I decided to write this with regards to The President of the Republic of Singapore, President Halimah Yacob’s calling out of a popular podcast produced in Singapore that made derogatory remarks objectifying women on their show. I feel sad having to write this because fundamentally, this is a deeply entrenched problem that we are still struggling to deal with. Being the executive producer of an online women’s programme, I decided that it was necessary to reflect on the situation and these are some of my personal thoughts.
The deeply entrenched stereotypes, patriarchal behaviour, misogynistic thoughts and opinions around women have no place in a country that regards itself as a first world nation.
Many problems that women face whether in the board room, in management, sexual violence stems from the language, thoughts and motivation towards and around women. We think it therefore we say it. Certain language directed towards women may be motivated from the way we think and the way it’s always been said and talked about.
What we should or should not wear, say, look like, do, stems from centuries of backward thinking. Some of these stereotypes have also been reinforced by the media over time. It is 2020, in a world where the virus has shown us that it does not discriminate between men or women. Such a lowly, unwanted, unneeded non living organism does not discriminate. As human beings who are considered apex predators, why should we discriminate against our own?
A big part of life parallels the media. It has been shown that what girls see in the media, does affect our outlook, perspectives, decisions and opinions. Most of us have sisters, mothers, daughters or nieces. As women stand up for ourselves, it also takes men to stand beside us and this can be done through a simple thing like language and more deeply, thoughts and actions.
As any sort of media, we have a responsibility, as the messages and signals we send out to the general population, younger listeners in particular, are shaped by what they hear and see. Our language also articulates our thought process, belief systems and values.
The worst is when we think it’s ok to say what we want especially when it comes to gender, race, religion, ability or livelihoods, because it’s my show and I’m exercising my right to say anything that I want to. Furthermore, the internet is a place where I have the right to say anything that comes to my mind, and it’s up to whoever who wants to agree with me.
The problem with this is that people are listening and watching. They might not agree but they are listening and watching. This disempowering content could be targeted to the community who form the listeners, followers and supporters. They might walk away from the programme thinking this is just the way it is, even if they feel hurt by the language.
What your audience sees or hears, is what they might say or do, because the media says “it is acceptable.”
The freedom to broadcast varied content or content that tackles difficult issues come with an added responsibility. It takes courage to face and talk about issues that affect our wider society, and it is important to keep challenging and having these conversations. The question is how can we be constructive and respectful?
Having a platform to speak and tackling difficult issues is a separate issue from using derogatory language on any individual or group of people.
You can tackle difficult issues and still show respect to individuals or groups of people. You can have an open conversation and not insult an individual or group of people. There is a very important difference here. We have to be very aware of the unconscious biases we have towards certain individuals or groups and check ourselves. The amount of engagement does not mean that what we say is without flaw and without bias. The larger the following, the bigger the responsibility.
Reaching out to different groups that we don’t understand enough about and getting feedback on our content can help us to be more aware of our unconscious biases and uncover things we never thought about.
We might not even realise that certain things we say and do are just not ok. Just because we haven’t been at the receiving end ourselves does not mean someone else hasn’t. Or maybe because we are in a privileged position (and this is not just about class), that we don’t have to encounter or face these biases and stereotypes.
Having certain thoughts and putting forward certain opinions only serve to disempower an individual, a group, a community or entire gender. This does not in anyway serve to strengthen or develop the content, or do justice to the power of the platform. A big responsibility on the part of the media is also to inform and educate. Our audience and listeners trust in the information we put out there to a certain extent and as media, we get to shape these conversations or influence behaviour.
At WomenTalk, we have to constantly remind ourselves that the content we produce should not in anyway disempower the very same communities we are trying to empower. It’s about representation and also what we stand for. It boils down to how we film them, what angles we use for the camera and the story, what questions we ask, whether or not they are uncomfortable with these questions, naming them when they don’t want to be named or not showing their faces or faces of their loved ones not just because they don’t want to be on camera, but whether or not it will put them in danger. We are bigger than what we want to show or say. We have to constantly be aware and remind ourselves of that.
On top of that, our interviewees trust us to protect their integrity and dignity when they agree to come on our show. That is not something we can or should take advantage of. At the end of the day, as my producer says, it’s how we treat people.
Ultimately, there needs to be some level of accountability, beyond apologies and broad sweeping statements, or life continues to go on as normal, and the matter will disappear once again.
It took the President of Singapore to say something about women’s empowerment issues and we thank her for that. Many organisations have been working on this for decades but this issue has unfortunately been given a back seat in our society compared to other issues.
The topic of gender and media might only be discussed in some circles, but it is an issue that affects all of us as we are exposed to it constantly and in a very big way, it will affect the next generation’s attitudes and action towards what kind of society they want to live in. We can tell our daughters that they can be anything they want to be, but are they going to be subjected to discredit in different forms by this same society? We can tell our sons that they should always respect their mothers and grandmothers, but are they growing up in a society that’s still prejudiced towards women?
It is my hope that we use our platforms purposefully, and remind ourselves that whatever we say and do has a direct or indirect impact on the future of our society. It might sometimes seem like a small action, but as we know small actions can have big repercussions.
Eunice Olsen is the executive producer of WomenTalk, an online women’s programme that tells stories about extraordinary everyday women amongst us. She is also the author of the children’s book ‘I’m a Girl. See what I can be!”
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