Liberation and sexism in France
The third chapter of Media and Politics in a Globalizing World, devoted to political elites, opens with the example of French presidential hopeful Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who fell from grace as head of the IMF when a hotel maid accused him of sexual harassment in New York. DSK’s proclivities were not news, but the French media had refrained from reporting them given the country’s strict libel laws. The laws are different in the US, however, and the accusation brought to light not only DSK’s behaviour. Stories emerged of female journalists who took pains not to interview the head of the IMF alone. They found themselves suddenly free to speak. An open letter published this week in the French daily newspaper Libération puts the DSK in a cultural context, and illustrates that he is not a solitary errant philanderer. Signed by 40 journalists from different media, the letter was titled ‘We are female political journalists and victims of sexism’. As one signatory put it, the woman ‘have talked about it for a long time. We’ve sighed, we’ve complained, but until now we have never crossed the line and expressed our complaints publicly and collectively’. Investigative journalist Lénaïg Bredoux, writing in The Guardian, provides examples of what the women have been complaining about. ‘There was the government minister who demanded to have a “pretty woman” opposite him during lunch. And another who would stop an interview to look at a young girl walking by and make comments about her appearance. Or the ministerial adviser who has never spoken to you but who’s desperately keen to get your telephone number so he can compliment you on what you’re wearing.’ She emphasizes that the problem is not systemic, and does not stop her from doing her job. But it does make it impossible for her to do her job the same way as her male colleagues. ‘It is always in my mind and it sometimes puts me in a weak position’. And while not systemic, it is structural: the signatories of the letter in Libération bear witness to the fact that the sexism is to be found across the French political spectrum and at every level of power, ‘from government minister to member of parliament’. Something to think about is the consequence – for readers, listeners and viewers – of the women in the French journalistic corps not being able to do their job the same way as a man. What would a comparison reveal of political reporting in a French medium with reporting in a country known for different gender relations – a Scandinavian country for example?
‘Nous, femmes journalistes politiques et victimes de sexisme’, Libération, 4 May 2015
‘French female hacks slam lustful politicians’, The Local, 5 May 2015
‘We female journalists need to shame and expose France’s sexist politicians’, The Guardian, 10 May 2015
Watch: ‘Breaking the silence: French women journalists denounce sexism in politics’, France24