found sexy, intelligent, extraordinary, a little girl searching for her father’s approval, who lacks focus, who keeps looking back”, ” a good reporter, a person who can do “honourable” but not enough work to change the world in any pulitzer prize winning way, the woman who can’t lose herself in her projects, a self-obsessed woman, emotional, irrational and impetuous, the weakling”.  It was sobering to view myself in men’s eyes.  For a book that was written decades ago it’s quite an accomplishment. I would recommend it as a Bible for Women, a reference  to understanding yourself  and the world you occupy, which regardless of time  and advances in women empowerment throughout history still remains the same.

“SHE is not READY”

 I was recently in conversation with a woman political editor for a leading daily newspaper in the country whose identity I will not reveal as she spoke to me off the record. The conversation was about a documentary I am making on Women Journalist in South Africa and beyond. She was more than ready to speak her mind and share her experiences.  Just as I had to be “ready”  to read “The second Sex” one has to be ready to hear the truth in order for it to be of any value to the individual and society in general. She told me that men are still the “custodians” of women empowerment in newsrooms across the country. “ I am where I am today because of men” she said. “Men are the ones who promote women to positions of authority, men are the ones who decide  on who is ready  to  move up and assume more responsibilities in the newsrooms.”

“I am lucky that I have had men in my life who had confidence in my abilities as a journalist, who groomed me and gave me the space to grow and be where I am today. But its the same is not true for many women journalists in South Africa.” “Men in editorial positions have no interest in empowering women or transferring skills to others more especially women, it is all about them and they look after their own interests” She added.

As for me I can’t count the many times I was told I was “not ready” until I began believing that I could never be  ready for anything. Until one day I couldn’t keep this woman inside me locked up in the cages defined by other men and women. Until I decided that I was going to do it whether (I) they believed it or not. I have paid dearly for that  bravery. Still paying.

There are many misconceptions (rumours-murmurs) in the media about  how women political journalist especially get their stories.  Many people think and often assume as fact that when a woman journalists breaks a political story or has access to a particular politician they must have slept their way (had sex with a man) to the”top”. Women are often accused of using their femininity (in dress or behavior) to get stories, information or get ahead in their profession, or inversely, they are accused of being too manly, too angry, and too stubborn to justify why they have not been promoted or why they have been overlooked.

“I’ve never exchanged sex for a story or money” She said passionately. “We get our stories the same way as men do. We call and are persistent, until we get the answers” But  patriarchal attitudes runs so deep, that even when male politicians or media personalities get calls late at night from female journalists  they often make comments such as “ it’s late I am at home, with my wife and children, what i you doing calling me at night? do you “want” me” She says that makes  their job harder. “If it’s a male journalist calling they answer regardless of the hour of the night but if its a woman suddenly it becomes  about sex and not about the job”.

“I think we should have a roundtable to discuss this. We as women political editors and journalist must talk frankly about what goes on in the newsroom.

Women generally have to work twice as hard as men to get the same level of respect and recognition and pay as men in similar positions. ” Men look out for each other support each other” she said. I asked her if she as a political editor is doing anything to empower younger women journalist. She answered that she tries, but she’s too busy doing her job and her senior bosses’ job, who regularly drops the ball and expects her to pick up his work in addition to her own daily responsibilities  as a political editor of the paper, and a journalist. “As you know as a journalist you’re only as good as your last story, so I have to keep writing” she added, glancing at her phone and asking for the bill to move to her next appointment.  But she emphasized before leaving that “we need a skills audit” to assess who is better qualified between male and female journalists in South Africa. “Yes, let’s call for national skills audit and see who is better (more) qualified to hold higher positions in the media that should clear things up”

The last time a national skills Audit in Journalism was done in the country was in 2002. The report was commissioned by the South African National Editors Forum, SANEF, which is still made up largely of male editors.  The bottom line there was – it was still harder for women to break-through the proverbial glass ceiling and more work needs to be done to “empower women” to higher positions. Basically women or women journalist in this case lack self-esteem, and will use “trickery’ or their sexuality to go up the ladder when all else fails.

That conversation left me wondering – will SHE ever be READY?

The Second Sex – Read it.

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